"So as long as people are reading and studying Mark Twain, they're going to know about Hannibal, and I think Hannibal will continue well into the future be known as Mark Twain's town."
-- Henry Sweets, executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum
WITH the 63rd National Tom Sawyer Days festival in the rearview mirror and its bicentennial on the horizon in 2019, Hannibal, Mo., remains inextricably linked to Mark Twain.
The scope of the connection between the renowned writer and the Mississippi River community of his youth -- from everyday life to a flourishing tourist industry -- was detailed in a report last week by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Edward Husar.
And it's clear that Hannibal fully embraces its historic ties to Twain.
"Mark Twain is the one that puts us on the map," admitted Gail Bryant, director of the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The result: Bryant said more than 500,000 tourists from all 50 states and more than 70 countries visit Hannibal each year, many lured by Twain's writings based on his memories of living along the river, notably "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
They come to see the Mark Twain Boyhood Home, the Mark Twain Museum, the Mark Twain Cave and several other properties managed by the Mark Twain Boyhood Home Foundation to learn about the culture that influenced the author's writings.
The foundation plays an important role in keeping alive the life and writings of Twain, who was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835 in Florida, Mo., and lived in Hannibal for 13 years after moving there at age 4.
Moreover, 30 commercial riverboats carrying hundreds of passengers are scheduled to dock this year in Hannibal, enabling those riders to explore Twain-related sites.
Likewise, National Tom Sawyer Days, a days-long festival held each summer, attracts thousands of visitors and enables the Hannibal Jaycees to raise about $40,000 to be used on a Buddy Pack program, the St. Jude Run and to create access opportunities for those with disabilities.
Clearly, Twain's impact on tourism is huge.
The Missouri Department of Tourism reports that $41.6 million in tourism-related revenue was spent in Hannibal in 2017. That, Bryant said, has led to 1,674 people working in the tourism industry in Marion and Ralls counties, helping to make tourism the No. 2 industry in Northeast Missouri behind agriculture.
In addition, Twain-related tourism continues to have a positive impact on the local business community. Steve Ayers, owner of Ayers Pottery, believes Twain's popularity has helped spur downtown development, especially in an effort to cater to tourists.
"It is giving us a little bit of an edge," Ayers told The Herald-Whig. "It is giving us a little bit of inspiration for other people to come in and try to do things to make the town better."
Hannibal played an important part in the life of Mark Twain, who parlayed his experiences to write more than two dozen books that remain popular worldwide today, more than 100 years after his death.
And, in turn, Twain continues to be a significant influence on the life and fortunes of Hannibal.