Hannibal's Spot in the Real-Life "Green Book"

The guide to safe travel and lodging for African-Americans across all of the US, the "Green Book" was independently published from 1936 through 1966 by Victor Hugo Green. Photo Courtesy of Newsweek.
    In light of the recent Best Picture Academy Award granted to the movie "Green Book," it would be easy to assume that what pianist Don Shirley (played by Oscar-winner Mahershala ) endured was mainly a certain kind of segregation confined to the south. As the Green Book demonstrates, it was a nationwide issue, partly borne out by the need to have such a publication in the first place. Victor Hugo Green, a New York City postman, compiled the listings in 1936 for the New York state area, but it quickly went national in scope and was eventually carried by Esso service stations until the publication ceased in 1966 - two years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.

     The book was more than a way to find establishments either owned by or welcoming to African-American travelers; it was a means of keeping safe on these trips. The guidebook's front caption says it all: "Carry your Green Book with you...you may need it..." Options for lodging and food were limited in segregated communities, and the guide did not reflect the other, more private and/or non-commercial networks that existed in communities - the equivalent of 'a friend of a friend' who had a spare couch. In addition to the segregated communities, a number of 'sundown towns' meant that a car trip had better be well-timed to avoid being caught driving through after sunset.

   It would be overkill to put together a whole essay on the topic when there are so many resources online; one source allows the viewer to plan a road trip in 1947 or 1956 through any point in the US by using the Green Book (http://publicdomain.nypl.org/greenbook-map/)  Brian Foo of the New York Public Library had designed an interface on the website that also provides a 'heat map' to show the concentration of road stops throughout the country at the time. And yes, Hannibal is on the 1956 map:

     If you are now googling 1218 Girard Street, well...the two-block area on the edge of the Wedge neighborhood was razed to build the lot that now houses the Save-A-Lot and Family Dollar stores. As the route above shows, driving through the north of the US (or the west coast, for that matter) did not guarantee a trip without challenges and/or dangers.

     The "Green Book" movie, criticized by some as being extremely well-made but too reliant on a 'white savior' to narrate the story of Jim Crow segregation, is a case where a fuller version behind the biographical script can be found through the words of the musicians themselves, as this Pitchfork article details wonderfully.

     More links below:

The Wikipedia entry for The Negro Motorist Green Book

Candacy Taylor's remarkable Green Book project, where she has documented over 9,600 locations that had been listed in various editions (also referred to here as 'The Overground Railroad.')

'Backing Up' the Past, Present, & Future: HHM's New "Archive Drive"

Delaporte Family Portrait, circa 1911, on 118 London Street in Hannibal. Hannibal History Museum Archive.
What are the chances of getting 50 or so relatives together for a portrait? The above image is part of a collection of copy photos sent to the museum from a DeLaporte family descendant in Arkansas, and this is also a perfect example of the value in archiving old documents. In fact, this is one of the most detailed descriptions of a family photo in the collection, as proven below:

Yes, that is a list of every person - with notations - in the image.
The package of photos was intriguing enough to warrant a separate story on pre-modern 'selfies' in the coming March issue of Hannibal Magazine. However, this raises the question of how the current and past couple of generations have been preserving their memories. Are we in danger of losing large chunks of information about our towns, our everyday lives, that would be historically important in the decades to come? The methods used to document the world around us have become so technologically advanced, we don't think twice about a quick phone snapshot to post on Facebook, yet the modern flooding of visual media in our lives may translate into letting those important bits of life accidentally go into the recycling bin along with a slew of impulse shots that are only useful in the moment they are taken.

For historians, the availability of recording virtually anything in one's personal space at any time does not mean that this information is stable. Once a phone or laptop breaks, the digital files may be inaccessible. Moreover, our society's increasingly digital lifestyle de-emphasizes the importance of having a backup, as if the 'cloud' servers are infallible. Without meaning to cause paranoia, here are some tips:

Images like the one above (c. early-mid teens) are valuable to researchers, even without details on who is in the photo. The delivery wagon, the background advertising (some of which is still visible heading west on Market in the 'Wedge' toward the local Pick-A-Dilly), the fashions of the time...are all of value to a historian. Even as a scan of a scanned reprint from about fifteen years ago, enough detail still exists to pull information close-up. 

