Monthly Archives: March 2011

You can, too, go home again — to Hannibal, Mo.

Batter up! Brendan is ready to swing an imaginary bat at Clemens Field. When he was in college, he played ball there against a Hannibal team. Phil Roberts photo.

Mark Twain greets visitors to his childhood home on Hill Street. Phil Roberts photo.

Brendan is ready to whitewash Tom Sawyer's fence. Phil Roberts photo.

I'm ready to enjoy a delicious meal at Lula Belle's. Brendan Roberts photo.

I visited a bordello. There, I’ve said it. Now I bet I have your attention!

Before you get the wrong idea about me, allow me some preliminary paragraphs, and I will explain.

It was a Monday in March in Hannibal, Mo., a river town with an interesting background. Hannibal, of course, is the boyhood home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, and was the setting for some of his famous writings.

My oldest son, Brendan, and I were in town for a day of sight-seeing, father-son bonding and escape from the winter blahs.

Brendan lives in the St. Louis area and is a fantasy sports writer and editor for He spends most of his weekdays alone at home, working at a computer.

I am a semi-retired jack of all trades, master at none. And I, too, spend most of my weekdays home alone writing and/or puttering.

Brendan and I had been commiserating about being cooped up inside during the long winter a while back when I came up with a brilliant idea (I don’t have many of those): “Let’s choose a place between our homes, get a hotel room, then spend the day and evening together just having fun and relaxing,” I suggested.

Brendan liked the idea. A few weeks later we selected a location, Hannibal, and a date, and we made a hotel reservation.

Hannibal was Brendan’s idea because of the Twain attractions and our family’s history there. My parents grew up and were married there. Hannibal is also where my grandparents and some other relatives lived.

As children, my brother and I visited Hannibal several times each year with our parents. One summer when I was about 16, my parents delivered me there, and I spent a couple of weeks staying a few days at a time with various relatives. So for me, Hannibal is like a home away from home.

Brendan had visited Hannibal, too, as a child. But he didn’t remember it.

The day of our father-son visit to Hannibal was what I consider to be a typical March day: Cloudy, cool and breezy. But there was no rain or snow.

We met a little after 11, dropped our bags in our hotel room, had a quick lunch and started our self-guided tour.

I showed Brendan Lindell Avenue, where my grandparents on my father’s side, Harry and Grace Roberts, and my great-grandfather, Christian Pabst, who had immigrated from Germany at age 8, lived.

He also saw Union Street, where my grandparents on my mother’s side, Ben and Minnie Miller, lived.

We visited my Aunt Doris. She is my sole surviving relative in Hannibal and still lives alone at age 94.

I showed Brendan some former neighborhood stores where I had shopped with relatives as a kid and a playground — now an industrial site — where my brother and I had once spent much of our time during every visit.

We saw where my Uncle Ralph’s barber shop had once stood, and I showed my son the place where my dad, his grandfather, Ray, who couldn’t swim, had nearly drowned in the floodwaters of Bear Creek. Had his playmate, nicknamed Bozo, had not pulled him out of the water, I wouldn’t be here writing this.

Thanks to my genealogical research, Brendan and I also located the house my great Aunt Pearl and Uncle Carl had lived in and the house my great-grandparents, William and Laura Roberts, had lived in.

Our visit also included stops at some family cemetery plots and well-known Hannibal sites: Lovers Leap, Mark Twain Cave, the statue of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn on Cardiff Hill and the boyhood home of Sam Clemens and related buildings on Hill Street.

Our visit to the bordello – OK, it’s really a former bordello — came that evening.

I had asked the hostess at the Mark Twain Interpretative Center for the name of a good place for an evening meal. One of two restaurants she suggested, and the one we selected, was Lula Belle’s.

Just a short walk from our downtown hotel, Lula Belle’s was specifically designed and constructed for its intended purpose in 1917 by a madam from Chicago, Sarah Smith.

When Smith died in 1932, another madam, Bessie Heolscher, bought and refurbished the place in a Spanish style that was popular during the period.

The restaurant’s brochure claims the brothel girls “were reputed to have been highly respected citizens, purchasing quality goods, paying their bills on time and using discretion with their clientele.

“Prominent businessmen, railroaders and travelers were just a few of an interesting mix of customers.”

But apparently there wasn’t quite enough discretion. The brothel came under heavy attack by the local ministers’ alliance intent on closing it in the early 1950s.

And frequent police raids resulted in its closing in the late 1950s.

Lula Belle’s is named for a fictitious lady of the evening, and our meal there was excellent.

You may have heard this quotation: “You can never go home again.”

It’s from James Agee’s book, “A Death in the Family.”

I like the quotation, but, luckily, it’s not always true. My son and I did, in fact, go home again — on a Monday in March in Hannibal, Mo.

Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece was submitted as a column to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


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A first for me: an X-ray via e-mail

Duane Miller's broken ankle.

I have gotten a variety of e-mails over the years, but the one that came in Feb. 24 marked a first for me. It included a black-and-white photo of an X-ray of a broken leg showing the cracked bone held together with a plate and half a dozen screws.

The owner of the leg is well-known Eldridge resident Duane Miller, who has been hobbling around with a walker since falling on some ice Feb. 15.

He explained the fall in a Feb. 17 e-mail: When he assessed the situation after the fall, he said, “I discovered that my right foot was pointing skyward as it should, but my left foot was pointing north. That is when I realized I was in deep doodoo.”

He’s doing better now. The bone is healing, and a walking cast will replace Duane’s walker and crutches before long. We wish him well.

He offers some great advice for those venturing outdoors in winter weather: Take your cell phone with you and make sure it is charged up.

Luckily, Duane did.


I’ve long said there truly is free speech in America, and you can make most any public statement you wish, even if it is controversial, inflammatory, false, stupid, in poor taste, racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic. You can make it that is, if you don’t mind suffering the consequences.

Troubled TV star Charlie Sheen is finding that out the hard way. CBS is canceling the remaining shows this season of “Two and a Half Men,” its biggest hit comedy series of the past decade. The decision is “based on the totality of Charlie Sheen’s statements, conduct and condition,” the network said in a written statement.

Sheen, who has a serious problem with drugs and alcohol, recently was highly critical of the show’s producers when he called a radio station and spoke live on the air.

He made anti-Semitic remarks about “Two and a Half Men’s” creator and lead writer, Chuck Lorre, whose real name is Charles Levine. He called Lorre a “stupid little man” among other things.

Sheen’s tirade and the subsequent cancellation of the remaining four “Two and a Half Men” episodes will cause Sheen, America’s highest paid TV actor, to lose some $14 million in earnings.

Days before his latest comments, Sheen had offered advice to actress Lindsay Lohan on impulse control.

“I’ve got some things I would recommend she consider,” he said. “Work on your impulse control. Just try to think things through a little bit before you do them.”

Now that is good advice.

Sheen, whose free speech is costing him millions and who seems bent on public self-destruction, should be following that advice himself.


All of us who work in media are guilty of poor writing now and then. We can blame it on deadline pressure. But poor writing is still poor writing no matter the reason.

This line caught my ear recently: A local TV news anchor said Borders is going bankrupt, and one of the reasons is “online book sales.”

At first I thought she meant that Borders’ online book sales had decreased, causing corporate red ink. But someone suggested that she probably meant that increased online book sales by places like Amazon, or people’s downloading of electronic books, had cut into Borders’ retail business.

The bottom line is, it should have been spelled out in the story. The news consumer shouldn’t have to wonder what a newspaper reporter or TV anchor meant to write or say. It should be clear.


So far, I’m not much impressed with digital television, at least in the condition in which it often arrives at my house via Mediacom cable.
I don’t know if it’s a problem with the local TV stations or Mediacom, but the digital picture is often momentarily scrambled. Sometimes the words heard and the movement of the mouths saying them don’t match. And the audio often drops out completely for a few seconds or a few minutes.

I never experienced this problem with an analog TV signal.
Now often I find myself switching from the digital signal of a local station back to its analog signal just to avoid the distraction.
When it comes to digital television, “new and improved” aren’t words I’d use to describe it.


The opening race of the 2011 Sprint Cup season, the Daytona 500, has always been my favorite NASCAR race.

These days I often take a ho-hum attitude toward the rest of the season. Much of it has to do with my unhappiness over some of the decisions and changes that have taken place at the race-sanctioning body in recent years.

But the Daytona 500 is special, and this year it was really a neat sporting event to behold.

A genuinely nice young man, 20-year-old Trevor Bayne, won this year. He was the youngest Daytona 500 winner ever.

He displayed the nerves of steel of a veteran driver during the race but, in reality, it was only his second Sprint Cup event; he’s so new to the sport he had trouble finding Victory Lane after the checkered flag fell.

How refreshing.

Ironically Bayne, who turned 20 the day before the race, was driving a car prepared by one of the oldest teams in NASCAR racing, the Wood Brothers, a family operation.

“Surely, it seemed the family had been trampled down and passed by in NASCAR,” wrote Ed Hinton on “The only amazing thing about them was that they kept on going as a struggling one-car team in a league overwhelmed by multi-car teams with corporate structures and the funds to dominate.”

Bayne’s win provided the team’s first Daytona 500 victory since 1976, when David Pearson was behind the wheel.

A new T-shirt now proudly proclaims: “Wood Brothers, Seven decades of winning.”

Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This appeared as an “Everyday People” column in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on March 3, 2011 in Uncategorized


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