Tom Sawyer Days originated in 1956 with the " first Tom Sawyer fence
painting contest sponsored by the Hannibal Jaycees and the " first “Tom & Becky” contest sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. The original event took place in May and was an out-growth of a tour of 1200 St. Louis Missouri children sponsored by KETC-TV, the St. Louis based educational television station. The fence painting and Tom & Becky contest were planned to add color to the event. In 1959, the event was moved to July 4th when Independence Day was proclaimed “Tom Sawyer Days” through a joint proclamation of Hannibal Mayor Clyde Toalson, Missouri Governor James T. Blair and Illinois Governor William Stratton. Moving the event combined all of the Tom Sawyer activities with the Hannibal Jaycees’ annual fireworks display, creating one great holiday. In 1961, “National Tom Sawyer Days” was born through a joint congressional resolution sponsored by Missouri Senators Stuart Symington and Edward Long and Missouri Congressman Clarence Cannon. The chartering resolution stated the celebration is dedicated to the recognition of that most lovable, yet unpredictable phenomenon of our American society, the small boy and his fascination for the big river as immortalized by Mark Twain. Here, amid the echoes of the Tom Sawyers and Huck Finns of Clemens’ day as the events of the past are re-enacted, visitors discover that the charm preserved by the author still lives in every boy or everyone who ever was a boy.
The fence painting contest is the core event of National Tom Sawyer Days and includes several days of events. All local contestants compete in the " first event to advance to the national contest. A second event is held for contestants from all over Missouri who also advance to compete in the national contest. The national event is the " final event. The winner of the national event receives the Governor’s trophy which may be presented to his state’s governor and displayed in the state capitol for one year. The trophy is returned each year for the next contest.
The National Fence Painting Contest is a three part event with contestants receiving points for authenticity of costume, speed, and painting quality. Contestants are encouraged to read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” to attempt to capture a realistic look for their costume. These areas are judged by local dignitaries, distinguished guests and the previous year’s champion.
FENCE PAINTING WINNERS The top 3 placing painters in the local, state and national fence painting contests receive a plaque and nice prizes. The national champion also receives the Govenor’s Trophy to take to his home state!