Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Address at the Dedication of the Mark Twain Memorial Bridge, Hannibal, Mo.

September 04, 1936

It is with earnest American pride and with a glory in American tradition that I enjoy this happy privilege today—joining in this tribute to one who impressed himself upon the lives of youth everywhere all through the last fourscore years and ten.

To look out across this pleasant vista where the life of Mississippi River boyhood was captured and recorded for posterity and to have a part in its commemoration is a privilege that I am happy to experience.

No American youth has knowingly or willingly escaped the lessons, the philosophy and the spirit which beloved Mark Twain wove out of the true life of which he was a part. Abroad, too, this peaceful valley is known around the world as the cradle of the chronicles of buoyant boyhood—and we are all boys.

Mark Twain and his tales still live, though the years have passed and time has wrought its changes on the Mississippi. The little white town drowsing in the sunshine of the days of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer has become the metropolis of Northeastern Missouri..The tiny handful of complacent population has grown to twenty-five thousand souls—the seventh largest city in your State and the fourth in bustling industry. The old steamboat landing is still there; the railroads and the buses and the trucks have not ended water transportation on the river—and for that I am very glad.

It was my privilege last year to have a part in the opening of the centennial commemoration of Mark Twain's birthplace. On that occasion from the White House I pressed a key which caused a light to shine from the tall tower on Cardiff Hill—the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse. The perpetuation of Mark Twain's name, birthplace, and the haunts of his youth is very dear to me, especially because I, myself, as a boy- a younger boy than I am now—had the happy privilege of shaking hands with him. That was a day I shall never forget. With every American boy and every American who has ever been a boy I thrill today at this great structure joining two great States in the commemoration of youth's immortal.

When old Moses D. Balis and his associates found their way to the junction of the Hannibal and the Mississippi back in 1818, they little thought of the great stage of happy youth on which they were lifting the curtain. Likewise they and the older folk of the tiny river settlement in Hannibal had little thought that Sam Clemens, playing about the steamboat landing, would live through the ages.

Likewise, they had little thought that the cabins and the frame houses and the white-washed fences would give way to thriving industrial plants, modern buildings, a splendid city hall and other impressive public structures.

In place of the schoolhouse from which Huck Finn lured Tom Sawyer to truancy and the old swimming hole, you have eighteen modern grade schools, a high school, parochial schools and a fine library.

The old candles and the oil lamps which Tom Sawyer had to fill are gone. In their places you have one of the most successful municipal electric-light and power plants in the country.

And today we mark one more step of progress- one more imprint of a changing order—a necessarily changing order—this great structure spanning the Mississippi. The river ferry started to go when the old railroad bridge joined Missouri and Illinois back in 1870. As the years went by, this structure carried the rail, the horse-drawn and the motorized commerce in and out of Hannibal across the river. Time has now taken another step, and today we eliminate the hazards of railroad crossings, of high waters and of mixed rail and vehicular traffic.

This bridge, with its three-quarters of a million dollars' outlay, stands symbolic of what can be accomplished by the cooperation of local governments and the Federal Government. Here, in this act of progress, we find the Federal Government, the City of Hannibal, the State of Missouri and the State of Illinois all joined together in coordinated action. Together they have given you this new bridge.

And, my friends, working together in the days to come, they will greatly further the prosperity and convenience of the people of the United States in every part of the Nation.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the Dedication of the Mark Twain Memorial Bridge, Hannibal, Mo. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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