The Garden House, a comfy stay
“Nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.” Although Mark Twain penned those words in 1867, the sentiment holds true today. So when my friend Kim and I were searching for a place to lay our heads in Hannibal, Missouri, it’s no wonder we were drawn to the quote on the Garden House Bed and Breakfast’s website. As it turned out, “kindly instincts” came easy with the many people we met during our brief stay in the hometown of one of our favorite writers.
Kim is like my kid sister. We met in the early 1980s while working as rookie reporters/columnists for a weekly newspaper in Fairbury, Illinois. Our desks faced each other, and a deep friendship grew between us as we pecked out daily assignments on manual typewriters and shared the joys and heartaches of life. Eventually, we moved on to new jobs in various locations but promised to always kept in touch. Today, we live only a few hundred miles apart and meet somewhere midway each year.
Albert W. Pettibone Jr.
Our recent reunion took us to The Garden House, an eclectic Victorian beauty situated in the Central Park Historic District, once known as Millionaire’s Row, in the heart of Hannibal. The home was built in 1896 by Albert W. Pettibone Jr., one of the town’s prominent lumber barons. He died in the home three years later at age 29, a year after his son William was born.
When booking our stay, innkeeper Chris Bobek mentioned some of the home’s distinctive features, including frequent “sightings” of young Albert Pettibone in various rooms, mostly the East guest quarters. “Albert is here all the time, whether or not he shows himself is another thing. His appearances are like clockwork every six to eight weeks. The lights in the hallway become sporadic, like he’s pacing up and down the hallway. The East bedroom has the most activity. People have heard doorknobs being turned,” he said. Come to find out, the home is on “Hannibal’s Ghost Tour” and was also named one of the “Best Places to Stay with a Ghost” by bedandbreakfast.com. When it comes to vintage homes, little fascinates me more than the possibility of seeing a friendly apparition!
Kim and I arrived in the historic neighborhood mid-morning to sunshine and spring temps, a rarity for the Midwest in February. After emotional curbside hugs, we headed towards the Garden House. The first thing that caught my attention was the home’s stunning fishscale shingles, typical of Victorian fancy, accented in a whimsical blue that celebrated the day’s sky.
Since it was off season, we were able to check in right away. Chris and fellow innkeeper Arif Dagin gave us such a warm greeting that we immediately felt at home. We were also welcomed by the sugary aroma of cookies baking and soft music playing in the background. Arif is a Culver-Stockton College student from Istanbul, Turkey who has been in the Work and Travel Student Exchange Program for three years. As innkeeper, he has taken a keen interest in the Garden House and often brings authentic Turkish recipes to the breakfast table. He showed us around, sharing the home’s history with enthusiasm and pointing out numerous architectural elements that once expressed social status, such as the original stained glass window that graces the landing of the grand oak staircase.
The Garden House has four bedrooms with semi-private baths. Each room is named for the direction its faces. Kim, who was a bit shy about meeting Albert W. Pettibone Jr., chose the South room while I was more than delighted to take the East room. We each had a heart-shaped box of chocolates waiting on top of our luxurious featherbeds! Nice touch!
Chris bought the home six years ago on a whim. While visiting Hannibal with friends during the annual Tom Sawyer days, he was smitten with the town’s friendliness. He lived in Milwaukee at the time and had no thoughts of relocating. But he was drawn to the old Pettibone home, especially the red roses that grew alongside the front porch. The older couple who lived there often sat on the porch and befriended Chris during his daily walkabouts. “One day they asked me in. Their home was warm and inviting, not stuffy like some. The gardens were lovely, and when sitting on the porch it felt like I was in a different world. When they told me they were moving, I decided to buy the home for a weekend retreat. We made the deal with a handshake,” he said.
Before long, Chris met a few B&B owners in Hannibal who suggested that the home would make a perfect bed and breakfast. “It’s not something I planned. I just fell into it. I modified the kitchen and bathrooms. But the home has good bones, so I didn’t have to do a lot of major renovating,” he said. The Queen Anne home is adorned with original oak, cherry and mahogany woodwork and furnished with period antiques, maintaining its turn-of-the-century charm.
Although the gardens were not in bloom during our visit, fresh-cut blossoms and floral artwork accented every room. Most impressive is the dining room with larger-than-life, three-dimensional purple irises painted boldly on gold-flecked walls. Also stunning are the flowers blooming in stained glass transoms above the bedroom doors.
Off to explore
When talking to Chris, you’d think he was a Hannibal native. He’s very passionate about the town’s history and its legendary sites. Before Kim and I ventured out for the day, he was eager to point out the “must-sees,” most of which are within walking distance of the B&B. However, wanting to squeeze as much as possible into the afternoon, we took the car. First, we drove up to Rockcliffe Mansion, a gorgeous colonial-style home overlooking the Mississippi River that beckons a leisurely tour – something we didn’t have time for this visit. Next, we headed to Riverview Park, a peaceful retreat on the limestone bluffs north of town with panoramic views of the Mighty Mississippi and a memorial statue of Mark Twain looking out at the river he loved.
