Officials at the Mark Twain Cave in Missouri said a signature found on a limestone wall could belong to the author of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," according to a news release by the Missouri-based park.
The cursive signature of "Clemens" -- Twain's real name was Samuel L. Clemens -- was written in pencil and appears to be scrawled long before Twain became a world-famous author, according to the Herald-Whig of Quincy, Illinois.
The discovery was announced at the cave, located at the south end Hannibal, where Twain lived from ages 4 to 17 (1839 to 1853).
Cave officials said they discovered the signature July 26, but waited until the signature was verified before making an announcement, according to The Kansas City Star.
"We found Sam Clemens' name inside the cave," Linda Coleberd, the cave's owner, said at a news conference.
Coleberd said the signature was found during the three-day Clemens Conference in downtown Hannibal, which is held every four years, the Herald-Whig reported.
Coleberd joined the last group in the cave that day, hoping to veer off the tour with Cindy Lovell, the former director of the Mark Twain museum in Hannibal and the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, the newspaper reported.
According to the news release, the two have roamed the cave on many occasions, looking for the signatures of "Clemens" and "Blankenship," Tom Blankenship was the Hannibal boy who became the model for Twain's famous character, Huckleberry Finn, the release said.
More than 250,000 names have been carved, etched or written on the three miles of the cave's interior passages since the cave was discovered 200 years ago.
"We have looked and looked and looked and looked" for Twain's name, Lovell told the Herald-Whig. "I just wanted somebody to find it -- anybody to find it -- because I knew it was in there. I just wanted to see it myself before I died."
“I had the flashlight. Cindy had the eyeballs,” Coleberd told the newspaper. “There was that name (Clemens). Cindy’s eyes got bigger than saucers.
“All of a sudden I just started yelling ‘Clemens! Clemens! I see Clemens!’”
Clemens and Lovell took photographs of the signature and sent it to Mark Twain scholars Alan Gribben and Kevin Mac Donnell, who were attending the conference, the news release said.
"I am going to go on record as believing this to be Sam Clemens's handwriting," Gribben, a professor at Auburn University-Montgomery who has spent 50 years studying Twain, said in the release.
Coleberd asked some Twain experts at the University of California-Berkeley, which houses many of Twain's papers, to look at photos and compare them with known signatures of the author, the Herald-Whig reported.
She said their response was: "We cannot say that it's not his."
Still, Lovell is elated with the discovery.
"Linda and I have been looking for so long, it still seems unbelievable," Lovell said in the cave's news release.