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Mark Twain’s recollection suggests that money can't buy happiness

The 1899 Sanborn map of Hannibal, Mo., shows the Lakenan house, opposite of the First Christian Church on Broadway. The description indicates that the house had been damaged by fire.


In 1850, the Brady House, which was located on the northwest corner of Center and Main streets in Hannibal, served as early residency for a number of young men who would go on to become key Hannibal developers during the second half of the 19th Century.

Owned and operated in 1850 by Maryland natives Thomas J. and Mary A. Ayres, the hotel offered its residents furnished accommodations and meals in a neighborhood that was the hub of business and commerce, located just two blocks from the Mississippi River.

Mr. and Mrs. Ayres were parents to three children who lived among the hotel’s boarders in 1850: Tubman Lowes Ayers, 21, Lizzie Ayres, 17, and Irving Ayres, 13.

Robert F. Lakenan, a native of Virginia, came to Hannibal in 1845, soon after he obtained his license to practice law. He was among the early boarders at the Brady House, rubbing shoulders with men whose names are well remembered as early influencers to Hannibal’s growth: Levering, Lamb, Hawes, Settles, Collins and others.

Lakenan – at the age of 29 – was deemed to be a rising star in the community. He became enraptured by the beauty and charm of the young daughter of Thomas J. Ayres. The two were married.

A daughter, Mary Lizzie, was born to the couple on Dec. 8, 1850. Just a week later, Lizzie Lakenan died at the age of 18, leaving young Mary Lizzie motherless. Six months later, on June 21, 1851, Mary Lizzie died as well. The newspaper identified the cause as of Cholera Infantum. Mother and daughter share a headstone at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal.

Second marriage

The story of Mr. Lakenan’s second marriage comes from none other than Mark Twain himself. He spoke of Mary Moss Lakenan in “Villagers of 1840-3,” which he wrote in 1897. Mary was the pretty young daughter of Russell W. Moss and his wife, Mary Davidson Moss, according to “Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1: The Complete and Authoritative Edition.” Mary was a frequent visitor to the Clemens home in her youth, and was the sweetheart of George Robards, a son of A.S. Robards, of flour milling fame.

When R.F. Lakenan, a young attorney, moved to Hannibal circa 1845, he set out to make a name for himself, and to get himself in good graces with the powers that be.

Russell W. Moss, along with his partner William P. Samuel, had purchased a lot on the city’s river front from Stephen Glascock in 1839, and proceeded to build a large slaughter house on the lot, located on the levee, between North and Rock streets. In 1853, the city filed suit against Moss and Samuel, claiming that in 1836 the lot had been dedicated by Glascock for the city’s use as a wharf. The city was suing for possession of the lot on which the slaughter house stood.

The Hannibal Daily Journal of July 13, 1853, reported that: “The suit was decided this afternoon, by the attorneys for the city taking a nonsuit – so that if the city should wish to bring suit again when she obtains more evidence, she will be in a similar position to that in which she commenced this suit. The property involved is worth $15,000.”

Mr. Lakenan was one of the three attorneys representing Messrs. Moss and Samuel, setting him in good standing with the two major pork dealers.

Mark Twain wrote:

“Lawyer Lakenan the rising stranger, held to be the better match by the parents (Russell W. and Mary Moss), who were looking higher than commerce. They made her engage herself to L. (Lakenan) L. made her study hard a year to fit herself to be his intellectual company; then married her, (in 1854) shut her up, the docile and heart-hurt young beauty, and continued her education rigorously. When he was ready to trot her out in society 2 years later and exhibit her, she had become wedded to her seclusion and her melancholy broodings, and begged to be left alone. He compelled her – that is, commanded. She obeyed. Her first exit was her last. The sleigh was overturned, her thigh was broken; it was badly set. She got well with a terrible limp, and forever after stayed in the house and produced children. Saw no company, not even the mates of her girlhood. (Inds. 94)”

Mr. Lakenan’s career

Early advertisements in the Hannibal Journal identify R.F. Lakenan as an Attorney at Law and a real estate agent.

He was among the early planners of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, and served the road in a legal capacity. Soon after his arrival in Hannibal, he was elected city attorney. He was an astute real estate investor, acquiring and subdividing property in Hannibal and beyond. In addition, he later filled the role of State Senator, and at the time of his death in 1883, he was a member of the House of Representatives.

Lakenan estate

Robert F. Lakenan was able to purchase five farms along the route of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad route in Shelby County in 1860. He laid out the land in Lakenan – a town which still bears his name.

In his will, Robert Lakenan stipulated that his real estate, including the farms in Shelby County, were to be sold; that his wife would receive a child’s share of the proceeds, along with each of his six surviving children: Russell M. Lakenan; Mary Lakenan Price, wife of Edwin M. Price of Boone County; Robert F. Lakenan Jr.; Richard Lakenan, William T. Lakenan; and Kate B. Lakenan.

He appointed his son, Russell Lakenan, as executor, to be assisted as needed by attorney Thomas H. Bacon, the son of Robert F. Lakenan’s sister, Catherine L. Lakenan (widow of George) Bacon of Hannibal.

The sale of the more than 700 acres of Shelby County farmland became the subject of a right-a-way dispute between the Lakenan estate and the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad Company, which was ultimately resolved in Lakenan’s favor by the St. Louis Missouri Court of Appeals in 1889.

Note: Research for this story began with a curiosity about what structure stood at 1018 Broadway, before the “new” Hannibal High School was constructed in 1904.

It turns out that the property hosted a grand, two-story house owned by Robert F. and Mary Moss Lakenan. Mr. Lakenan authorized the subdivision of the property along the Broadway corridor, his house facing south on Broadway. Directly across the street was the Hannibal City Institute, prior to the construction of the First Christian Church. An early newspaper clipping indicated that the house cost $45,000 to construct.

The Lakenan residence was badly damaged by fire in March 1897, and two adult children, Russell M. and Katie Lakenan, escaped in their night clothes. Fire damage was estimated at $5,000.

Mrs. Lakenan, who was not home at the time of the fire, moved to Columbia, Mo., where she would live with her daughter until her death in 1922.

Mr. and Mrs. Lakenan are buried together at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Hannibal.

The Brady House was located on the lot where Pam and Mike Gingsberg’s Main Street Bed and Breakfast is now located.

Shown is an 1880s map of the Shelby County land where the right-of-way issue arose. Map included in Missouri Appeal Reports, Lakenan, Ex’r v. Hannibal & St. J. Ry. Co.

R.F. and Mary Moss Lakenan are buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal, along with several of their children. Just to the north of the Lakenan grave is that of George and Catherine Bacon. Mrs. Bacon was Mr. Lakenan’s sister. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

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