Hannibal has had a hard time of it ever since I can recollect, and I was "raised" there. First, it had me for a citizen, but I was too young then to really hurt the place. Next, Jimmy Finn, the town drunkard, reformed, and that broke up the only saloon in the village. But the temperance people liked it; they were willing enough to sacrifice public prosperity to public morality. And so they made much of Jimmy Finn - dressed him up in new clothes, and had him out to breakfast and to dinner, and so forth, and showed him off as a great living curiosity - a shining example of the power of temperance doctrines when earnestly and eloquently set forth. Which was all very well, you know, and sounded well, and looked well in print, but Jimmy Finn couldn't stand it. He got remorseful about the loss of his liberty; and then he got melancholy from thinking about it so much; and after that, he got drunk. He got awfully drunk in the chief citizen's house, and the next morning that house was as if the swine had tarried in it. That outraged the temperance people and delighted the opposite faction. The former rallied and reformed Jim once more, but in an evil hour temptation came upon him, and he sold his body to a doctor for a quart of whiskey, and that ended all his earthly troubles. He drank it all at one sitting, and his soul went to its long account and his body went to Dr. Grant. This was another blow to Hannibal. Jimmy Finn had always kept the town in a sweat about something or other, and now it nearly died from utter inanition.
After this, Joe Dudding, a reckless speculator, started a weekly stage to the town of Florida, thirty miles away, where a couple of families were living, and Hannibal revived very perceptibly under this wild new sensation.
But then the scarlet fever came, and the hives, and between them they came near hiving all the children in the camp. And so Hannibal took another back-set. But pretty soon a weekly newspaper was started, which bred a fierce spirit of enterprise in the neighboring farmers, because when they had any small potatoes left over that they couldn't sell, they didn't throw them away as they used to do, but they took them to the editor and traded them off for subscriptions to his paper. But finally the potato-rot got him, and Hannibal was floored again.
However, somebody started a pork-house, and the little village showed signs of life once more. And then came the measles and blighted it. It stayed blighted a good while, too.
After a while they got to talking about building a plank road to New London, ten miles away, and after another while, they built it. This made business. Then they got excited and built a gravel road to Paris, 30 or 40 miles. More business. They got into a perfect frenzy and talked of a railroad - an actual rail road - a railroad 200 miles long - a railroad from Hannibal to St. Joseph! And behold, in the fullness of time - in ten or fifteen years - they built it.
A sure enough prosperity burst upon the community, now. Property went up. It was noted as a significant fact that instead of selling town-lots by the acre people began to sell them by the front foot. Hannibal grew fast - doubled its population in two years, started a daily paper or two, and came to be called a city - sent for a fire engine and had her out, bedecked with ribbons, on Fourth of July, but the engine-house burned down one night and destroyed her, which cast a gloom over the whole community. And they started militia companies, and Sons of Temperance and Cadets of Temperance. Hannibal always had a weakness for the Temperance cause. I joined the Cadets myself, although they didn't allow a boy to smoke, or drink or swear, but I thought I never could be truly happy till I wore one of those stunning red scarfs and walked in procession when a distinguished citizen died. I stood it four months, but never an infernal distinguished citizen died during the whole time; and when they finally pronounced old Dr. Norton convalescent (a man I had been depending on for seven or eight weeks,) I just drew out. I drew out in disgust, and pretty much all the distinguished citizens in the camp died within the next three weeks.
Well, Hannibal's prosperity seemed to be of a permanent nature, but St. Louis built the North Missouri Railroad and hurt her, and Quincy tapped the Hannibal and St. Joe in one or two places, which hurt her still worse, and then the war came, and the closing years of it almost finished her.
Now they are trying to build a branch railroad to some place in the interior they call Moberly, at a cost of half a million, and if that fails some of the citizens will move. They only talk Moberly now. The church members still talk about religion, but they mix up a good deal of Moberly in it. The young ladies talk fashion and Moberly, and the old ones talk of charity and temperance, piety, the grave, and Moberly. Hannibal will get Moberly, and it will save her. It will bring back the old prosperity. But won't they have to build another road to protect the Moberly? and another and another to protect each enterprise of the kind? A railroad is like a lie - you have to keep building to it to make it stand. A railroad is a ravenous destroyer of towns, unless those towns are put at the end of it and a sea beyond, so that you can't go further and find another terminus. And it is shaky trusting them, even then, for there is no telling what may be done with trestle-work. Which reminds me of ...