Almanac: Tom Sawyer

(CBS News) And now a page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac: July 21st, 1875, 138 years ago today . . . the day that put the imaginary town of St. Petersburg, Mo., on the literary map.

For that was the day Samuel Clemens (better known by his pen-name, Mark Twain) copyright-registered "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (though the book was not published until the next year).

Based broadly on his own experiences growing up in the real-life Mississippi River town of Hannibal, Mo., "Tom Sawyer" paints childhood as most of us would like to remember it.

James Ellsworth Brehm's illustration from a 1917 edition of Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer" shows the enterprising young lad getting the job done, after a fashion.
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Tom's many mischievous deeds and stunts have become part of our folklore and culture, depicted in a number of movies over the years, including a 1973 musical version, in which Tom (played by Johnny Whitaker) fast-talks the other boys into whitewashing his Aunt Polly's fence:

There's even a "Tom Sawyer" ballet, performed by the New Jersey Ballet, among other companies.

Surprising as it may seem to us now, "Tom Sawyer" was NOT an immediate best-seller. It won wide recognition only AFTER the success of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," the sequel Twain published almost ten years later, in 1885.

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Certainly, in the century-and-a-third since, "Tom Sawyer" has hardly lacked for readers.

Nor has Tom lacked for emulators.

Earlier this month, Hannibal, Mo., staged its annual re-enactment of the whitewashing of the fence. And there was a Tom Sawyer look-alike contest.

Later in his life, Mark Twain wrote that "Tom Sawyer is simply a hymn -- put into prose form to give it a worldly air."

A hymn that resonates with us still.


For more info:

  • Special thanks to New Jersey Ballet
  • Photos of New Jersey Ballet's "Tom Sawyer" by Joseph Schembri; Music and choreography by David McNaughton

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