Christmases past in Historic Downtown Hannibal

  • By Kelly Wilson
  • 23 Nov, 2016

For nearly 200 years, Christmas has been celebrated in Hannibal. The first holidays were celebrated in log cabins; by the 1840s when the Clemens family arrived in Hannibal, churches had been established, and gatherings with friends and family included the exchange of small gifts wrapped in brown paper tied with string. Soon, front parlors were decorated with Christmas trees, with fruit, nuts, berries and candy hanging from their boughs lit by the glow of candles clipped to the tree.

As the snows came, children enjoyed ice skating on Bear Creek and sledding down Hannibal’s steep hills. Some years, horse-drawn traffic was brought to a halt to allow those sledding down Seventh Street to pass; so severe was the street’s slope that, with the right toboggan, a few adventuresome sledders could start at the intersection of Seventh and Hill and make it all the way to Lyon Street in one, long pass. 

Eventually, candlelit trees gave way to fancy electric lights. Gift-giving became a more prominent part of the holidays, and jolly old St. Nick, now known as Santa Claus, delighted children with the promise of rewards for good behavior.

Favorite spots 

During the postwar years of the late 1940s and early 1950s, before malls began to appear along Highway 61, downtown Hannibal was where people went to shop. Broadway and Main Street were considered the main shopping areas in Hannibal, and, during the holiday season, the downtown district became even more special — the day after Thanksgiving, stores transformed overnight into a holiday fantasyland. 

At that time, eagerly anticipated was the opening of Santa’s House at the intersection of Broadway and Main Street, where the Avenue of Flags is situated today. Children from throughout the region would wait in line to greet Santa in the small, square house decorated to look like Santa’s front parlor.

Once inside, near the pot-bellied stove lit to keep everyone warm, children would be greeted by one of Santa’s helpers and brought to sit on Santa’s lap to discuss their Christmas wish list. Each child would receive a piece of candy as they exited the back of the house.  

During the holidays, the Hannibal Merchant’s Bureau organized the downtown stores to stay open until 9 on Saturday evenings in December as well as the last four shopping days before Christmas. Of course, all stores were closed on Sundays.

Shopping destinations

Many remember favorite holiday shopping spots such as Kresge’s “five-and-dime” store at 111 N. Main, where you could have a hot chocolate at the lunch counter to warm up after standing in line to meet Santa; the Famous department store at 104 N. Main, where you could earn and redeem Eagle Stamps; and Kline’s at 302 Broadway, a large store that covered the entire city block. All would entice shoppers with lavishly decorated windows and holiday sales.

Heiser’s Jewelry Store at 115 S. Main, the phone number of which was 729, encouraged shoppers to consider Bulova watches and diamond rings. Stores on Main Street all did nice window displays; none was more exciting to youngsters than Hayden’s Hardware Store, situated at 211 N. Main, which always had a grand toy display.

The glow of electric lights made the streets magical. Large lighted archways spanned Broadway and Main and Third streets. Residents gathered on the second or third block of North Main to listen as the Salvation Army band would play Christmas music, and churches would bring their choirs downtown to sing carols.

Nativity in the park  

Central Park also featured holiday decorations and events. The Merchant’s Bureau sponsored an elaborate nativity scene and several other displays, including lights strung around the fountain. During the early 1960s, Santa’s house was located in Central Park. 

Children in mid-century Hannibal were treated to a Christmas event at the Tom Sawyer Theater, now home to The Crossing church. At a party the Saturday before Christmas, Santa would make an appearance with bags of candy; sometimes there were magicians on stage and cartoons between movies. The show sometimes lasted three or four hours.

During one event, in December 1950, the theater advertised Hadacol’s Christmas Party. Hadacol’s was a patent medicine marketed as a vitamin supplement — that just happened to have 12 percent alcohol content, which was listed on the label as a “preservative.” Children who brought a Hadacol’s boxtop would receive free admission — “Ask Mom and Dad to Get You a Hadacol Box Top!”

