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Cruising the Mississippi with Executive Director Henry Sweets

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Last Updated on Monday, 31 August 2015 21:12 Monday, 23 December 2013 16:18

Cruising the Mississippi 

with Executive Director Henry Sweets 

A journey along the Mississippi with Mark Twain Museum's Executive Director Henry Sweets as he travels aboard the American Queen on her first 
Mark Twain Cruise.

Friday, August 28, 2015

While in Hannibal, Nancy left the cruise and my son Henry joined for the trip to Alton. This began to confuse everyone with two Henry Sweets aboard.


At most of the stops me made there were well-wishers standing to observe the boat and probably envision themselves leaving with us. Here is part of the crowd seeing the American Queen off Friday afternoon.


Most of the locks and dams are very similar. However, the Clarksville dam was different at night by having a row of lights all the way across the dam. Most had just a few to show.


Friday night’s entertainment in the Grand Saloon was “Bravo, Broadway” presented by the American Queen Ensemble. They featured major songs from a wide variety of Broadway musicals.


Saturday morning my presentation was entitled “A Day at the Mark Twain Museum” wherein I shared details of famous visitors, schoolchildren’s letters, genealogical questions, and tough research questions that have challenged the museum to answer.


Saturday afternoon the Mark Twain Cruise programming ended with a question and answer sessions. People had been invited to submit questions for the panel of Dr. Cindy Lovell from the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Mark Twain actor Lewis Hankins, and me. Cruise Director Alex Bernhardt moderated the session, which lasted most of an hour.


Friday evening, we were treated to an unusual performance by the Juggernaut Jug Band. This group began by playing a 1927 jug band piece and then sharing jug band compositions from Louisville, Kentucky and Memphis, Tennessee. They proved their versatility by using instruments from guitars to cowbells to washboard to a nose flute!


Saturday we were docked at Grafton. My son went for a run that included climbing a huge bluff. Next to us was the Loading Station. This was quite an attraction for the party crowd. They were reveling with a live band all afternoon. A second live band took over for the evening and led lie hula hoops came out. The music was so loud that the captain decided not to wait until 11:30 pm to leave as scheduled, but pulled out about 9:00 so the passengers with rooms facing the Loading Dock could sleep.


Sunday morning we were to be out of our room by 8:00 am so the boat could be turned around for a new cruise set to board at 3:00 pm. Henry and I stopped in front of the smokestacks for a last picture.


Porters came around to pick up the heavier bags for transit to the dock. These had to go down the one set of elevators, which also served the passengers, so they backed up at times.


The baggage sitting on the dock awaiting transfer to buses, taxis or cars was impressive. We shared the cruise with more than 390 other passengers and a bag or two each did pile up.


Henry took one last photo of the American Queen as we started up Illinois Highway 100 for the drive back to Hannibal, ending a most memorable Mark Twain Cruise.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursday was a cruising day as we left Bettendorf, Iowa and sailed all the way to Hannibal with no port stops. The beautiful weather continued and the sunrise was spectacular.


At one of the locks and dams they had a series of Purple Martin houses all shaped like little steamboats.


The calliope is on the front of the Promenade Deck or top deck. The console is just a few feet below the row of pipes. Standing nearby is difficult as the calliope is loud.


In the afternoon one of the deck hands, Bosun Sam, demonstrated some of the common knots used with ropes on board. He showed a use for older frayed rope - making bumpers to hang alongside the boat when  going through locks to protect the wood. He then demonstrated taking a sounding using a lead line as was done in Mark Twain's day.


The American Queen is too tall to pass under some of the bridges. To provide clearance, the smokestacks have hydraulic mechanisms to lower them down parallel with the river. The pilot house can be retracted down into the boat as well to provide the clearance.


Thursday evening Lewis Hankins portrayed Mark Twain to a full house. He had the crowd laughing at Twain's wit. After the performance I posed for a picture with Lewis.


As a fitting end to the evening, a near full moon cast its light across the waters to the boat. Overnight we docked in Hannibal, ready to start touring Friday morning.






 Wednesday August 26, 2015


Henry with Captain Joe Jamison in the pilot house of the American Queen

 The American Queen travels with four stages that transport passengers to their sites at each stop.

Nancy and I headed off into Davenport to see what antique stores were available. We found one that had beautiful furniture, but no way to consider transporting anything on the boat. The travel through the city was pleasant and we saw a great number of very elegant older homes.

One of the bridges in Davenport to Rock Island crosses the top of the dam. Every time they open the lock for a boat, the bridge is closed. We saw construction starting for a new bridge. The construction has been going on for about a year and is to be complete in 2020!  long bridge project.

The calliope plays every time we pass through a lock and every time as we leave ports. The keyboard has 37 keys and looks easy to play as there are no pedals or stops to use. Each note goes to an individual pipe overhear. The pipes are about 10 feet from where one plays the calliope.