* Back up valuable physical documents and photos with 300dpi or greater scans, and try to use an EXTERNAL solid-state hard drive for the most valuable digital files. Files can be pulled more easily from an 'SSD' when it breaks, thanks to the way it is build; besides, these drives are usually exponentially faster than their regular hard drive counterparts.

** Check the digital folders/hard drive once in a while, especially if it is not a drive that is often in use. Files can degrade, so it helps to have more than one 'hiding spot' for these folders, and to update and upgrade storage drives on a schedule. Digital technology can change quickly, and some files - if not reformatted or resaved once in a long while - won't be readable. Remember the ZIP Drive (R.I.P.)

*** Many photo viewing programs allow users to place tags or other data as part of the image files; that is the proverbial way to 'write' on the virtual backs of the photos. If that is too unwieldy, make a quick Word file to list the images in the most important folders, and to give details of who, what, where, when.

****Make photo inkjet copies of the most valuable docs/images, then store those copies in a dry place with a temperature between 65 and 75 degrees, if possible. Humidity can make the papers stick to each other, ruining the whole process.

We at the museum recognize that there is a risk that important information about the community may be slipping away from us, mainly because it is not being continually archived - that is why we are initiating an "Archive Drive." It is an attempt to begin a permanent oral archive of Hannibalians and their experiences, as well as a push to digitally archive documents and photos that would be helpful to present and future historians. There is much more to come, and the first step is to come to an informational....


(Didn't mean to shout, we just needed it to be seen.) We would love to assemble a team of volunteer archivists in our bicentennial year. This is also open to people who may have ideas on leads, too. No expectations, just come to learn more and to preserve more of Hannibal's history.

Hanging on the Line

From time to time, we will be posting random finds or donations that provide a little bit of insight on the lives Hannibalians used to lead. This picture is part of a folder we received out of the blue from Karen Lucas (Thank you!)

Welcome to the nerve center of the town's telephone system, circa 1913, at the Missouri & Kansas Telephone Company on 818 Broadway. According to the back of the photo, Ms. Lucas' maternal grandmother - Ada Mason - is the fourth operator from the left:

(Note the number of operators needed for the long-distance and local calls!)

For those too young to remember, switchboard operators were necessary to manually 'patch' a caller to the desired recipient. Not that telephones had become standard in every household; by 1913, a promotional pamphlet on the history of Hannibal's telephone system boasts of servicing over 2700 people (in a community of roughly 18,000!) The town can boast of being (technically) the first community in Missouri to have a telephone system, though it was in a virtual tie with St. Louis for the honor in 1879. At first, the system had a whopping 25 subscribers, with 3-5 subscribers assigned to share a given line, a practice still found in some rural areas of Missouri into the 1980s. By 1882, the list of patrons had grown:

At the switchboard, the operator originally received an electronic signal that would ring a bell at the desk, while a flag-like structure would vibrate, instructing which line to pull. Next, the operator would reconnect the line with the number that was requested - the first phones did not have a rotary dial system, so handle cranks at the phone receiver were the signals used. Yes, it was a human-dependent system for years; incidentally, the first few phone lines were run through the town without poles, instead being connected across the tops of buildings.

By 1913, a job once assigned to boys had been largely occupied by women: a quick Google of the term "Telephone Girl" will show how ubiquitous a symbol the phone operator had become in American society, even becoming the topic of several films, a Broadway musical, and several other writings. This anonymous poem had made the rounds for a few years by the time it was typed on this stationary from Al S. Schorr's City Brewery:

The Telephone Girl (original, in slightly different order than above:)

The telephone girl sits in her chair,
And listens to voices from everywhere,
She knows who is happy and who has the blues;
She knows all the gossip, she knows all the news;
She knows our sorrows, she knows our joy;
She knows the girls who are playing with toys;
She knows every time we are out with the boys.,
She knows the excuse, each fellow employs;
She knows our trouble, she knows our strife;
She knows the man, who is mean to his wife.
If the telephone girl should tell all she knows,
It would turn our friends into bitterest foes.
She could sow a wind that would soon be a gale,
Engulf us in trouble and land us in jail
She could get our churches mixed in a fight,
She could start a story which gaining in force,
Would cause many wives to sue for divorce;
She could turn our day into sorrowing night.
In fact she could keep the town in a stew,
If she told one-tenth of the things she knew.
Gee! Doesn’t it make your head just whirl,
When you think what you owe to the telephone girl.

