by Rhonda Moffit, Moffits-Mad Hatter Adventures March, 2020
With such very busy lives, every so often we love to unwind with a weekend adventure. This recharges our batteries and allows us to find inspiration and appreciation that propels us into the forthcoming work week and beyond. Our most recent weekend adventure took us to Martin’s childhood, as his relatives lived in Hannibal, Missouri, when he was a boy. He, much like Tom Sawyer and creator Mark Twain, ran around this historic Mississippi River town as a youngster having fun and learning life’s early lessons. What many do not realize is the incredible history of this locale….so read on and see what we discovered.
One of the places that I, Rhonda, book for our clients that visit Hannibal that has had great reviews is the Garth Woodside Mansion Bed and Breakfast. We were anxious to check this place out for ourselves.
John Garth and Helen Kercheval were married on October 18, 1860. They had two children, John David and Annie. Sometime after the Civil War broke out, in 1862 or 1863, Garth moved his family to New York City. There he was engaged in banking, brokerage, and manufacturing. They returned to Hannibal in 1871, and Garth started a successful business career. Garth purchased a farm southwest of Hannibal and constructed his Italianate Second Empire summer residence about a mile outside of the hustling city in 1871, which he named “Woodside”. On the farm he raised and bred shorthorn and Jersey cattle.
As a businessman Garth entered many ventures. He was one of the organizers of the Farmers and Merchants Bank and served as its first vice-president. He became president in 1880, a position he held until near his death in 1899. He was also president of the Hannibal Lime Company, president of the Missouri Guarantee Savings and Building Association, and president of the Garth Lumber Company in Delta, Michigan. His wife and daughter funded several memorials to him, including the Garth Memorial Library Building, dedicated in 1902, and a tower and set of bells at the Trinity Episcopal Church.
Son John perished at the age of 21, sadly, while he was undergoing an appendectomy. Family photos adorn the walls of Woodside.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name of Mark Twain, not only grew up in Hannibal but had multiple visits back to visit friends during his lifetime. One of his childhood friends was in fact John Garth. Samuel Clemens visited Woodside on several occasions, preferring to stay with his friends. He had his own particular favorite bedroom in the house and spent many hours laughing with the family in the downstairs parlor. When he published Life on the Mississippi, Clemens sent the Garths a copy. John Garth replied, “Thanks for the book. Each and every one at Woodside has enjoyed it greatly.” A note from Clemens to his manager requested a copy of Huckleberry Finn to be sent to the Garths upon its release. John Garth died in 1899.
There have only been six owners of the mansion since it was built, and most all of the original furnishings are still used. This brings me to the beds. Oh, the beds! This particular bed is valued at $55,000, being one of the most valuable in the United States. It is said that Mark Twain slept in this bed and the hand carved craftsmanship is beautiful. Other furnishings are original to the house as well, and it is truly like stepping back in time. Because Woodside has changed owners so infrequently, many of the belongings of the Garth family remain. The current innkeepers/owners (very friendly!) allowed us to roam the entire house and grounds and we were able to see everything the house has to offer, which is a lot.
After exploring the mansion and visiting with the llamas (resident livestock), we ventured into downtown Hannibal and decided to eat at the Mark Twain Dinette. Martin regaled me with tales of when he was sent by family to the Dinette to buy and bring home a jug of their homemade root beer. They have made the root beer onsite since going into business over 76 years ago, and it does not disappoint! If you visit, you should try one of their pork tenderloin sandwiches- it is enormous and one of the main dishes that they are known for.
After dinner, Martin walked me around the Mark Twain historic buildings- my own private tour.
It was fantastic. We then journeyed the short drive back to Woodside and enjoyed the rest of the night with complimentary wine, a fireplace, and a large jetted tub that I really wish I could bring home with me.
The next morning, we were provided a yummy breakfast and had some wonderful conversation with other guests. There are cottages at the rear of the property and they provide a beautiful view and private hot tubs on their decks. These are quite popular, and from what I gleaned from conversation with the others many like to return a couple times a year just to rejuvenate.
The next part of our adventure took us to Lover’s Leap. The views from this historic location are remarkable, and it was a beautiful day to behold.
Next, we traversed to Mark Twain Cave.
Made famous in Mark Twain’s writing, this location is the real deal. They offer tours, so of course we were all in. We went 250 feet below ground and saw everything we could see in the miles of tunnels made of limestone. Samuel Clemens even signed the cave wall when he was young- if you look in the center of the following image you can see “Clemens“.
Many, many people have been to the cave over the years- here I am, wandering around trying to get a feel for it- and loving every minute.
There are over 260 passageways, and it is easy to get turned around in the labyrinth. There is also a “marriage rock” within that has a story. There was a woman who discovered one of her ancestors had signed the cave wall and she had her wedding in the cave under the signature as an homage to the relation. Also look carefully in the photos for the signature from 1865. There are so many echoes from the past.
The Mark Twain Cave was discovered in the winter of 1819 when Jack Sims tracked a panther into what appeared to be a small den. He later discovered it was an extensive underground network. Twain included a lot of the cave in his book “Tom Sawyer”, as he found it to be a true source of inspiration as a child. He and friends used to light candles and enter the cave to explore it. The “Discovery” entrance is the original entrance (green sign) that was used, as you can see in the image.
Joseph Nash McDowell – He bought the cave in 1848 and was the owner during Mark Twain’s childhood. He is infamous for putting his recently deceased daughter into a copper cylinder and placing the cylinder in the back of his cave hoping to further his theory of human petrification. When Hannibal residents learned of this act, they begged him to remove her and bury her as was deemed proper.
Here is an image of where both McDowell’s daughter’s corpse was stored and where Jesse James placed his signature in the cave.
Jesse James — After a botched robbery attempt he hid out in Tennessee. In 1879 he decided to head for Independence, MO to assemble a new gang. On his way through, he signed his name in the Mark Twain Cave which is dated September 22, 1879, sixteen days before he robbed a train in Independence with his new crew, and only three years before his death.
The cave was a remarkable adventure and we spent a lot of time exploring it.
Also in Hannibal is the home of the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown. Molly was born in this house just a few blocks away from the home of Mark Twain. Margaret Tobin Brown was an activist and survivor of the Titanic. Born in 1867, she was the daughter of Irish immigrants. In her lifetime, she and her husband rocketed to fame during the Gold Rush. In a lifeboat as the RMS Titanic sank, Molly shared layers of clothing and urged others to survive the disaster. She used her status to inspire others to fight for children’s and worker’s rights for the remainder of her life.
For all of us Disney fans, Hannibal is also a special place. It is the birthplace of voice actor and musician Cliff Edwards, better known as the voice of Pinnochio’s Jiminy Cricket. Edwards was born in Hannibal and left school at the age of 14 to move to St. Louis. He taught himself to play the ukulele, choosing it because he said it was the cheapest instrument in the music shop. He was nicknamed “Ukulele Ike” by a club owner that could never recall his actual name, and it stuck.
Hannibal has so many stories, and there is so much to do and to see. If you visit between April and November you can even take a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi courtesy of the Mark Twain- they even offer dinner cruises. We plan on returning again soon, and before we departed, we returned to the Mark Twain Dinette to grab a root beer for the road. OK, we actually bought a case to take home. What a wonderful getaway!
Hope you enjoy sharing our adventures- be sure to give us a like, a comment, or at least have a drink of this fabulous root beer next time you are in Hannibal for us!
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