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Economic Downturn Impacts Mark Twain's Boyhood Home

Museum officials appeal to author's fans for money

Author Mark Twain's boyhood home is now preserved as a museum in Hannibal, Missouri.
Author Mark Twain's boyhood home is now preserved as a museum in Hannibal, Missouri.

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Kane Farabaugh

The American writer Ernest Hemingway once said, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called, "Huckleberry Finn."

Visitors from around the world come to the small town of Hannibal, Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi River to see Twain's hometown.

The town includes many of the places Twain made famous in books like, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn."  

The year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Twain's death and the 125th anniversary of "Huckleberry Finn."

The town of Hannibal is celebrating both milestones by appealing to literary fans worldwide, hoping they'll donate funds to help maintain some of the landmarks made famous in Twain's books.

Hometown Boy

Referring to Hannibal, Twain once remarked "It had me for a citizen, but I was too young then to really hurt the place."

Of all the places he would inhabit, visit or write about, Hannibal, Missouri held a special place for Mark Twain.

"After he left Hannibal, I think Hannibal never left him," says Henry Sweets, curator of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum. "I think the exposure that he had to everything from school to church to slavery to many of these childhood experiences are what enriched his writings later on."

The places Twain immortalized in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn,"  are preserved by the museum.

The house where he lived attracts tourists from around the world, and so does the white-washed fence that his fictional character, Tom Sawyer, reluctantly painted.

The year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain's death and the 125th anniversary of the publication of "Huckleberry Finn."
The year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain's death and the 125th anniversary of the publication of "Huckleberry Finn."

"During the course of a year, we will have (people from) 70 or 80 different countries who will sign our guest register," says Sweets.

Feeling the pinch

According to Sweets, about 300,000 people visited Hannibal last year. About 20 percent visited the museum.

The number is down from previous years, and more visitors are local or from neighboring states than from foreign countries.

Museum Executive Director Cindy Lovell attributes the downturn to the global recession.

Twain museum officials say tourism was down last year.
Twain museum officials say tourism was down last year.

"The tourism economy doesn't just impact us at the museum," says Lovell. "It impacts everyone here with hotels motels, restaurants, the shops, all these things depends on Mark Twain bringing tourists to visit us."

Lovell says with fewer tourists, the museum has less money to spend on repairs to buildings, like Grant's Drug Store which figures in several of Twain's stories.

"This building has been placed on Missouri Preservation's most endangered buildings list, and it's critical for us to get it preserved so yeah, we need a lot of money."

The museum hopes to raise $10 million by the end of 2010 for the upkeep of buildings that were important to Mark Twain.
The museum hopes to raise $10 million by the end of 2010 for the upkeep of buildings that were important to Mark Twain.

Fundraising appeal to fans

The museum hopes to raise $10 million by the end of 2010 for the upkeep of buildings that were important to Twain.

Lovell is appealing to the general public. "We're trying to reach one million Mark Twain fans around the world and we're asking each of them to donate just ten dollars a piece."

Lovell admits the Twain fundraiser borrows from Barack Obama's fundraising philosophy during his presidential campaign by appealing to a large number of people for small donations.

"It sounds exactly like that, and of course, I'm taking my lead from his success," she says. "I was one of those small time donors. I think a lot of us were."

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