Missouri News

Hannibal planning yearlong slate of activities for bicentennial celebration

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 29, 2018 10:15 pm Updated: Dec. 29, 2018 10:38 pm

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hannibal will spend the next year commemorating two centuries of local history.

It's all part of a gala bicentennial celebration that's been in the planning stages for several years.

The first event will be a "Mayors Reunion" at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, in the City Council chambers at City Hall. All former Hannibal mayors have been invited to a ceremony marking the 200th anniversary of when Hannibal was chartered as a town in 1819.

From that point on, "we'll be into the bicentennial, so let the partying begin," said Cindy Lovell, who was hired by the Bicentennial Steering Committee to serve as event director.

The committee is gradually unveiling an array of activities, exhibits, performances and special events that will take place at various times throughout the year to celebrate the city's 200th birthday.

"It's going to be a really fun year," Lovell said.

A complete schedule of activities -- some still in the planning stages -- will be posted on the Hannibal2019.com website. Additional information, including daily doses of local history and reminders of upcoming events, will appear on the Hannibal Bicentennial Facebook page.

Lovell said one of the committee's most ambitious projects will involve hanging a series of 141 banners on downtown utility poles showing the faces of local men and women who have served in the military.

"Those banners will fly from Memorial Day weekend through Veterans Day," Lovell said.

The salute to military heroes will culminate with a Hangar Ball on Nov. 9 at Hannibal Regional Airport, where a USO-style dance party, followed by fireworks, will serve as the bicentennial's "grand finale."

Throughout the year, the steering committee will highlight some of the famous people who lived in Hannibal -- aside from Mark Twain, who immortalized the town in his writings about Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and the Mississippi River.

For example, the steering committee is trying to find a decommissioned Learjet to display at the airport in recognition of native son Bill Lear, who invented the jet, the 8-track tape player and many other devices. The committee has ordered hundreds of balsa wood airplanes in memory of Lear that will be among a series of little keepsakes to be given away during the year.

Plans also are in the works to host a Cliff Edwards Film Festival honoring the Hannibal-born actor and singer known as "Ukulele Ike" who appeared in more than 100 films.

"He's most famous for being the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's ‘Pinocchio' movie," Lovell said.

Tentative plans call for showing "Pinocchio" in Huckleberry Park on June 14 -- Edwards' birthday -- preceded by a public-participation ukulele concert as a salute to Edwards, who popularized the instrument.

"We're looking for ukulele players" to show up and join the concert, Lovell said.

Hall of Fame baseball player Jake "Eagle Eye" Beckley was the inspiration for an old-time baseball game slated to be played Aug. 17.

Beckley, Lear, Edwards, Twain and a half-dozen other well-known people who once lived in Hannibal will be featured on a series of baseball-style trading cards being produced for distribution during the bicentennial.

Hannibal also is making plans to adorn the downtown area with a series of "Bicentennial Beacons" symbolic of the lighthouse atop Cardiff Hill. Local artists are being invited to decorate these 6-foot, 9-inch wooden structures however they wish.

Michael Gaines, director of the Hannibal Arts Council, said he hopes the beacon project will produce some artistic buzz in the downtown area.

"It's an opportunity for artists -- and even people who would never call themselves an artist but who are creative -- to participate in the bicentennial in kind of a unique way," he said.

Mark Twain's connections to Hannibal also will be highlighted during the bicentennial -- particularly when Twain scholars from around the world converge in Hannibal July 25 to 27 for the Clemens Conference, an event held every four years at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum.

Some other events being planned for the year include:

º Several theatrical productions with a local flavor, including at least two world premiere performances at Bluff City Theatre and a performance of "Sawyer" at Hannibal-LaGrange University.

º The release in March of the Bicentennial edition of Steve Chou's "Bluff City Memories," a book of historic Hannibal photographs.

º The opening of a time capsule buried 50 years ago followed by the burial of a new time capsule.

º The construction of hand-hewn log cabin at the Cardiff Hill overlook.

º A special exhibit highlighting the rise and fall of black business districts.

º The docking of a keelboat and re-enactment of the early 1800s era.

º A Civil War re-enactment in September.

º A reunion of people who have served as Tom and Becky ambassadors.

º A wide variety of musical performances, including a July 3 concert by Grammy Award-winning bluegrass legend Rhonda Vincent and the Rage and an Aug. 24 performance by Grammy-nominated blues performer Victor Wainwright and the Train.

Lovell said many of the festivals held annually in Hannibal will have a special bicentennial theme in 2019. In addition, many downtown merchants "are planning to have the bicentennial thread running through everything they do this year," she said.

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