Hannibal History Museum finds new home on Main Street

The Hannibal History Museum retains it connection to Hannibalís historic district at its new location at 200 N. Main, directly across the street from the Mark Twain Museum. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Apr. 22, 2013 4:03 pm Updated: May. 7, 2013 1:15 pm
Co-owner Ken Marks is framed by the studs of a lumber display in the Hannibal History Museum. The display pays homage to Hannibal's days as a big lumber town. At one time, Hannibal was home to 16 different lumber plants. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Lisa and Ken Marks needed more space to tell Hannibal's story.

Since opening the Hannibal History Museum in 2011, the Markses' knowledge of Hannibal's history and their collection of artifacts had outgrown its location at 217 N. Main. This winter, the couple took the whole collection and moved it to a new home at 200 N. Main. The move required plenty of dedicated volunteers, dollies and a commitment to working around this winter's fierce weather.

"It took hundreds of volunteer hours to move the museum and get it to the way that you see it," Lisa Marks said.

For the past several weeks, the co-curators have made progress arranging the front showroom of the museum's new home and have allowed guests in free of charge during renovations.

The museum, a nonprofit sponsored by the Marion County Historical Society, consistently champions the lesser-known faces and industries of Hannibal history. The Markses have created space for much of the town's story, but they anticipate several months of work before the museum meets their own expectations.

"All of that is time-consuming," Ken said. "When you're doing it for free, everything slows down."

While the new location is the most noticeable change, the curators have put together several new exhibits and activities to boost the scope of local history and legends. Exhibits show the native people who originally occupied the area. The tour then transitions into the Civil War area and the Gilded Age. Recently, the couple reconstructed an original lumber wall from Hannibal's once-booming lumber industry. A line of handmade shoes represents a long-forgotten shoe factory.

"It's maximizing the space and telling the biggest story you can in the space that we're given," Lisa said.

Lisa explained that few really know the town's history beyond Mark Twain, specifically Hannibal's connection to the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown. Lisa has forged a special connection with Molly, the feisty Hannibal native and Titanic survivor who became known for her wealth and philanthropy in the West.

During the museum's "Tea Time With the Unsinkable Molly Brown," Lisa dresses in Victorian garb and shares stories of Molly's Hannibal childhood and her voyage on the Titanic. The new location is ideal for "Tea Time," with a larger seating area and an elaborate parlor setting complete with a player piano and period-appropriate wallpaper.

As the couple researched Molly, they gathered enough information to write a book called "Molly Brown From Hannibal, Missouri."

"There aren't writings that survived of her as a kid, but we have plenty to understand that Irish upbringing and her genealogy," Ken said. "When you line it all up, you can see the influences much better."

Molly was one of many who benefited from those influences. At the turn of the 20th century, Hannibal served as a stop on the routes from St. Louis and Kansas City to Chicago. Lisa said the train traffic boosted business and helped turn Hannibal, temporarily, into the second largest city in the state.

"It was a very a cosmopolitan town, even though it was one-tenth of the size of a lot of larger Midwestern cities," Lisa said.

Panels in the new museum honor notable names such as 20th-century Major League Baseball player Jake Beckley, singer and voice actor Cliff Edwards, and inventor Bill Lear. Lisa said visitors are consistently amazed by the number of prominent people who had roots in America's Hometown.

"There must be something in the muddy water here that creates these larger-than-life characters," she said.