Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Theme Parkeology: The Mark Twain Cave

Underground caves are a key element of many of Mark Twain's books, but most especially The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  Imagineers saw fit to include such settings on the various Tom Sawyer Islands at Disney Parks in Florida, Anaheim and Tokyo. The inspiration behind those dark enclosed mazes, where youngsters scamper happily while their adult counterparts frequently slide, trip and bump their heads, lies within Missouri, a state already quite rich in Disney history and theme park relevance.

Visiting the Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal, Missouri is like traveling back in time.  It retains a mid-twentieth century roadside attraction ambiance that stands in stark contrast to the slick, polished presentation of a Disney theme park attraction, an observation ironic in both context and history.  But the cave is indeed the place that inspired the literary McDougal's Cave, where Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher are terrorized by the actions of the villainous Injun Joe.  The Hannibal attraction's website provides the following brief history of the "real" cave:
Earliest documentation says the cave was discovered in the winter of 1819-1820 when Jack Simms and his dog when on a hunting trip. His dog chased a panther, which a sport in those days, into a small opening on the side of a hill. Since it was late in the day, he blocked the entrance, came back with his brother and torches the next day. They had to be awestruck upon what they discovered once inside. From that time on the cave has been rediscovered everyday by someone. This fabulous cave was written about in five of Mark Twain's books. The cave has been seen by millions of people since that time which includes, presidents, villains, heroes and most important those of us who are interested in history, literature and science.
It is most certainly quite fun to occasionally bump into the rough-edged reality behind the carefully crafted and idealized Disney-created fantasy.

From Tom Sawyer Island at Walt Disney World


weepstah said...


Neat stuff! I always liked that sign at the magic kingdom in WDW, and it's really cool to see the actual cave it's based on.

I don't know if you're planning on posting your overall thoughts about your trip to Walt's old stomping grounds, that would be very interesting. I'm finding that seeing the real influences that Walt drew from is awesome.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention your essay in the 40 years of WDW book. There were some great essays in there but I thought yours really stood out along with a couple of others. Great, great stuff.

Connie Moreno said...

I really enjoyed this!! Last year I did a photo report on my blog for Tom Sawyer's Island at Disneyland since it had been years since I had explored the island.

Snow White Archive said...

Great caves, both Disney and original. There's something magical about exploring the dark inner depths, whether it be in Missouri or on Tom Sawyer's Island.

Nate Parrish said...

My Dad grew up near Mark Twain lake, and I remember going to the caves when I was a kid. Thanks for the pics