On Saturday, Dec. 23, 1950, the Hadacol Christmas Party began at 9 a.m. and offered a full-length feature of Hopalong Cassidy, a Woody Woodpecker comedy and “Gifts for Every Child!”

In 1965, the Huck Finn Shopping Center opened on Highway 61, and the shopping habits of Hannibalians began to change.  Downtown stores were no longer popular. Christmas in downtown Hannibal diminished over the years. Santa’s House, the Central Park nativity display and the Tom Sawyer Theater are now just memories — fond childhood recollections of Hannibalians who now celebrate Christmas with their grandchildren.

Downtown’s draw

The merchants of Broadway and Main Street hope to bring shoppers back to downtown Hannibal. The Victorian Festival of Christmas begins Saturday, Nov. 26, aka Small Business Saturday, when shoppers are encouraged to turn their attention from bigbox stores and make purchases at locally owned businesses.

Santa will be available each Saturday from Nov. 26 through Dec. 17, and downtown shops, restaurants, museums and other establishments will be open through Christmas Eve.

Enjoy the traditions of the season including carolers, the Salvation Army Band, the Jaycees Christmas Parade and Living Windows. Please plan to join in the festivities of Victorian Christmas and create new family memories — in doing so, you will be supporting merchants who work hard to continue these traditions and strive to preserve historic downtown Hannibal throughout the year. 

- BY LISA MARKS

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By Kelly Wilson 26 Sep, 2017

The Hannibal Arts Council is proud to have sponsored the Folklife Festival for 41 years. It has become a mainstay in Hannibal’s ever-growing schedule of festivals and special events. There is rarely a lack of finding something to do in Hannibal, if you are looking it. The Folklife Festival is one of many examples of community-supported and community-created events that also draw in visitors from a wide radius around Hannibal. We are first and foremost about creating events for the enrichment of area residents, but we cannot deny that festivals and special events also attract visitors, add to our economy and help develop our cultural tourism offerings.

Recently, arts organizations in Hannibal joined 341 diverse communities and regions across the country to participate in the most comprehensive economic impact study of the nonprofit arts and culture industry ever conducted in the United States. Specific results from the Hannibal area concluded that the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $5.09 million in annual economic activity in the Hannibal area and over $506,000 in local and state government revenues. In addition, the nonprofit arts and culture industry leverages $3.7 million in event-related spending by its audiences. As a result of attending arts events, attendees often dine in local restaurants, buy gifts and souvenirs and stay overnight.

We in the arts always knew that the arts meant business, and now we have data to back it up. We concentrate on our programs, how we serve our community and how we can enhance the lives of those who participate. A great side effect that is occurring, sometimes without us concentrating on it, is the economic impact of what arts and culture organizations are adding to our community. This study demonstrates that the arts are an economic and employment powerhouse locally and across the nation. A vibrant arts and culture industry helps local businesses thrive and helps local communities become stronger and healthier places to live. Leaders who care about community and economic vitality can feel good about choosing to invest in the arts. Nationally, as well as locally, the arts mean business.  

By Kelly Wilson 26 Sep, 2017

Richard Garey often portrays Mark Twain on stage, but as he has researched Hannibal’s people, history and its most famous resident during the last year and a half, he has been left with more creative inspiration.

“I’ve always been interested in poetry, but I’ve mainly written plays,” Garey said.

Through his research and while working on the Robards Mansion — built by a friend of Twain’s and purchased by Garey — Garey would pull out a notebook from his back pocket and jot down a few lines of poetry whenever creative inspiration struck. He eventually accumulated more than 100 poems, which he initially just read to his wife, Patricia.

“She encouraged me to publish them,” Garey said.

The result is “Hannibal at the Door: A Poetic Journey Through Mark Twain’s Hometown,” published in late July. In it, Garey shows readers Twain’s hometown through the series of poems, each of which showcases a small aspect of Hannibal as a whole through its river and residents.

