Monday, June 9, 2014


If Twain's boyhood home and neighborhood was a little less than I expected, the cave experience was much more. I thought this too would be touristy but actually it reflected more history as well as the structure that inspired its inclusion in Twain's novel.
We only wandered in a small portion of the underground maze of passages. Still it was easy to see exactly what Twain saw to use as a frightening setting for Becky and Tom. The guide was good and she was loud to speak over the high school crowd of boys who had lots of banter.

For an hour she took us around to stops in the cave and told stories about each, some reflecting parts of the novel and some the history of the cave.

A fellow discovered the caves when he was hunting and his dog went in one of the entries. IN Twain's day children did play in these caves. In fact, there is one section called the Postoffice where playing children would leave their names on a paper so that if they go lost, the adults could search for them. Few adults really understood how to navigate these mazes so the sense that both Tom and Becky and Injun Joe might get lost in them was not hyperbole but built into the setting itself.

Scattered in the caves are places that locals would regcognize as landmarks, so there was a spot where one could lie down on rock and just a few feet away a place where there was a fifteen foot dropoff. Becky was resting while Tom had to decide to jump or not. In this case he did not truest his luck to what he could not see.
Some other interesting shapes were one called aligator and another called the foot. Superstitions go with all these spots. Petting the aligator was for good luck and standing under the foot if you were not pure of heart could cause a stomping death.

Here too we could see where Injun Joe died from starvation after the town father's closed up the cave so no more children would be lost. Tom and Becky were in recovery so it was three days before Tom could tell Judge Thatcher the story of seeing Injun Joe in the cave.

There were some photos of the character of Joe Douglas, the model for Injun Joe and they did show less than beautiful features from a bad case of small pox. Also he had been scalped and covered it up with a red horse-hair wig.
The real Joe was picked up in an Indian Camp where he had been scalped and left for dead. he was raised by a man named Douglas.
One day Injun Joe asked Twain why he made him the villain, and Twain admitted Joe used to scare the daylights out of all the kids because of the way he looked.
Joe lived to be 102 years old. He from food poisoning after eating a bad lot of his favorite food, pickled pig's feet.
He got a lot of publicity, but he always said that the character of Injun Joe had nothing to do with him as he was an honest man all his life.
A fine photograph of the woman who was Becky Thatcher as she appeared in old age, leaning over a fence had been donated by the person who held the photo years after making a visit to the old woman's house.
On some areas water was still working. However a good bit of the cave seemed an excellent place to preserve something from decay.
The cave is full of places where people had written their names and these looked as fresh as if they were done yesterday.

In one spot a cartoonist in 1923 drew a picture of Twain. In another a man named Bradley in 1858 inscribed his name. His granddaughter saw it when she toured the cave and in 1941 she was married under it, the first wedding in the cave. Jesse James wrote his name on the wall too. We saw it. It has been authenticated. Jesse stayed in one section we saw with his men when he was hiding out. The early high, small entrance also made a good lookout so that if men came to get Jesse, he could hide farther back in the cave. I guess they never thought of just barring the entrance as Twain had for Injun Joe.

John East was one of the first tour guides. He charged a dime.
However he was unrealiable. In fishing season when they were biting, he would just show a couple of caverns and then usher people out so he could get back to fishing. At other times he would get lost and some tours lasted six hours.
The ceiling of the cave is the home still for small bats, but there were not very many today. We saw just two. In one section we could see where the oil from the bat's feet had discolored the ceiling and their breath had made a huge indentation.
In this link I found is a bit from Twain on the cave as well as a couple of old photos including that cartoonist's drawing of Twain.
On the tour they told of the girl who had been enbalmed by her doctor father and preserved there in the cave for two years. Twain says in the article below that roustabouts would pull her head out of the fluid. Out tour guide said it was children who would use her to tell ghost stories and their parents did not want them playing with a dead body so they made the doctor take her out of the cave.
And here is another view
Outside of the cave was a historical tree. It was huge. Imagine how many things had happened around that tree. It was growing a hundred years before Twain's time.

For lunch I tried the Mark Twain Dinette and enjoyed a bowl of chili with their homemade rootbeer.
Supper found me at the Country buffet. Among the usual buffet choices they served some whole catfish. Guess I am still on the Mississippi.
Nothing doing this evening. I'd like to see the Star theater but I don't think it will be open tomorrow either. It is old renovated vaudeville but not much to look at from the front.
It is fine to have one more full day to poker about here in Hannibal.

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