HANNIBAL, Mo. -- A historian in Mark Twain's hometown is calling into question long-held beliefs about the supposed model for Huck Finn.
Terrell Dempsey questions whether Mark Twain, born Samuel Clemens, really based Huck on boyhood friend Tom Blankenship. And Dempsey raised doubts that Blankenship really grew up in the building long labeled the home of the real Huck Finn.
Both beliefs date more than a century, according to Mark Twain Museum director Henry Sweets.
Sweets cited references where Twain called Blankenship his model for Huck in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
And, Sweets provided quotes indicating that the Blankenship family lived at the location near Twain's boyhood home on Hill Street. Plans are under way to rebuild the home starting in 2003. The project would take about two years.
Sweets said newspaper accounts that might have confirmed that the Blankenship family lived at the location were destroyed in a fire decades ago, so there isn't any known definitive proof.
But he also noted that there is no proof the Blankenships did not live there, and "since the late 1890s this has been known as Huck Finn's home," Sweets said.
Blankenship has long been considered the model for Huck. A book on Hannibal dated 1897-1898 stated that, "some years ago, Mr. S. Clemens from the lecture platform here stated that the original of Huck Finn was Tom Blankenship, a local product who died in youth." It also gave the location of the Blankenship home as the long-cited property.
But Dempsey noted that in 1885 Twain was asked if Huck was based on one person.
"He said, 'No. I can't point you to one person and say that was him,"' Dempsey said.
"It diminishes the creative genius of Sam Clemens to say he kept a diary and he wrote about one person he knew," Dempsey said. "He was writing fiction."
Dempsey's doubt about the location of Huck's home could affect whether approval is given for the rebuilding project. The town's Historic District Development Commission is awaiting more information before approving the project.
Dempsey has been researching local history for several years as he writes a book, "Searching for Jim, Slavery in Sam Clemens' World." The book is scheduled to be released in September.