If You Want to Meet Mark Twain, Go to Galena

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Me and my gal have just got back from Galena, Illinois. It was our third sojourn there. I wrote about the last one in April. We---my brother Wally and his wife Bernice too---spent a few days again in the best Bed & Breakfast in town, the Steamboat House. Proprietors, Glenn and Char, were as warm and hospitable as before.  This was our second stay there; Wally and Bernice's 7th or 8th.  I forget.

You have to see the Steamboat House to believe how amazing and charming it is. Glenn and Char took over the historic building in 2000, renovated it, restored it, and burnished and  furnished it with a panoply of splendid antiques, many of them contemporaneous with the original owner, lead and steamboat magnate Daniel Smith Harris.

My wife and I enjoyed the cozy, evocative Bess Room, with its own enclosed porch that overlooks on higher ground a stand of trees and shrubs, and the entrance to an old lead mine.   Sitting there, chilling out, I could feel the vibrations of Galena's glorious past, in its heyday, when the wider grander Galena River was alive with steamboats and Main Street hummed with shoppers.

We strolled along the river now much narrower and more peaceful than when Galena flourished in the 1800s.  It is a picturesque part of Galena. A short distance on foot is Main Street, still a shoppers' mecca. We browsed through specialty shops of all sorts.  Many of them selling antiques.  There are winery stores, apparel and gift boutiques, art studios,  and a host of variety shops selling specialties (like socks and root beer) or a potpourri of sundries. 

And there are places to satisfy your appetite for food and entertainment.   At an establishment that sells an assortment of things about Galena's past---where I bought H.R. Brand's new biography of U.S. Grant---we got tickets to see on our second night  Jim Post's remarkable portrayal of Mark Twain.  We dined at the elegant One Eleven Main restaurant where I had a delicious Caesar salad and then walked upstairs to an unpretentious yet intimate theater with several rows of folding chairs facing--- within a few feet--- a modest platform on which the inimitable Twain impersonator Mr. Post through song and story transported us back to the childhood, youth, and later years of Samuel Clemens of Hannibal, Missouri, the creator of  Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and the runaway slave, Jim.  I think someone once said that all of American literature begins with Huckleberry Finn.

There were only a few spectators, a happy few, indeed. For Jim Post puts on an incredible show.  A promotional card I took home calls him a "one man tour de force---part muscial, part drama and thoroughly entertaining". Post recounts stories about the young Sam who could read at the age of two and who  smoked cigars at five; who loved to prank girls his age with dead frogs and cats; who loved to ride the steamboats and took his pen name from the sounding of the river: "Mark twain!" ---two fathoms deep.   Post played a guitar, which Twain did also,  and sang about the Mississippi River with the zest and gusto  that Twain must have felt  steering a steamboat downstream to New Orleans.

We had a nice conversation with Post after the other showgoers had gone their ways.  He had been selling CDs and books. He writes chidren stories and there's a good chance Hollywood will make an animated film of one. We asked him questions about Twain and he took the time to answer them.  He said he once ended his performances with a great Twain quote and has been racking his brain trying to remember what it was.

If there are any Mark Twain aficionados out there, drop Jim Post a line.  Or better yet, come to Galena. That's where he lives and occasionally brings Mark Twain back to life.

And if you do, visit the Steamboat House. Jim pops in now and then. He and Glenn and Char are the best of friends.

 

Filed under: literature, travel

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  • My last trip to Galena I stayed at the "haunted" DeSoto House Hotel. Nothing attacked me but the bill.

    Glad to see Mark Twain still out and about, though he has a devil of a time now with Huckleberry Finn, because that lad is so politically incorrect.

    Nice jaunt!

  • Thanks for dropping in, Richard. Jim Post told us the ghost tours have been undercutting his business. He's not a believer. I'm sure Twain wasn't either.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I think Twain was too grounded in reality to think or worry about what supposed spirits from the neither world were doing; the live ones are much more interesting and dangerous.

    I really wonder, though, about the ghost tours undercutting Post's business. The two markets do not seem the same.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    I wonder if all those empty seats were really filled by ectoplasm.
    As far as the ghost tours hurting the attendance, you might be right. Post could be reaching for a fall guy.

  • Nice piece, Aquinas...nice town....nice memory.

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