HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hannibal formally kicked off its yearlong Bicentennial celebration Wednesday night with an hourlong "Mayors Reunion" in the council chambers at City Hall.
A large crowd turned out to see three former mayors join the current mayor, James Hark, for a ceremony marking the 200th anniversary of Hannibal's founding in 1819.
Hark read a list of all former mayors. The list included his father, Roy Hark, who was the longest-serving mayor, remaining in office from 2001 to 2016.
Roy Hark was on hand for the celebration along with two other former mayors -- John Yancey, who served from 1989 to 1993, and Richard Cerretti, who was mayor for an abbreviated term in 1985.
As James Hark started reading the names of former mayors starting with the first mayor, James Brady -- who served from 1843 to 1845 and then again in 1860 -- Hark invited all descendants of the former mayors to stand and be recognized.
The first to stand was Becky Toalson McUmber, whose father, Clyde Toalson, was mayor from 1957 to 1963.
In an interview, McUmber said she was glad to see all of the former mayors being saluted as a way to kick off the city's bicentennial.
"It's a nice honor for my dad and for all the other mayors," she said. "I had no idea there were so many."
McUmber is a former Becky Thatcher ambassador who was selected to be part of the Tom and Becky program in 1958. She said she plans to attend a Tom and Becky reunion to be held during National Tom Sawyer Days as part of the bicentennial celebration.
Gail Bryant, director of the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau and a member of the city's Bicentennial Steering Committee, welcomed those attending Wednesday's kickoff event, organized by City Clerk Angel Zerbonia.
"This is a very special time," Bryant said. "We're excited for 2019."
Wednesday's event was the first in a wide array of activities, exhibits, performances and special events that will take place at various times throughout the year.
A complete schedule of activities -- some still in the planning stages --is posted at Hannibal2019.com. Additional information, including daily doses of local history and reminders of upcoming events, will appear on the Hannibal Bicentennial Facebook page.
James Hark said he's excited to see so much enthusiasm building in the community for the various events slated to take place this year, and he was pleased for the big turnout at Wednesday's kickoff.
"This is what Hannibal is about," he told the crowd.
"We're family. We're a community, and we come together in good and bad. And this is a fantastic time -- a time for us to celebrate our bicentennial."