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Spooky History of the Mark Twain Cave

Updated on October 16, 2015

Mark Twain Cave


The show cave near Hannibal, Missouri is known as the Mark Twain Cave and one might want to visit it when visiting Hannibal. The history of the cave is somewhat spooky. After all, what other cave has been explored by Mark Twain, in real life, and his character Tom Sawyer in fiction. Additionally it has been used as a hideout for Jesse James and a laboratory for a mad scientist.

Missouri has some 6,500 caves. However, the Mark Twain Cave and the Cameron cave, which is close by, differ geologically from the others. Possibly the two caves are parts of what was long ago a much larger complex of caves. Speculation is that a glacier split a system of caves and erosion taking place for millions of years created the present configuration.There could be more caves yet to be discovered in the region. The cave is a Registered National Landmark and is located a mile south of Hannibal on Highway 79.If you visit tours are available. The tours last 55 minutes. Since the cave is mostly in its natural state it is not wheelchair accessible. The cave stays about 55 degrees so it is recommended that visitors wear a jacket of sweater and wear sensible shoes. Shopping for souvenirs, gifts, books and collectibles at the Visitor’s Center.

These caves differ from other show caves because there are no speleotherms, mineral deposits such as stalactites in the large open areas. Instead there are winding, narrow passages. The base material of the cave is Louisiana Lithographic limestone, which is only found in a 35-mile area around Hannibal and Louisiana, Missouri. Geologists date the stone at 350 million years old and the cave passages as being formed 100 million years ago. There are about six and a half miles of cave passages in the Mark Twain cave with four entrances and 260 passages.

 Tom Sawyer 1876 frontispiece
Tom Sawyer 1876 frontispiece | Source

History of the cave:

It was in the winter of 1819-20 that hunter Jack Simms dog chased an animal into an opening south of what is now Hannibal. Along with his brother, Simms explored further and found the cave, which became popular with both adults and children. One of those was Samuel Clemens. As author Mark Twain he used the cave in several books. Most of us remember the cave in Tom Sawyer. A cave can be a spooky image and being lost in one even more so. Additionally there was a dangerous person who might be hiding in the cave, Injun Joe.

Cameron cave

The companion cave to the Mark Twain cave was found in 1925 when Arch, the son of Judge Cameron saw steam coming from a sinkhole across the valley from the Mark Twain Cave. It turned out to be larger than the Mark Twain Cave and had more twisting pathways. It was named for the Cameron family. It is Missouri’s newest show cave and tours are offered, but more primitive. There are no electric lights and only modifications made are those for safety that are required by law.

Jessie James


The Mad Scientist:

In the 1840’s Hannibal doctor Joseph Nash McDowell bought the cave and performed experiments on human corpses. Possibly the most bizarre experiment was an attempt to petrify the remains of his dead daughter. According to Wikipedia Mark Twain describes it in Life on the Mississippi. According to Twain the body of a fourteen-year-old girl placed in a copper cylinder that was filled with alcohol and suspended in one of“the dismal avenues of the cave.”

Children exploring the cave came upon the girl’s body. It was Hannibal children exploring that found the body after two years in the cave. Sometimes they used it to give a spooky addition to telling ghost stories. Adults found out about it from the children and forcibly took it for proper burial. Townspeople also thought that the doctor used bodies from local graves for experiments, which was a fairly common practice in that day. That also entered into the Tom Sawyer book in a grave-robbing scene.

According to local folklore the cave was used to store weapons for the Confederates during the American Civil War. “McDowell was an ardent southern supporter and was proven to have stockpiled guns and ammunition for the rebels in his St. Louis medical school,” according to Wikipedia. Jesse James who had ridden with Quantill’s raiders in an area southwest of Hannibal was probably well aware of the weapons cache in the cave, according to Wikipedia. Whatever the case Jesse James did hole up in the cave in 1879 after robbing a train near Saverton, Missouri. If you tour the cave the guides will show you where James had signed and dated one of the walls.

It was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876 that brought Hannibal and the cave to public attention. Tourists from all over the world came to see the real cave, which was called “MacDougal’s Cave” in the book. The cave where Tom and Becky Thatcher’s lives were threatened. First regular tours were in 1886.Tours were done for fifty years using candle or lanterns. In 1939 electric lights were added. Judge E.T. Cameron who had served as a guide and a manager previously had bought the cave. He made improvements from a tourist viewpoint and called it the “Mark Twain cave.”

Sources: I have used Wikipedia as a resource as well as a visit to the the cave myself several years ago.

Hannibal, MO, USA

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Location of Hannibal

Mark Twain cave:
Mark Twain Cave Complex, 208 Hill St, Hannibal, MO 63401, USA

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© 2011 Don A. Hoglund


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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting, Patricia. Twain is also one of my favorites.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      4 years ago from North Central Florida

      How cool it is to know of the source from settings that are in an author's story or novel...Twain is a favorite of mine so this was particularly interesting. The video of the cave was a great addition. Hoping all is well with you.