We are always looking for items and information to add to our digital archive; if you have a 'window into the past' you'd like to share, please contact us at info@hannibalhistorymuseum.com.

-Ken Marks

For Some of Us, Winter Is a Time To Harvest....

A group of ice delivery men outside Storrs Ice and Coal Company, on the riverfront several blocks north of  North St.  The Mississippi River's relatively shallow depth at Hannibal (plus the transportation network here, among other factors) made the town a desirable destination for ice harvesting and distribution. Photo Courtesy of  the Charles Webster Collection.

   As winter approaches and the riverfront freezes nearly all activity for the next few months, it would be easy to assume that the downtown area simply slips into hibernation until spring break - but not us! The Hannibal History Museum is planning and fundraising to expand its services to the community, just in time for the town's bicentennial year.


    What Is In the Works For 2019 (Fingers Crossed)

1. Adding permanent displays to the museum that explain the how and why of Hannibal's story, as well as adding temporary and traveling exhibits on topics that affected Hannibal...and the rest of the country.

2. Beginning an ongoing oral history archive that may eventually double as an internet-accessible podcast. For those who believe they can be of help on this project, contact us at info@hannibalhistorymuseum.com.

3. History After Dark: A new monthly program designed to be an entertaining, informal approach to appreciating history of all sorts (starting in February - look here and on Facebook for dates and location.)

4. For those curious about how people not only fought but lived in antebellum and Civil War - era America, we will be sponsoring a new weekend event near Bear Creek on May 4th and 5th. More details will be coming in the next two months, as we work on all the moving parts required to make a spectacle like this possible.

5. Oh, yes - a second steampunk event for those who can't wait for the Big River Steampunk Festival next Labor Day weekend. The Big River Steam Faire, a more intimate, DIY-centered offshoot of the Festival, will be held at the Admiral Coontz Armory (and at other undisclosed locations) on March 30th and 31st. Details will be posted on the Faire at www.bigriversteampunkfestival.com by mid-December.

6. Coordinating small history displays at various buildings throughout Hannibal as part of a 'museum of the city' project, in conjunction with the Hannibal Bicentennial Committee. Please subscribe to the 'Hannibal Bicentennial 2019' Facebook page to keep up with everything our community is planning for the coming year; it is inspiring to see how many groups have shown interest and pride in Hannibal's past!

    Fundraising, or How the Sausage Is Made

  The museum is a 501 (c)(3) corporation that functions as a free (or donation-based) museum because we believe it to be the best means to reach the largest audience possible to promote the history and attributes of Hannibal to residents and the rest of the world. However, this also means that fundraising is even more critical for the museum than an entity that receives a significant amount of funding through admissions and/or a private foundation.  

   Our budget is quite modest for the number of people we reach each year (20,000 - 25,000 visitors/year, not including crowds from the Big River Steampunk Festival), and proceeds from fundraising go toward overhead and programming/displays - there are no paid positions at the museum. This time of year is the most important for us, since gift shop sales and special events are at a low ebb throughout the winter, yet the costs of continuing the museum keep chugging along. We have started a fundraising page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/donate/268331197200854/?fundraiser_source=external_url through December 5th - for those who have already contributed, thank you so much for believing in our mission!

  For those with experience in fundraising who are looking for a new challenge, drop us a line through this website! We are working on a new committee for 2019 to ensure the museum's long-term future, and we'd love to have you on board.

