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“Day SEVEN of my Eight-Day Mark Twain Riverboat Trip Along the Upper Mississippi”
“Get your facts first, and then you can distort ‘em
as much as you please.” – Mark Twain
Between Muscatine and Hannibal, the riverboat passed through U.S. Lock & Dam Nos. 18 and 19, Des Moines River Lock Nos. 5 and 7, and Upper Mississippi Lock and Dam No. 20. Between Hannibal and St. Louis, the boat would pass through U.S. Lock and Dam No. 25, the Winfield Lock and Dam, the Melvin Price Lock and Dam No. 24, the Granite City Lock and Dam (but not Lock No. 26, which was demolished in 1990), and U.S. Army Corps Lock No. 27.
On Day Seven of the cruise, about 6:30 a.m., the paddle wheeler passed through U.S. Lock & Dam No. 21. When we were almost out of the lock, the blush of sunrise colors began to appear. Because the river was following its usual north-south direction, the colors emerged beyond the trees along the eastern shore rather than reflecting across the water.
The steamboat was scheduled to dock at Hannibal at 8 a.m. However, it got delayed behind a barge coming through one of the locks the evening before and arrived two hours late. The captain was concerned about the reports of high river traffic, wind and conditions of the river’s current that might delay arrival at St. Louis. Since some passengers had early flights to catch, he decided to shorten our stay at Hannibal to only two hours instead of a full day. Since this was, for me, the highlight of the cruise, it was a disappointment; but one learns to be flexible when travelling a river.
Hannibal, Mark Twain’s boyhood home from 1844 to 1853, was founded in 1819 and was a popular stop for steamboats traveling up the Mississippi. It is approximately 100 miles northwest of St. Louis. Its economy came from lumber, cement and railroads. At one time it was the fourth largest lumber center in the U.S. and, by the late 1800’s, was the largest rail center west of the Mississippi. It was also the starting point for the Pony Express. It provided cement for the Panama Canal and the Empire State Building. It has more parks per citizen than most towns in the Midwest. During the week of July 4th, the town’s youngsters compete to represent Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher for the coming year.
I hopped off the tour bus to follow the self-guided Mark Twain tour. At the Mark Twain Museum, I toured its Mark Twain Gallery which includes the original Norman Rockwell paintings used to illustrate an edition of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” years ago. Museum displays show a list of the 21 steamboats Mark Twain piloted during his career on the Mississippi from 1857 to 1861. I also learned that, in 1846, Mark Twain’s father held a meeting to plan a railroad link between Hannibal and St. Joseph, Missouri, along the Missouri River. The route was finally completed in 1859. In 1935, a train was christened the Mark Twain Zephyr.
One display shares anecdotes about Mark Twain’s love of cats. He is said to have trained his three cats to jump up on his chair when he called and go to sleep or wake up, as he instructed.
There was a mailbox outside on the corner not far from the museum, and I mailed 15 post cards I had written the night before. They arrived at their destinations about two weeks later.
A ticket to this museum grants access to seven buildings related to Mark Twain, five of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Next, I visited Mark Twain’s boyhood home. One can enter the home and go upstairs. All the rooms seemed exactly as described in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” I felt I was stepping into the past in a way I rarely experience in a museum. Out front was the famous white picket fence that Tom Sawyer had gotten his friends to paint for him. There is even a paint bucket with two paint brushes sitting in front of the fence.
Across the street is the Becky Thatcher House, the home of Laura Hawkins who inspired Mark Twain’s character of Becky. Next to it is the office of J. M. Clemens, Justice of the Peace – Mark Twain’s father’s business. Further up the street is the Huckleberry Finn House where Tom Blankenship grew up, the model for Huck Finn.
There wasn’t time to visit the Hannibal History Museum and learn about the native history, the steamboat trade and the river town of old, or the Trinity Episcopal Church with 18 Louis Comfort Tiffany stained-glass windows.
There also wasn’t enough time to take a tour of a local cave where Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher got lost. Tom had laid out a kite string to help them find their way out. It is said there is a signature of Samuel Clemens on one of the walls in the cave.
