Hannibal riverboat honors Mark Twain

Hannibal riverboat honors Mark Twain

Photos and story by Brian Gauvin


This should be a busy season for Capt. Steven Terry. Terry is the owner of Riverboat Excursions and the 120-foot sternwheeler, Mark Twain in Hannibal, Mo.

The riverboat Mark Twain offers three cruises, plus one dinner cruise, daily on the Mississippi River from Hannibal, Mo. (Brian Gauvin photo)

Rumors of Mark Twain’s death were put to rest with his corporal remains 100 years ago. Born Samuel Clemens on Nov. 30, 1835, in Missouri, the writer took the famous pen name from his experiences as a river pilot on the Mississippi River. “By the mark twain!” called out by the sounder indicated two fathoms and therefore safe passage for the shallow sternwheelers plying the shallows.

A statue on the Hannibal waterfront shows the boat’s namesake, a chronicler of maritime life on the river and author of the classic books The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (Brian Gauvin photo)

Dubuque Boiler & Boat Works in Dubuque, Iowa, built Mark Twain in 1964. The vessel draws 5 feet and is a true covered paddle wheel turned by two V871 Detroit Diesels at 300 hp each. “She is licensed for 400 passengers, but I don’t let more than 300 on board because it gets too damn crowded,” said Terry.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Riverboat Excursions conducts three cruises and a dinner cruise each day. Mark Twain carries a crew of five on weekdays and seven on weekends.

Twain’s books, and such characters as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Jim have made Hannibal one of the most well known little towns in America. “The tourists are here because of Mark Twain and the Mark Twain stories,” said Terry.

During each cruise, Terry launches into Mark Twain lore and directs attention to Twain sites such as Jackson Island, a favorite hangout for the writer, and a place that he wrote into his stories. “It’s the most famous island in the world,” maintains Terry. He also talks about river navigation and the towboats plying the Upper Mississippi.

“To the towboaters we’re an excursion boat and a pain in the butt,” the captain said. “But when we see a towboat we get all excited, because then we have something new to talk about. But we’re all pretty cordial to each other. It’s just that sometimes they have to move when we’re in the way.”