We spent several restful days in Louisville visiting friends and family and touring the Locust Grove mansion, which is a three-story colonial mansion where revolutionary war hero George Rogers Clark lived. I learned that the reason we use the word “linen” to describe sheets because they used to weave flax into linen, which was used for the sheets on the beds.

From there, it was on to Hannibal, Missouri. By now, you know I am a literary nerd, and yes, this was where Mark Twain grew up and where his most famous books Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are set.

The town is full of empty wide streets and dusty brick buildings, many of which have fallen into disrepair. We stayed at the Robard Mansion Bed and Breakfast on Millionaire Row, a street full of rundown mansions. It’s owned by an old couple, Leon and Nedra. We got the Bonnie Blue room, a large suite on the second floor of the mansion. At first, I was a bit bummed we didn’t get the Gone With the Wind room, but then I found out that Mark Twain visited in the Bonnie Blue room once. Apparently, Robard was Mark Twain’s friend and Twain visited the house when Robard’s daughter was dying. So yes, I stayed in a room where a little girl died 100 years ago and also where Mark Twain visited her. I did not see her ghost.

Some of Hannibal’s small town feel is self-conscious–it calls itself America’s Hometown, after all–much of it is sincere too. People were sitting around talking to each other everywhere we went. We were maybe the youngest people in the town, however, which weirded me out a bit.

Me with Hannibal in the background

Naturally, I toured Twain boyhood home and museum. I was surprised by how often Twain encountered death as a child. People were drowning in the river, he saw a dead body in an office, he watched a bum burn alive once, etc. Life was very dramatic in Hannibal in those days.

That night, we took the Mark Twain Dinner Cruise, a deal at $35 per person. We went on a white paddleboat and toured up and down the Mississippi River while eating. It was romantic and fun. We had a buffet dinner and watched a man who looks like Col. Sanders play banjo and harmonica and sing sentimental songs about rivers and moons. Old people danced and two little girls kept running up and singing the songs into the microphone.

Later, Kyle and I went up to the top deck of the boat–which we had all to ourselves–and watched the sun set on the river, turning the water all sorts of colors. Then a huge golden moon rose and sat above the treetops, sending a shimmery path onto the water that almost seemed to touch the boat.


The next day, Leon took us on a personalized tour of the Robard Mansion. He and his wife have owned the house for 11 years and fixed it up quite a bit. We heard all about his life as a former pig farmer in Missouri. He and Nedra have been together since he was 12 and she was 9. At the top of the mansion is a glass lookout that let us see all of Hannibal. I was immediately jealous and wanted my own lookout in Petaluma.

At the end, we thanked Leon for the tour and explained how we were going to try to get all the way through Kansas that day. Leon told us which highway to take to avoid the small towns.

“You don’t want to speed in these small towns,” he said. “Not long ago, a police officer pulled me over and gave me a $88 ticket for going three miles over the speed limit.”

“Wow,” I said. “I would fight that one.”

“No point,” Leon said. “He’s not only the police officer, he’s also the judge.”

Oh America. You can be so adorable sometimes.

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