I visited North Main Street in Hannibal this afternoon, on the very street where Sam Clemens played as a child, and where Tilden Selmes operated a dry goods store in the years prior to the Civil War. The Folklife Festival was underway in 2014, celebrating Hannibal's history. While many booth operators were dressed in period costumes, I wonder how many of the people in attendance really understood the significance of retracing the steps of dressmakers, boot blacks, wagon makers, blacksmiths and others who conducted business and contributed to Hannibal's earliest economy.
Tilden Selmes served two terms as mayor of Hannibal in the early 1850s, and his store was located on the northeast corner of Hill and Main. His was the leading retail establishment in town, and by the early 1850s he had replaced his original log building for one made of brick. In the mid 1850s, he lived with his wife and young children in a boarding house on the northwest corner of Main and Center streets. They didn't have a house to call their own until 1858.
By the mid 1850s he had established a bank in his store, endured highs and lows in the economic environment of Hannibal, including the panic of 1857, which came close to wiping him out.
Tilden Selmes is just one of the business operators I've studied during my research for a historic biography now in the works. I know these people of Hannibal past, their personalities, strengths and frailities. I can't wait to introduce them all when my book is complete.
I was with my son on Saturday in Historic Hannibal, and with a host of characters awaiting fame.