Braydon Lovell, Nick Neely and Henry delivering Hannibal informational packets to each cabin.

In port, tours of the pilot house are offered. Learning that there are propulsion devices at the front of the boat directed sideways to aid in steering was new for us.


August 25, 2015

Tuesday evening Nancy and I enjoyed the versatility of the crew in the lounge.  Bobby Durham, the ship’s Riverlorian, performed on the banjo and the ship’s Captain Bobby Duncan entertained us on guitar.  There is an interesting story behind the Fender Telecaster Captain Duncan was playing.  The guitar was made from a broken plank off of the boat’s paddlewheel. 


Another “River Legend” concerns the boar’s head mounted in the Gentleman’s Room.  Legend is that the boar was on an island in the Mississippi River when floodwaters began to rise.  The boar, swimming for safety ran into the paddlewheel of the boat.  They ship’s crew mounted the head and they call him “Killer”. 


Dr. Cindy Lovell lectured Wednesday afternoon on Mark Twain’s continued popularity today, giving examples of Twain appearing in many current magazines and television shows. 


Our afternoon Wednesday took us to the Quad Cities and Davenport, IA where we toured an Antique store and saw many incredible pieces of early furniture.  

"When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or biography I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before--met him on the river."
- Life on the Mississippi

Mark Twain Museum's Executive Director Henry Sweets shares his experiences aboard The American Queen's Mark Twain Cruise:

"We got underway Sunday evening from Alton, Illinois with perfect weather, cool and dry. Passed through locks on the way upriver.

Monday was a cruising day. In the morning, Cindy Lovell of the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT made a presentation on Mark Twain's popularity today. The American Queen's Riverlorian gave an informative talk on the river and its navigation and river terminology. In the afternoon I shared a program on Mark Twain's book The Gilded Age. Both Mark Twain programs filled the Grand Saloon, very few seats remained. In the evening a musican ensemble and the American Queen musicians shared a medley of songs from Burbon Street in New Orleans to Beale Street in Memphis.

We have just over 400 passengers on board for the Mark Twain Cruise. Have met one couple from Hartford and another from the Elmira area, so the Mark Twain sites are represented.

Tuesday morning we were in Burlington, Iowa. Several shore tours were available. Nancy and I chose to wander the downtown area ourselves and enjoyed an antique store that was in a delightful smelling neighborhood. The next door business was a commercial bakery making bread for area grocery stores. The fresh baked bread odor permeated the entire area, producing one of the most attractive walks I have had in some time.

At 1:00 Tuesday we are leaving Burlington. To pass under the bridge, the smokestacks were lowered parallel with the upper deck and the pilot house retracted downwards to provide clearance. This is necessary at several of the bridge passings.

So far the weather has been cool and very delightful, not the usual August hot and sticky we were anticipating. People are wearing jackets when on deck in the evening as the breeze is chilly."

Henry Sweets


Missouri Business Tax Credits Available

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Last Updated on Monday, 07 October 2013 20:08 Monday, 07 October 2013 20:06


           The Mark Twain Home Foundation has been awarded Missouri Business Tax Credits through the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP). This grant from the Missouri Department of Economic Development supports the fabrication and installation of permanent exhibits for the Becky Thatcher House.

          For gifts of $1,000 or more, the NAP grant will provide 50% of the gift in tax credit that may be used for Missouri business tax liability over a five year period. This is in addition to whatever Federal tax deduction one receives for their gift.

          Many businesses, corporations, far, operations, and individuals with rental property can qualify for the tax credit. It is best to check with one’s financial adviser for eligibility and benefits for such gifts.

          The Becky Thatcher House, located across the mall from the Mark Twain Boyhood Home, was re-opened this summer after extensive renovation, and it features temporary exhibits about Laura Hawkins, the real-life inspiration for Mark Twain’s character. The permanent exhibits for the Becky Thatcher House will explore childhood in Hannibal in the 1840s and 1850s. Children from different levels of society will be followed to see what was expected of them, what learning opportunities they had, and their future aspirations. This final phase of the renovation project will cost around $350,000.

          “We are excited to be ready to work on the permanent exhibits for the Becky Thatcher House,” commented Henry Sweets, executive director. “Children play a prominent role in Mark Twain’s writings, and the exhibits will provide a unique, interactive learning experience for families and students visiting the Museum.”

          For more information, contact Henry Sweets at the Mark Twain Museum: 573-221-9010 extension 405 or


Hannibal Twain Home wins fundraising contest

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Tuesday, 13 August 2013 13:42

HANNIBAL, Mo. – The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum narrowly defeated The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Conn., in the first  “Dollar at the Door” challenge in July.

The challenge? Ask for a $1 endowment donation with each museum ticket purchase. The goal? Raise money for each museum and establish a friendly annual competition.

