Tom Sawyer Days in Hannibal, Missouri

Small towns take their 4th of July celebrations very seriously. Keokuk, Iowa actually upgraded the electrical system in their park to be able to run the rides in the traveling carnival that was in town. And while the deathtrap rides and the 2 p.m. Zumba demonstration at the pavilion sounded intriguing, we decided to make the drive to Hannibal, Missouri, birthplace of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, for the annual Tom Sawyer Days celebration.

We arrived just in time for the fence-painting contest. Boys dressed in their best Tom Sawyer costumes whitewashed small sections of picket fences as fast as they could while girls in bonnets judged the results. Anyone can participate — there’s even an over 30 class later in the day. Just watch out for the fire hose they use to wash down the whole area between rounds.

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After that we wandered over to the Mississippi Mud Volleyball Tournament where very dedicated athletes sloshed around in knee-deep mud pits competing for the title.

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Of course, as we strolled Main Street Hannibal a handwritten sign that read “Craft  beer tasting, 12 samples for $10,” caught my eye. We each plucked down a Hamilton and got our official tasting cup and tickets.

Two larger breweries, Abita and Sierra Nevada were there, but there were also a dozen other local breweries featuring a menagerie of different types of beers.

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My only critique of the beer tasting was that the booths were run by local volunteers, not anyone from the actual breweries. Aside from a few laminated cards touting each beers flavor notes, there were no answers to critical questions like, “Why does your brewery make four different IPAs and what’s the big difference between them?”

Even with our questions unanswered we had a very nice time chatting with all of the beer tasting volunteers and due to some very generous pours, we weren’t able to get anywhere close to using all of our tickets.

No holiday is complete without some boating, so at 6 p.m. we wandered down to the Mark Twain Riverboat for the dinner cruise.

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Dinner was a bit pricey at $40 per person, and we paid the additional $25 to stay on the boat for fireworks after dinner, but how often do you get the chance to have dinner on a riverboat while taking in the scenery described in both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn?

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Dinner was a one-trip buffet with a small desert served at the table. Beer, wine and mixed drinks in souvenir cups were available at a cash bar.

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Paying the extra to stay and watch the fireworks was definitely worth the price of admission. Chairs were set out for us on the top deck, and the captain held position right in front of Lover’s Leap, the lookout point where the fireworks were based.

Fireworks are best captured with a long exposure, which is next to impossible on a moving boat, but I snapped one shot just to prove we were there before settling in to enjoy the show.

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Hannibal was really hopping when we got back to shore with bands playing on several patios and on the roof of the Mark Twain Brewing Company. However, we had a two-hour drive back to Illinois, so we called it a night and headed home.

Incidentally, I had to brake for two different raccoons, a deer, and an owl before we made it back to Warsaw — making our small town 4th of July complete.

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