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The (not so) rough guide to Huck Finn country

How to seek out the classic and quintessential heart of a destination

The (not so) rough guide to Huck Finn country
Tom Sawyer's fence and Mark Twain's boyhood home, Hannibal, Missouri. Image: Getty.

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QWhere do I need to go to find the type of US southern town we all associate with the Mark Twain character Huckleberry Finn?

A lot of people mistakenly assume Mark Twain’s novels were set in the state of Mississippi. While the Mississippi River plays a crucial role in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the action takes place on the shores of Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas.

Both Finn and his friend Tom Sawyer live in St Petersburg, which was based on Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. The inhabitants of modern-day Hannibal make much of the association, and the first stop for all visitors should be the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum. It includes the house where Twain grew up in the 1840s; the Huckleberry Finn House, where the real Huck Finn, Tom Blankenship, lived; and Becky Thatcher House, the former home of Laura Hawkins, the inspiration for Tom Sawyer’s love interest. marktwainmuseum.org

Go for National Tom Sawyer Day on 4 July and you’ll be treated to a parade and quintessential Twainian activities, such as the ‘frog long jump’ and the ‘painting fence contest’.

Of course, Huckleberry Finn spends much of his time on a raft heading down the Mississippi, so you have to take to the water. The Mark Twain Riverboat offers short cruises, although longer steamboat adventures are available from nearby St Louis. marktwainriverboat.com

Life on the Mississippi
Much of Mark Twain’s detailed knowledge of the towns on the Mississippi’s shores came from his two-and-a-half-year stint as a ‘cub pilot’ on a steamboat. To follow in his footsteps, take a voyage on the Queen of the Mississippi, from St Louis down to Memphis or even all the way down to New Orleans. americancruiselines.com


Published in the Jul/Aug 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)