“I’m excited to have my first book of poetry out,” Garey said. “The poems are kind of little vignettes.”

To go with the poems, Garey’s wife, an artist, painted illustrations for the book, and Garey’s son helped with the cover’s layout.

“This was truly a family project,” he said. “So far, I’ve gotten good feedback about it, and I’ve had to order more books because I’ve sold so many.”

Several people reviewed Garey’s book before it was released and praised it.

Garey “has captured that essence, that uniqueness, that Americanness, that very humanity and universality of Hannibal,” Vicky Crane, a retired lecturer at the University of Wisconsin, wrote of “Hannibal at the Door.” “Stabco” author Joe Schwartz wrote that he found Garey’s written voice similar to that of Twain’s.

“The Hannibal inspiration continues,” Garey said, adding that he’s also written a few more poems based on the historic city.

“Hannibal was always very important to Sam Clemens,” Garey said. “I am so lucky that each day I get to pursue my three great loves: history, theater and creative writing.”

Books may be purchased at the Planter’s Barn Theater, 319 N. Main St., and elsewhere around Hannibal. 

— By Ashley Szatala

By Kelly Wilson 26 Sep, 2017

Imagine your child receiving two hours of free tutoring four days a week, right after school. Imagine the homework finished, checked and ready for the next day. Imagine a tutoring program that coordinates with teachers and principals to help students navigate emotionally or academically difficult times.

Welcome to Hannibal’s 19-year-old Caring Hands Tutoring Program, a nonprofit that rents space at Willow Street Church to provide free tutoring to Hannibal children.

Every parent knows about homework struggles. “I forgot.” “I hate the teacher.” “It’s not fair.” Tutoring, provided by hired college students and retired teachers, provides academic support in a bully-free zone.  

When middle schooler LaPrince’s grades sank to D’s and F’s, Caring Hands knew something was amiss. He was acting out and losing ground academically. The CHTP director tracked down the cause. Bullying. Thus began a recovery plan involving the principal, teachers, grandmother and CHTP. Bullies faced consequences. Safe transportation was provided. Tutors encouraged him. By year’s end, he left his D’s and F’s behind.

Students struggle for a number of reasons: disruptive or broken homes, imprisoned or abandoning parents and even hunger. This grant- and donation-based program provides safety, academic support and food.  

Overworked parents see their children thrive. The director had to tell one student, “You are reading two levels above your grade. You’re smart.” He didn’t know.  

The program, which is open to any Hannibal child, began Sept. 11; space is limited. Sponsor for attendees are welcome, as are donations.

More information is available by calling 573-248-7242. 

— By Bella Erakko

By Kelly Wilson 26 Sep, 2017

Halloween brings out the kid in everyone, and downtown Hannibal is the place to be this year. The Historic Hannibal Marketing Council and Hannibal Parks & Recreation are going all out with a weekend full of activities for every member of the family. Best of all, most activities are free.


Falling in Love With Bats
6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at Sodalis Nature Preserve

Are you afraid of bats? Then bring the family out to Sodalis Nature Preserve as we debunk bat misconceptions and learn bat facts. Participants should meet at the amphitheater at the top of the hill for an informative talk, then stay to see the bats in full swarm as they prepare for the world’s largest winter hibernation of endangered Indiana bats. Bat experts will answer all questions, and they will bring their latest gadgets to give you the ability to see the bats as they exit their caves to forage over Sodalis Lake.

Halloween Costume Parade, Living Dead Windows  
Noon Saturday, Oct. 28, in downtown Hannibal

Saturday is Family Day in downtown Hannibal. Dress up and join the Halloween Parade then stay for (the Night of the) Living Dead Windows. Building on the Living Windows exhibits at Christmas, downtown businesses will be hosting scary montages with real people in their windows during Living Dead Windows. See ghouls, ghosts and goblins enact scary scenes in the store windows. Enjoy a hot drink or snack, and walk the streets after dark.

