Tuesday marks Mark Twain's 175th birthday. Among the many events and artistic tributes in Hannibal to commemorate the city's favorite son, this anniversary brings to mind special memories for many Tri-State residents.
One of them is the first girl ever to be chosen to represent the famous character, Becky Thatcher, back in 1935. LaGrange Resident Betty (Stephens) Vaughn was hand picked by Mark Twain's own granddaughter no less.
87 year-old Vaughn still has the dress she wore the day she became a star in her little town of LaGrange.
But let's set the stage. A new passenger rail line was being christened the Mark Twain Zephyr by Samuel Clemen's own granddaughter Nina Gabrilowitsch in honor of the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain back in 1935. The Hannibal Chamber of Commerce was holding it's first character contest and 12 year-old Betty Stephens was hand picked by the Mayor of LaGrange and the school superintendent to represent her town. Two other LaGrange boys were vying to portray Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
After hearing of her nomination, her mother and cousin set out to make the perfect costume, even consulting local ladies who'd lived during the time of Mark Twain's Childhood. They constructed this dress, a far cry from the pantaloons and aprons commonly thought to be from that decade. On the day of the contest, Betty stuck out in the competition of 12 would-be Becky's from towns up and down the river - hand picked by Mark Twain's granddaughter seen here.
That day she was a star.
That opened up opportunities to little Becky. She with the Tom and Huck Finn candidates from Burlington and Clarksville traveled by train to christen other Zephyrs in Chicago and Denver, Colorado. She was even asked back for the Mark Twain Zephyr's tenth anniversary when she was all grown up.