It’s one of 250,000 signatures scrawled on the walls of the Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal, Missouri.

By Meghan Overdeep
September 27, 2019
PhotoQuest/Getty Images

After nearly three decades of searching, Mark Twain scholars believe they have finally located the author’s signature in his namesake cave in Hannibal, Missouri.

Cindy Lovell, a former head of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, discovered the signature in one of The Mark Twain Cave’s unlit passageways. A self-described “Twainiac,” Lovell said she’s been looking for the signature since her first visit to the cave in 1996.

And then it finally happened during a special tour for visiting scholars in July.

“All of a sudden I just started yelling ‘Clemens! Clemens! I see Clemens!’” Lovell recalled to the Herald-Whig.

Samuel Clemens is Twain’s birth-name. The author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer lived in Hannibal from 1839 to 1853 (ages four to 17), and the cave was featured prominently in his books.  

Over the past 200 years, about 250,000 people signed their names in the three-mile-long-cave that was once a playground and hideaway for local children like Twain. According to cave officials, visitors frequently added their names to the six miles of walls using candle smoke, pencil, paint, or berry juice. But after it became a National Natural Registered Landmark in 1972, signing the cave was no longer allowed.

“We have looked and looked and looked and looked” for Twain’s name on the cave's walls, Lovell told the Herald-Whig. “I just wanted somebody to find it—anybody to find it—because I knew it was in there. I just wanted to see it myself before I died.”

Facebook/Mark Twain Cave Complex

“It’s made us crazy looking for it all these years,” Linda Coleberd, the cave’s owner who was with Lovell when she made the discovery, told KMOV. “So, to finally find his signature in the cave that was named for him, it’s remarkable. He signed the cave; we’ve found his signature. We’re so excited.”

Coleberd and Lovell kept their discovery from the public until the signature could be properly authenticated. Only “Clemens” was scrawled on the cave wall in pencil, although higher resolution photos show that the name “Sam” had first been carved in the location.

Alan Gribben, a professor at Auburn University-Montgomery who has spent 50 years studying Twain, is one of many scholars confident in the signature’s authenticity. “I am going to go on record as believing this to be Sam Clemens's handwriting," he said in a press release issued by the cave.

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Hoping to see it for yourself? According to a Mark Twain Cave Complex Facebook post, the signature will be included on regular cave tours as of October 8th, 2019. They will also host a brief signature viewing twice a day for those not wanting to do the full tour. The viewing will be $5 each and held at 10:45a.m. and 1:20p.m. every day through the month of October.

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