Missouri News

Becky Thatcher House set to reopen

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 19, 2016 8:35 am

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Eight years after restoration efforts got started, the historic Becky Thatcher House in Hannibal is finally ready for the limelight.

A ribbon cutting and grand-opening ceremony will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to celebrate the completion of home's $1.3 million facelift. The home will then be open for free public tours until 7 p.m.

"We're extremely excited," said Melissa Cummins, marketing and public relations manager for the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, which owns the historic Thatcher home.

"It's a fabulous museum," Cummins said. "It's not only for adults, but it's a fabulous museum for children and school groups because it has so much information about children and life and work and play" in the 1800s.

The Becky Thatcher House is directly across Hill Street from the boyhood home of author Mark Twain, who lived in Hannibal for much of his youth while known as Samuel Clemens.

Laura Hawkins, a childhood friend of Clemens, lived in the house and served as the model for Becky Thatcher, a key character in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and other fictional works inspired by Twain's early years in Hannibal.

The Mark Twain Museum acquired the house in 2001 with long-range plans to restore it. The house was temporarily closed to public tours in 2008 when the renovation effort began in earnest.

The museum restored the building's exterior, stabilized the foundation and made numerous improvements inside, including HVAC, electrical and plumbing upgrades. New drywall also was added, but museum officials took pains to keep intact as many original features as possible, such as woodwork, baseboards, fireplaces and a pocket door that was discovered.

The home reopened to the public in June 2013 with temporary exhibits on the first floor. But now the permanent exhibits have been completed and have been receiving accolades since they were unveiled over the Labor Day weekend.

"Everyone has loved it," Cummins said.

The new exhibits -- all on the main floor of the two-story building -- have turned the Becky Thatcher House into what Cummins calls "a museum dedicated to childhood in the 1800s."

Visitors will get an introduction to Laura Hawkins through text and photos and even a radio broadcast in which she was featured. Visitors will also learn about the Becky Thatcher character she inspired.

Other exhibits will offer insights into three other main characters of Twain's classic novels -- notably Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Jim.

"Each of those characters represents a different socioeconomic status at the time in the 1800s," Cummins said, noting how Becky Thatcher came from a wealthy family, Tom Sawyer from a medium-income family, Huck from a poor family, and Jim from a family of slaves.

Other displays depict what childhood was like in Hannibal during the time period when Mark Twain lived there -- from about 1839 to 1853.

Cummins said the museum is planning to turn the home's second floor into a classroom typical of the type attended by Laura Hawkins and Sam Clemens, who were about the same age.

"They remained friends through life," Cummins said.

More information about Hannibal's Mark Twain properties is available at marktwainmuseum.org.

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