We spent most of our time at Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home which focuses on the carefree days of an adventurous Samuel Clemens growing up in a little river town prior to the Civil War. The self-guided tour features dioramas bringing Twain’s wit, wisdom, and literary characters to life. Unfortunately, the day was slipping away, so we didn’t have time to see Mark Twain’s Cave and other related sites that attract thousands of visitors each year. Late afternoon, we returned to the B&B to enjoy the last rays of sunshine and share a nice bottle of Riesling. We toasted the day’s adventures as we sat on the porch – quite a contrast to our old newsroom days when we could barely scrape up enough change to split a soda in the break room.
Dinner at LaBinnah’s
That evening, we had reservations at LaBinnah’s, a quaint 28-seat bistro in an 1870s federal-style home less than a block from the B&B. What a pleasant surprise to be greeted by Arif -- our server/host for the night. He went over the bistro’s diverse menu and then suggested the stuffed grape leaves or edamame sprinkled with sea salt for starters. We ordered both and were happy with the decision. Kim chose the rib-eye for her entrée, one of the best she’s had, and I went with a chicken dish smothered in a perfect blend of herbs and spices. We sent our praises to the chef, whom we learned was our innkeeper Chris. The bistro has a BYOB policy, so Kim and I brought a 2005 Avalon California Cab that my husband Dan bought for us to celebrate our annual get-away -- a vintage that I’d highly recommend! Another dinner highlight was meeting Ken and Jen, a lovely couple from St. Louis who were also staying at Garden House. We all agreed that the bistro lived up to its claim as “Destination Dining at its Best.”
Retiring to the lady’s parlor
Kim and I returned to the B&B where we curled up in conversation and laughter in the lady’s parlor. Sitting there in the soft lamplight, we reminisced about old times and shared family photos and updates. We admired the unique pressed-tin ceiling and the stately oak fireplace with its ionic columns, floral carvings, and honey-colored tiles. Chris said the ceiling panels came from Italy and were created with original dies from the era. “They’re not original. Since the home was built by a wood baron, he wouldn’t have put metal ceilings in,” he said. After a tourist-weary day, many glasses of wine, an exceptional dinner, and reminiscing, Kim and I took Mark Twain’s advice to “Go to bed early, get up early – this is wise.”
Time for bed
All I can say is be careful what you wish for. Like I mentioned, little fascinates me more than the thought of meeting a friendly ghost. That was until the opportunity actually presented itself. Surprisingly, when it did, I found myself sleeping in the “East” room with the lights on half the night! Then, I was awakened by the gentle weight of a shadow sweeping over me. I hugged my pillow in saucer-eyed wonder and fright. But it was just a quirky dream, no doubt, … or was it? Either way, I was determined to face “whatever” and mustered the courage to turn the lights off. Then, (within my mind), I let Albert know that I’d really like to meet him. Recognizing how silly it was to think that he could read my thoughts, I verbalized my desire to meet him out loud, telling him how much I appreciated spending time in his fine home. Eventually, I dozed off. Other than that, I have nothing to report – except that the actual “weight” of that shadow continues to haunt me.
Breakfast with Ken and Jen
The next morning we joined Ken and Jen for coffee in the men’s parlor where a brooding Albert W. Pettibone Jr. gazed at us from an old frame on the fireplace mantel. We shared the highlights of our Hannibal stay until Arif announced that breakfast was ready. We cozied up to the table and continued our conversation while enjoying fresh fruit smothered in yogurt, huge slices of blueberry muffin, fresh juice and coffee. Arif then presented us with one of his mother’s signature dishes – Mediterranean Egg Frittata with a rich coating of authentic Turkish spices. Delicious!
As always, the brief time Kim and I had together was filled with reminiscing, relaxation and laughter. Our spirits were refreshed as we planned “next time” during emotional good-byes. Even though we only see each other once a year, we’re always just an e-mail or phone call away. And it’s a luxury knowing she’s within driving distance. That hasn’t always been so. Years ago, when Kim moved away to manage a gourmet shop on Nantucket Island, I knew I’d miss her ever-loving spirit. Sitting at my desk, looking at the emptiness, I pecked out a column about Kim, saying “… Most of us have to live a little before we learn to crochet the lace of kindness and compassion … and already her heart’s needle is clicking away. … Sometimes I sit back and wonder how one person can be so full of loving. …” I still wonder that each time we meet to keep our promise.
For more information on Hannibal and surrounding area highlights, see www.visithannibal.com; for The Garden House, www.gardenhousebedandbreakfast.com
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