      Angels are once again on the way to you ps

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Bill,

      if you go there, you might want to visit the town where Mark Twain lived, which is right nearby.

    • handymanbill profile image


      5 years ago from Greensburg Pennsylvania

      That was an interesting story and something I might take a trip through there to see.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Amanda,It has been a long time since I have been there but it is still probably worth a visit.Thanks for commenting.

    • Amanda Gee profile image

      Amanda Gee 

      8 years ago from Cameron, Missouri

      Nice hub. I had no idea that cave had such a history! :)

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      I did take the tour many years ago but I never had any paranormal experience.Because of the place of the cave in Tom Sawyer it is worth seeing.Thanks for commenting.

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 

      8 years ago from Tennesee

      So fascinating! I had heard of the Mark Twain cave, several years ago, from a friend who had visited it. I remember her telling me that when she and her companions entered they all believed they felt something try to "draw their breath away". I thought it unusual at the time, but never realized the place had a paranormal history attached to it until now. Thanks for sharing!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      prasetio,Thank you very much for reading and commenting on this hub.I thought the history of the cave made it interesting.Hannibal, Missouri is the place Mark Twain grew up, so the Mississippi River which flows by the town and the cave entered into his writing.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Wow... this was awesome. Brother, I really enjoy reading the history of Mark Twain Cave. I had never heard about this before. But I am glad to know this from you. Very well written. You deserve to get my vote. Have a good day!


    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Now that you mention it I don't believe I have run across much on grave robbing in the US.For whatever reasons there seemed to be a history of "body snatching" in the US for medical research.Thanks for commenting.

    • WillStarr profile image


      8 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      There was period in 1800's Britain where only executed criminal bodies were available for cadavers and doctor training, so grave robbing was a booming business.

      I don't know if that was also true in the US.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      I'm glad you found my hubs and enjoy them. There are more dramatic caves from the standpoint of natural formation but this one has an interesting history. If you go there you will want to see the Mark Twain exhibits in Hannibal as well.Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very cool article! I love caving tours, and sadly haven't been on a single one in Missouri even though I lived there for a while. I'll definitely add it to my list!

      I found the entire article interesting, and took special interest in the mad scientist's attempt at his daughter's presentation. Yeesh!

      One of my best friends and former roommates who is native of Missouri, and lives there now, will find that interesting, if he doesn't know of it already. We've been friends for nearly 25 years. We graduated from mortuary college together, lol.

      Great article! Glad I found you on here!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thanks for reading. I think the biggest interest in this cave is its use in Tom Sawyer which most of us have read.Not everyone realizes that the cave in that book was one close to Hannibal.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate the compliment about my research.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 

      8 years ago from West Virginia

      Dahoglund, you have my vote and useful. Very interesting review on the cave. I have never heard of it until now. I have always enjoyed visits to the caves as a child, rather the taverns. Well done.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      8 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      I will vote up and slap on an interesting. Seems you have done your research.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for the comment. I hope your husband enjoys it.

    • Pollyannalana profile image


      8 years ago from US

      Very good and I will have to pass this on to my husband to whom Mark Twain is at the top of his list! I know this will interest him very much.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Ah...I should have caught that! Did not realize that there was a town called Louisianna in Missouri. Always nice learning new things! Thanks! I would like to see this Mark Twain cave someday.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Peggy W

      The reference to the limestone is for Louisiana,MO which is south of Hannibal.not the state of Louisiana.Anyhow, I wrote this in response to your suggestion.I thought a scary cave and a mad scientist fit in around Halloween. Thanks for your comment.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What an interesting history of these caves! In addition to who might have inhabited the caves over time I thought that this was particularly interesting: "The base material of the cave is Louisiana Lithographic limestone, which is only found in a 35-mile area around Hannibal and Louisiana, Missouri. Geologists date the stone at 350 million years old and the cave passages as being formed 100 million years ago."

      Wonder why it is called Louisiana Lithographic limestone if it is not found in Louisianna or elsewhere? Must be some kind of story there!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I'm afraid you are on the other side from Uncle Jesse now. the occupy wall street crowd are the kind that made him a hero for robbing banks.I think it was about 1966 that I took the tour of the cave. Prices have gone up now.Thanks for being the first to comment.

    • TheManWithNoPants profile image


      8 years ago from Tucson, Az.

      Very interesting. I remember reading about this cave long ago. You really put this together well my friend. I am actually a blood descendant of Jessie James. Don't know how cool that is, but I remember my grandfather talking about his dad talked that Uncle Jessie was awfully moody at times.

      Anyway, good job my friend.



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