So we’re standing out in the hot Missouri summer humidity, and before us is the mouth of the cave.   You want to go in there.  It’s hot.  Also you want to go there because there are children with your party, and you’re thinking real hard about how you can explain to children that you are too afraid to go into a cave, being the giant, capable-looking grownup that you are.  Doesn’t this suggest to the children that the cave is unsafe?  Well, you could lie.  You could be suddenly, violently ill.  I like to lie to kids as much as the next person, but not out of cowardice.

I went out to see the Mark Twain sights in Hannibal.  Someone suggested we go to to see the cave.  Thank heavens they did, because the cave is the best part of the whole scene up there.  My anxious nuttiness has two components: claustrophobia and lack of control.  A cave tour is both, right?  I actually bolted from a cave tour when I was a kid, and got severely punished for scaring the crap out of my parents. I’ve been in lots of caves since– even one we explored with lanterns, even Carlsbad.  I had not, though, been in a cave since my brain learned its new panic attack trick this year.

Turns out, it wasn’t easy to step inside Mark Twain’s goofy kid-friendly are you kidding me everyone’s doing it cave, but I did.  I looked back at the daylight some.  Once I was in, I was fine.  That’s anxiety 101, though.  The build-up is all.

How was I rewarded for walking through my two (okay, maybe four) moments of terror?  I saw the grafffitti of a hundred years of visitors.  The Mark Twain cave tour focuses on the stories of human activity in the cave.  It is approximately 10% geology, and 90% crazy human stories.  Here’s where Jesse James hid out.  Here’s where people who are the kind of people who want to get married in a cave get married.  Here’s where Injun Joe’s body was found, with a pigeon in his mouth.  Imagine Tom and Becky Thatcher lost here!  Here’s where the kids of Hannibal slid down the rocks.  Here’s where the crazy doctor hung the pod containing the preserved body of his daughter.  No kidding.

The end of the tour was the best.  You walk from the cave into this little anteroom.  It is painted bright red.  There is a small flatscreen TV mounted on the wall.  Your tour guide stands in front of the door leading out.  The video begins.  A woman standing in front of the same wall you are standing in front of starts jerkily regaling you with all the wonders that await you beyond that door.  Ice cream!  Candle dipping!  Wine tasting!  We have picnic tables and chairs set out for you to use!  I mean, we’re already there.  This place is all off by itself, no other tourist attractions compete for your dollars in that immediate area.  We are, in fact, about to walk right past the ice cream freezer.  If that doesn’t sell you ice cream (it did– I had some), I doubt that an amateur video will.

The video went on and on, until all of us on the tour together, relative strangers, are looking at each other with amused disbelief.  Is this really happening?  Are we really being held hostage for this?  The video ends with the speaker, a woman who maybe owns the place, signing off, but still looking around the room, disembodied, and still sort of jerky, like maybe she’s in a tape loop.

Our tour guide opened the door, releasing us back to our natural habitat.  “Before you go, don’t forget to check out the photo of Jimmy Carter in the cave!” our tour guide reminds us cheerfully.  Unfortunately, I did.  But I had seen enough.

Photo is drawing of Twain inside the cave.  Sadly, they stopped permitting people to draw in the cave shortly before I was born.

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