And, if I had had the time, I would have climbed the 244 steps to the top of a hill where the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse has watched over Hannibal since 1935, built as a public works project under President Roosevelt. It has been lit on ceremonial occasions three times by Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy and Clinton. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and their gang played here often, in Mark Twain’s imagination.
When Mark Twain returned to Hannibal in the 1880’s, he visited the mountaintop vantage point. From here he could see “the extensive view up and down the river, and wide over the wooded expanses of Illinois . . . very beautiful – one of the most beautiful on the Mississippi, I think; which is a hazardous remark to make, for the eight hundred miles of river between St. Louis and St. Paul afford an unbroken succession of lovely pictures. . . .[I]t was satisfyingly beautiful to me, and it had this advantage . . . . it had suffered no change; it was as young and fresh and comely and gracious as ever it had been.”
As we left Hannibal, the black smokestacks were lowered before we passed under a bridge just south of the town. A member of the Hannibal Chamber of Commerce had said the fall colors had reached their peak that weekend. I saw many beautiful trees cloaked in brilliant yellows, oranges and reds as we continued south towards St. Louis.
About 2 p.m. that afternoon, we came upon Lock & Dam No. 22. However, the riverboat sat stationary some distance before it for over 45 minutes, waiting for something. As I sat on the Observation Deck, I could hear, but couldn’t see, freight trains passing by. A wind came up and rain sprinkled on those of us sitting outside as we watched the lock to see what was coming through. At last, a barge came out of the lock and the riverboat was able to proceed. As the paddle wheeler moved through the lock, for a second day I saw a lock worker receive a box with containers of soft ice cream. Looking across the river, I could see the white, triangular Tainter gates — shaped like slices of pie — that are used to control the water flow through the dam. (See Notes below on Tainter gates.)
At 4:30 p.m., we attended a Captain’s Farewell Reception which included the opportunity to salute and thank all the staff on the boat who had made our trip so special.
For dinner I had appetizers of fried chicken livers and fried cheese curds with honey crisp apples, a wilted lettuce salad with bacon, a crispy duck breast main course, and chocolate cream pie for dessert.
Later in the evening we packed our suitcases and set them outside our stateroom doors, to be picked by the staff sometime during the night and taken out to the airport buses in the morning.
Day Seven had been yet another wonderful day. Counting Day Zero, this made the last of eight days of my Mark Twain Mississippi riverboat adventure.
The next morning, I had my last serving of link sausages and fresh berries at breakfast and boarded the bus to the airport at 7:30 a.m. Farewells were wistful and contact information was exchanged with promises to keep in touch. At the airport, it became clear that somehow the weight of my suitcase had increased from 38 pounds to more than 50. As I dragged it across the floor to the airport counter, a man walked up and offered to carry it the rest of the way. A perfect ending to a charmed trip, exceeding all expectations.
Once home, I seemed to hear the rhythmic hum of the riverboat for several days after. And while going through all my photos to pick out the best to include with these blog posts, I found myself already planning my next riverboat voyage.
“Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die,
even the undertaker will be sorry.” – Mark Twain
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The Tainter gate is used in dams and locks worldwide. The Upper Mississippi River basin alone has 321 of these gates. This gate is a type of radial arm floodgate used to control water flow. It was invented by and named for Wisconsin structural engineer Jeremiah Burnham Tainter in 1886. He was an employee of a lumber firm, Knapp, Stout and Co. The floodgates were originally developed for use in one of the company’s dams.
A side view of a Tainter gate resembles a slice of pie with the curved part of the piece facing the upper pool of water and the tip pointing toward the lower pool.
Pressure forces on a submerged body act perpendicular to the body’s surface. The design of the Tainter gate results in every pressure force acting through the center of the imaginary circle of which the gate is a section, so that all resulting pressure force acts through the pivot point of the gate, making construction and design easier.
When a Tainter gate is closed, water bears on the upstream side. When the gate is rotated, the rush of water passing under the gate helps to open and close the gate. The rounded face, long radial arms and bearings allow it to close with less effort than a flat gate. Tainter gates are usually controlled from above with a motor assembly.
American Queen Voyages “Daily Voyage” newsletter, 10/23/2022 (Hannibal Issue 309); https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tainter_gate; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannibal,_Missouri