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    Do not put off till tomorrow what can be put off till day-after-tomorrow just as well.
-- Mark Twain
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Spirit of Mark Twain Cave

Whether an avid Tom Sawyer fan, a local history buff, or an amateur geologist, visitors to the Mark Twain Cave are sure to find a taste of adventure.

Mark Twain Cave, the oldest show cave in Missouri, was discovered in the winter of 1819 by Jack Sims when his hunting dogs chased a panther into a small opening in the side of the hill. In the years to follow, local residents explored only a portion of the caves maze. One of the early explorers was the young Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). Never tiring of adventure, he enjoyed wandering in the deep passages and vaulted chambers, using only a candle to light his way.

The local sheriff, knowing the children liked to explore the cave, had the young spelunkers sign their names on a tablet when they entered the cave. After exploring, the children would cross off their names as they left. Then, at the end of the day, if there were still names on the list, the sheriff would know someone was lost and he would organize a search party. As a child, Mark Twain knew the passages as well as anyone. Years later, he mentioned the cave in five of his books, but it was the publication of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876 that brought the cave international fame. Twain fans from all over the world came to walk the same passages and imagine the drama of Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher unfolding in front of their eyes.

Visitors today still walk through Grand Avenue, the largest room in the cave, where Tom and Becky were cast into darkness after a bat swooped down and snuffed out their candle. The route continues through the Parlor, a natural underground room complete with a grand piano, sofa, and the famous love seat where Tom vowed to find the way out, only to discover the fugitive murderer, Injun Joe, who was hiding out in the cave. Injun Joes treasure room, with his famous clues of the sign of a cross and a secret second room, can also be seen as the tour makes its way toward the discovery entrance where Tom and Becky escaped and where, according to Twains novel, the body of Injun Joe was later found.

Though made famous only in the last century, Mark Twain Cave was formed l00 million years ago when the Mississippi was a vast inland sea. Of the more than 5,000 caves found in Missouri, it is one of three labyrinth style caves open to tourism, and it is registered as a Natural Landmark. Situated under a 90-acre hill, the cave has four entrances, 260 passages that cover 6 1/2 miles, and it maintains temperature of 52 degrees year round. Numerous geological formations are present in the cave, including a glacier made of flow stone, the cascades, the frozen waterfall, a natural spring, and Aladdins Palace, the only formation actually named by Mark Twain. In one section of the cave, tiny soda straw stalactites can be seen forming on the ceiling at the pace of one inch every 100 years.

The first professional explorers, Beech and Steele, led an expedition through the cave in 1820, but it was not until 1886 that regular tours began. The first tour guide, John East, was a local farmer who charged ten cents. East's tours lasted from 6 1/2 minutes to 6 1/2 hours depending, he once said, on how lost he got. Since then, thousands of people from around the world have toured the cave, including President Carter and his family, who visited in 1979.

The cave, with its unique geological and literary background, also reflects an interesting local history. Jesse James, the famous outlaw, used the cave as a hide out after robbing a train near Saverton, Mo. He signed his name on one of the passage walls and dated it Sept. 22,1879.

Earlier, in the 1850s, the cave served as a lab for one of the early owners. Joseph Nash McDowell, a doctor, began an experiment to see if he could petrify the body of his deceased daughter in the cave. The experiment failed, though, and the body was removed after McDowell heard that local children had discovered the body and had used it as a prop in their ghost stories.

Years later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the rooms in the cave served as a bomb shelter where enough food was stored for 1,500 people to survive for two to three weeks. Over the last 60 years, the cave has even served as a natural cathedral for several wedding nuptials.

Visit the Mark Twain Cave web site here.


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Editor's Picks
So you want to know where the locals eat in Hannibal? What about where to eat when you're on a tight budget? And just where are the coolest places to visit or just hang out? hannibal.net has got you covered with our exclusive look at the best of Hannibal.
Where the locals eat
Eating on a budget
Best Places to Visit


Outdoor Guide
Looking to spend some time outdoors? Well, we've got a great guide for the outdoors in Hannibal from fishing the Mississippi to camping at Mark Twain Lake. Click Here



Attractions on the Web
Find more information about the following attractions from their official sites:
Rockliffe Mansion
The Riverboat
Stone School Inn




Lovers Leap
No one knows for sure how many places in Missouri are known as Lovers Leap; Mark Twain once wrote that there were at least 50 such high bluffs up and down the Mississippi River. Continue.




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