Hannibal Mo and Small Town Squares

Spent the night in Quincy, Illinois in preparations for visiting Hannibal and seeing Mark Twain’s stuff. I’ll tell ya, EVERYTHING in Hannibal is about Mark Twain. There’s Becky Thatcher Fudge, Mark Twain Gas and Go, even Mark Twain Fried Chicken. The pretty little main street in town is wall to wall tourist places where I met some very nice people and sampled Becky’s Fudge.

But, I wanted to see something I hadn’t seen before, so I moseyed over to Mark Twain’s Cave to see some underground wonders. The cave was discovered around 1819 and was a favorite spot for the local kids to play – although there is some danger. At the time, light was usually supplied by candle – which wasn’t much. Here’s a map of the cave:

The dark lines are the tour - the lighter ones are paths that have been discovered but weren't on the tour.

It wouldn’t be hard to get lost in these caves and Mark Twain’s book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has lengthy parts about Tom and Becky getting lost and eventually meeting Injun Joe.

After a short video, we headed into the cave…

The big opening was done for the tourists. The original entrance to the cave is up on the hillside to the left.

There were lots of narrow passages and some geological formations that had cute names:

Jesse James Hideout

This passage goes about 1/4 mile back into the cave

Frozen Waterfall

It was a cool 52 degrees which felt great after the 90 degree heat outside. At one point, the guide turned out all the lights to show how incredibly dark the cave is when there is no lights at all for the eyes to get used to. Of course, it scared the hell out of the little kids on tour, so she quickly turned them back on.

Up until about 1972, they encouraged people to sign their names in the caves:

They said that Jesse James really had been in the cave and his name was written in pencil in one of the off-limits areas. They were afraid that people would end up erasing the words just by wanting to touch them. The oldest found signature was from 1820 – just a year after the cave was discovered.

These marks were caused by bats. The bats in this cave were smaller than your thumb and would huddle close together on the roof. The dark spots are from the CO2 released as they breathed.

Devil's Backbone

Reflecting Pool

Overall, the tour took about an hour. It was an easy walk and some of the rock stuff was pretty interesting. The worst part was when they shoved us all in a room at the end while one of the owners rambled for about 10 minutes about all the touristy stuff to see in the gift shop and surrounding buildings. All in all, worth the trip – especially if you’ve never been in a cave before.

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As I traveled through the U.S. by backroads mostly, I often passed through towns that were county seats. They almost always had a beautiful county courthouse surrounded by various monuments and streets lined with little shops. They truly were town squares. Two of my favorites were Troy, Kansas, and Pittsfield, Illinois.

Troy had one of the Peter Toth Indian Sculptures. Toth (rhymes with oath) was a Hungarian born sculpture who wanted to honor the Native Americans by creating a sculpture in each of the 50 states. He completed the last, depicting a Polynesian, in Hawaii in 1988. It was statue #58 (some states have more than one and there are two in Canada). These things are amazing.

Doniphan County Courthouse in Troy, Kansas

Very impressive

As with most courthouses, there were war memorials and other items of interest:

A nice place to sit and pass the time

Pittsfield, Illinois, was much of the same. A beautiful county building:

Pike County Courthouse

A fine Veterans' Memorial

Any place with a Watson Hotel has to be friendly...

It gave me a surprising amount of pleasure to pass slowly through these small towns and see the obvious pride the local people took in their surroundings. I never met a single person who didn’t beam with delight when asked a question about their town or their lives there.

It felt good to be in America.

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Today’s Travel:  271 miles

Total Travel To Date:   11, 802 miles

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