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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. CBS News

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.

Dead 100 years, Mark Twain lets loose

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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