Monster Machines, Trick-or-Treating and More
5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31, on Main Street

Bring the children downtown on Halloween evening, when they can explore monster machines and collect treats from local merchants. There will be all sorts of vehicles and displays from the Army, the Hannibal Fire Department, Big Rigs and more. Main Street will be closed from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. to ensure children can run around in safety.




By Kelly Wilson 26 Sep, 2017

Hannibal Jaycees will bring Hannibal’s Halloween scene to its Warehouse of Nightmares, open every Friday and Saturday in October.

The frightful fun takes place at the old Smith Central Plumbing building at 320 S. Third St., next to the viaduct — more than 7,000 square feet with an assortment of evil clowns, flesh-eating zombies and a manic maze.

The building is open to the public 7:30 to midnight on each of those nights.

Admission is $10 per person, and the covered queue area will keep those awaiting entry out of the elements. No children younger than 5 years old will be admitted, and children younger than 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Zombie Paintball also will return along with the Last Ride attraction, which gives the feeling of being buried alive. Be prepared to climb into a wooden casket for an extreme terror experience as your friends watch from a special casketcam.

New this year will be an escape room. You and your friends will be in a room and must find clues to solve puzzles to complete a given mission and to escape. These attractions carry an additional charge.

For details and to purchase advance tickets, visit hannibaljaycees.org, or send an email requesting information to trishaocheltree@gmail.com.

Warehouse of Nightmares is a fundraiser coordinated by the Hannibal Jaycees to support its area charitable activities.  

More information is available by contacting Trisha O’Cheltree at 636-734-1938, Emma Dooley at 573-406-5093 or Jamie Sue Bergheger at 573-822-4591.  

By Kelly Wilson 26 Sep, 2017

The 69th annual Mark Twain Marching Band Festival will kick off at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10, down Broadway Street in Hannibal. The festival typically brings together about 30 bands from as far away as Scotland County marching through the streets, starting at the corner of Grand and Broadway and heading east toward the river.

Along with a parade, about 12 bands will perform at 6 p.m. during the Field Show at Porter Stadium at Hannibal High School. Directors and students from area bands that have participated in the event have said it is the highlight of their marching season every year.

Hannibal High School encourages everyone to come out and support music in schools. The young musicians spend an incredible amount of time during the summer and fall to get ready for marching season. They love to perform for a crowd who is there to support the bands.  

By Kelly Wilson 26 Sep, 2017

Taste of Palmyra, scheduled 5 to 9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16, offers something for everyone — food, music, children’s activities, crafts and a car and tractor show.

Young trick-or-treaters are invited to gather in costume at Palmyra’s fire station from 5 to 6 p.m. for trunk-or-treat. Several Palmyra Chamber members will offer treats from the backs of their vehicles. Palmyra Parents as Teachers are offering games for preschoolers; B&S Insurance is sponsoring a pedal pull; and Farmer’s Mutual Insurance will have football and pompom giveaways. Heritage Seekers have planned a themed tour 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Old Marion County Jail, and Palmyra United Methodist Church will have youth activities.    

The antique tractor show will be sponsored by B&S Insurance, and the antique and classic car show will be sponsored by Bud’s Paint & Body Shop.  

Entertaining 5:15 to 9 p.m. will be Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd, the Mission Hillers, the Kenny Rock Band, Clockwork and the Palmyra High School pompom squad.  

Food offerings will run the gamut from chicken and noodles, ribs, catfish sandwiches, pulled pork sandwiches, cheese soup, onion rings, ice cream, kettle corn and funnel cakes.

Craft vendors will be on hand with a range of items — barn quilts, candles, flea-market finds, jewelry, kitchen towels, pampering products, handbags and fashions for women and children.

Michelle Merkel, event coordinator, said, “Come out and enjoy the festivities. When the community of Palmyra comes together for fun, friendship and reminiscing, it’s a great time for all.”