The contest winner had to raise the most endowment dollars per ticket sold.

The Hannibal Home raised $2,190.70 and sold 6,207 tickets, or $0.3529 per ticket sold. The Hartford House raised $2,207.70 and sold 6,473 tickets, and made $0.3411 per ticket sold.

“We’re looking forward to having our fence whitewashed,” Hannibal Home executive director Henry Sweets said. “This contest, win or lose, helped both of our museums raise money for future projects and we thank everyone who contributed.”

As a result, executive director of the Hartford House, Cindy Lovell, will travel to Hannibal and whitewash Tom’s famous fence.

         Lovell will also bring a Twain artifact to loan to the Hannibal Home for one year: the original illustration of Huckleberry Finn for the frontispiece of the first edition of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Endowment funds ensure the long-term success and preservation of each museum’s historic properties. Both homes are on the National Register of Historic Places and are National Historic Landmarks.

The dollar at the door campaign began at the Hannibal Home in Oct. 2009, launched by former executive director Lovell. Since then, volunteers and staff have raised more than $25,000 for the endowment fund. The Hartford House staff launched their campaign in April 2013 and they have raised almost $6,000.

The houses will renew the endowment fund competition in May, June and July 2014.


Mark Twain Museum sells student-restored Van Swearingen House

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Thursday, 11 July 2013 20:28

HANNIBAL, Mo. — The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum has sold the historic Van Swearingen House. 

         The house sold in early July to Aimee Hosmer, completing a community project aimed at giving Hannibal students real-world trade skills. 

The historic preservation trades class at Hannibal High School, led by Bob Yapp of Preservation Resources, Inc., restored and upgraded the house throughout the course of two years and completed it in July 2012. 

“We’re grateful that the house has sold and thank the museum for allowing the Hannibal High School Preservation Trades program to have a laboratory for two years,” Yapp said. 

The Van Swearingen house was built around 1844 by Thomas Van Swearingen, a local attorney, and was donated to the Mark Twain Home Foundation by Martin Zehr and Susan Ikazaki. 

This project was made possible by partnerships with Preservation Resources Inc., BASF, Hannibal National Bank, Linda Clark, the George H. Riedel Private Foundation, Hannibal Homestore, Sutherlands, Lowes, John Michael Originals and the Mark Twain Association of Realtors. 

The Mark Twain Association of Realtors agreed to lead the sale of the Van Swearingen House. Prestige Realty agent Kristy Trevathan, also a member of the Mark Twain Home Foundation Board, served as the listing and selling agent and is donating her portion of the commission back to the Mark Twain Home Foundation. 

     “It was an honor to be involved, both as a Mark Twain Home Foundation board member and as a realtor, in such a remarkable community project,” Trevathan said. “The involvement of the Preservation class, under the guidance of Bob Yapp, was an incredible project. One of Hannibal’s earliest homes has been preserved and should serve the buyer, Aimee Hosmer, well for many years.”

Historic Becky Thatcher House reopens June 29

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Last Updated on Thursday, 06 June 2013 21:30 Thursday, 06 June 2013 21:28

Becky Thatcher House in Hannibal, Missouri, part of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum properties

The Becky Thatcher House, under restoration since 2008, will reopen June 29.

The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum will host a noon ribbon cutting and other events at the house, under restoration since 2008.

The ribbon cutting ceremony will include raffles and giveaways, followed by an opportunity to tour the building and enjoy activities in the restored home all day long.

Inside the Becky, Gladys Coggswell will perform and tell stories in the house at 1 and 1:30 p.m. Museum executive director Henry Sweets will give a guided tour and talk about the real Becky, Laura Hawkins, who lived in the historic home, and Mark Twain impersonator Jim Waddell will perform Twain’s Civil War recollections at 4 p.m.

The house will contain temporary exhibits and items from the museum’s extensive collection until funds can be raised for the fabrication and installation of the permanent exhibits.

The temporary exhibits include the story of the real-life Becky, a retrospective of the Tom and Becky Program, a photographic exhibit of the museum’s 100th anniversary and more.

“We’re thrilled to add even more exhibits and another building to the museum experience for our visitors,” marketing manager Brenna McDermott said. “And we hope that our local supporters will bring their families down and see what’s new at the Becky Thatcher House, too.”

The permanent exhibits will be installed when funds are raised. They will contrast childhood in Hannibal during the 1840s and 1850s with modern times. Visitors will learn about how class, race and gender affected children’s lives, seen through the experiences of the fictional characters Tom, Becky, Huck and Jim.

Visitors will learn what was expected of each child as they prepared for adulthood, attended school and went about their daily lives.

The Becky Thatcher House will be included in the museum tour. Visitors purchase one ticket and can also see the Museum Gallery, Interpretive Center, Huckleberry Finn Home, Mark Twain Boyhood Home and the J.M. Clemens Justice of the Peace office.


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