     About the Photo

  Before technology allowed for the manufacturing of ice at will, the next best option would be to harvest the ice when nature made it possible. When the river would recede to levels such as 6-8 feet, and the currents were still, winter temperatures could allow to river to freeze. At a minimum depth (6-9 inches), horse-driven plows carved up the ice, and the resulting blocks would be transported through a conveyor system to a building like the one above. A solid building with ventilation (to remove heat) and insulated interior could hold the ice for months, even a year; one method to extend the life of the ice was to embed it in sawdust within the building. Some receipts from 1890s-1900s show that an icebox in a family home would expend 100 pounds of ice per week in the summertime to preserve its contents!

   On that chilling note, we at the museum wish you a happy, stress-reduced holiday shopping season! Please subscribe to our facebook page for more updates.

- Ken and Lisa Marks, Hannibal History Museum co-founders

Museum Featured on PBS "Illinois Stories"

Hannibal History Museum was proud to be featured on the Emmy-award winning PBS show "Illinois Stories" hosted by Mark McDonald -- this episode aired January, 2015

About the Hannibal History Museum:

Friends, we've produced this video featuring some of our accomplishments through 2014 -- promoting Hannibal's history and tourism, providing education and entertainment, and having a doggone good time! Won't you please join the fun and help us continue our mission in 2017? Simply click the "Donate" button to the left to contribute via PayPal -- all donations are tax-deductible. Together we can make history! Thank you!!!

Why Local History Matters (for Hannibal)

   In the December issue of Hannibal Magazine, we wrote an article concerning the potential future of vacant historic buildings in our downtown area, and how supporting a historic district or maintaining local history can provide real benefits to a town whose interest to the outside world is its heritage.  Thanks to publisher Rich Heiser, we are able to post the article in full below....

(By Ken and Lisa Marks)
    Recently, the building formerly known as the Murphy’s Motors building on North Main Street has been purchased by the City of Hannibal. One of the prospective plans being considered for the property is to raze the structure and create a space meant to augment several festivals held downtown each year. One problem: the over-130-year old building happens to be part of the Mark Twain Historic District and does not show signs of immediate distress. Moreover, acre after acre of underutilized open space exists just on the opposite side of the downtown levy wall that could be used for additional festival space. The concern that demolition of a building considered by many to be ‘historic’ in a part of town venerated for its historical content begs the question: why should local history matter to Hannibalians?
A view of North Main Street looking south from Holiday's Hill (now Cardiff Hill), c. 1900-1910; what eventually became known as the Murphy's Motors building is in the left foreground below as a wagon factory. Photo courtesy Steve Chou.
Hannibal’s history is more than its past – it is what sets the town apart from most other small communities. 

     If a small town is like an extended family, then history is its version of genealogy, a lineage that answers the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of Hannibal’s development.  Thanks to so many local resources, from the Missouri Room in the Hannibal Free Public Library and the volumes of information chronicled by Roberta and J. Hurley Hagood to the ephemera and photographic archives of Steve Chou, access to pieces of the past are more available in Hannibal than in most communities of similar size.  The trick is to synthesize these materials into a cohesive narrative that is accessible to all and representative of the town’s character; without this, all of these elements can be seen separately as trivial or nostalgic, rather than taken as a whole as the living DNA of today’s Hannibal.

     In other words, what we look like today as a community is not our full identity. Though our economy has suffered in the past few decades, for many years throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Hannibal was surprisingly strong in manufacturing. While most Mississippi river towns were known for one major industry in their past, Hannibal experienced industrial ‘booms’ repeatedly throughout its history. Initially, the steamboat trade brought commerce to Hannibal’s shore. Next, Hannibal became a major railroad hub; these railroads facilitated the massive lumber firms of the Reconstruction years that brought great wealth and prosperity. By the end of the 1920s, mostly because of the International Shoe Company and related industries, Hannibal had the fourth largest industrial base in Missouri despite having a population in the low-20,000s. For decades, Hannibal managed to overachieve in spite of its population, a small city that accomplished big things. To be aware of what those who came before us were able to accomplish can inspire today’s Hannibalians to strive to achieve the same level of civic progress.