By Kelly Wilson 26 Sep, 2017

The Mount Olivet Cemetery Association invites the public to participate in its seventh annual All Saints’/Souls’ Day celebration 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29. The event is free and open to the public; attendees are encouraged to bring their own seating.

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day have been celebrated for thousands of years by cultures and religions around the world to honor deceased family members. Customs include lighting candles, offering prayers, cleaning and decorating of family members’ graves and sharing food with friends and family.  

Events at historic Mount Olivet Cemetery, 2340 Fulton Ave. (Route T) in Hannibal, will begin at 2 p.m. at the cemetery chapel area.

Pamela Reid-Wilde will play favorite hymns on the chapel’s antique pump-organ. Just outside the chapel, Michelle Goodman, Meryle Dexheimer, Regina Kinkaid, Jan Nemes, Patty Ward, Kathy Tourney and Donna Brown, a local gospel group known as the Goldennaires of South Side Christian Church in the late 1960s, will reunite to host an old-fashioned gospel sing.  

The memorial balloon release is sponsored by the James O’Donnell Funeral Home.

Jimmy O’Donnell said, “Our goal is to celebrate the lives of those who have passed while providing comfort and healing to family and friends.”  

Those interested in the balloon release are asked to meet at the chapel area between 2 and 2:30 p.m. to personalize a balloon tag. Tim Goodman, minister of Clover Road Christian Church, will officiate the ceremony.

In keeping with the celebration’s tradition, family and friends are invited to decorate loved ones’ graves for the winter season then join in a wiener roast around a bonfire at the cemetery office area.   A father-son group of Chris, Corey, and Joel Combs will perform.  

For history buffs, the cemetery staff will offer narrated hayride tours of the grounds, highlighting many of Hannibal’s historic figures buried at Mount Olivet, names including: Clemens, Coontz, Dulany, Garth, Gideon, Helm, Mahan, Pettibone, Stowell and Faurot. Others may enjoy a self-paced scavenger hunt for the various symbols carved into the older, ornate monuments.  

“We want everyone to experience what we believe is one of Hannibal’s best-kept secrets, the beauty and history that is Mount Olivet. Designed by the original board of directors as a ‘harmonious union of nature and art,’ Mount Olivet is a place where early records reveal area residents came to ‘recreate and remember.’ To that end, we invite everyone, regardless of where his/her loved one is buried, to come participate in our All Souls’/Saints’ Day Celebration,” said Donna Brown, office manager. More information is available at jamesodonnellfuneralhome.com and mtolivetcemeteryhannibal.com.

By Kelly Wilson 26 Sep, 2017

The Hannibal Parks and Recreation Department will host Pumpkins in the Park from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29, at Nipper Park.

The pumpkin decorating contest and exhibit also will feature a performance by Eugene Field Pirate Pride Singers at 3:30 p.m.

Participants will be able to walk among the decorated pumpkins and vote for favorites in three categories — spooky, artistic and silly. There will be two age groups for judging: children ages 12 and younger and those ages 13 and older.

Pumpkins must be predecorated and brought to the park between 2 and 3 p.m. They may be decorated with paint, glitter, markers, etc., but they may not be carved.

Rules are available at hannibalparks.org.  

By Kelly Wilson 26 Sep, 2017

The Saverton-Ilasco United Methodist Women will host a fall Breakfast Bazaar from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 7.

The group will offer cinnamon rolls, muffins and doughnuts, coffee, tea, juice and milk. Available for purchase will be a wide variety of crafts including jewelry, quilted items, aprons, stationary items, purses and Halloween and Christmas decorations. Baked and canned goods and fresh produce also will be available for purchase.

Representatives from the Ralls County Health Department will offer flu shots and blood-pressure and blood-sugar screenings.

The church is situated 3 miles south of Hannibal on Mo. 79 in Ilasco. 

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