It's a relaxing thing, he thought, cruising on the Mighty
The shoreline, covered with thick Eden-like jungles of
beautifully green trees, seems to beckon one to stop and spend some time.But, of course, you don't.You're on board a paddlewheel steamship,
waited on hand and foot by a retinue of highly trained wait staff, equally high
trained pursers, tour guides, entertainers. .. it's a happy ship and a happy time.
He didn't want to go at first.It was Her
idea.He fought it . . . but then they
made the first trip two years ago, out of New Orleans.And he was persuaded.These
cruises are fun . . . many memories to be made.
She had made the reservations for this trip without
seeking his approval.His approval was
quickly granted.He's a quick learner.
A Mississippi Cruise is like no other, he thought.'You travel up river at about 5-6 miles per
hour, go down river at about 11 miles per hour.It is a leisurely pace . . . plenty of time to slow down and begin to
learn how to enjoy life.It is difficult
to totally relax, being a newspaperman.There are still deadlines to be met . . . and communication by cell
phone and the Internet is not always possible when on the river.And you have to get the tasks done as readers
and advertisers are counting on you.These were the thoughts that stayed in his mind even while he tried to
The itinerary called for a departure from St. Louis,
going to visit Hannibal, Missouri, the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, whom we
all later learned to call 'Mark Twain,' and then Nauvoo, Illinois, one of the
first enclaves of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, whom we
have come to call Mormons.But Ol' Man River, as we were to later learn, had plans of his
Upon boarding the paddlewheel steamer and being shown to
their stateroom, they were in awe of its size.Lawdy, you could play a game of tennis in that
It was at least three times the size of the stateroom
they had on an earlier trip.
There had been a lot of rain in the Midwest.He took note of this prior to departure, and a good friend and traveling
companion, Dave Schmitt, of Escondido, had said that the forecast
called for four days of rain."Great," he thought, "a five day cruise, four of
which will be filled with rain."As it happened, the weather turned out beautifully; but, the earlier
rains had swollen the Mississippi to the point that the water was
so high the steamship was unable to pass beneath several bridges en route to
Hannibal and Nauvoo so a detour was made.The boat diverted to Chester, Illinois.
Now, Chester, Illinois, is not a remarkable city.It is very small.It has a courthouse and a library and a main
street.Oh, yes.It also has a statue of Popeye.
The creator of Popeye is from Chester, Illinois.It is the chief claim to fame of that city.The guy, ElzieCrislerSegar, had been
cartooning for awhile and built his cartoons around a family named Oyl, one of whom was a woman named Olive . . . Olive Oyl.Later, a sailor
appeared by the name of Popeye.It was
supposed to be a temporary character . . . but it caught the public's fancy and
Popeye became the central character of the cartoon, which then grew to be
internationally famous and made Segar a wealthy man.
All of his principal characters were modeled after
residents of Chester.Popeye was modeled after Frank "Rocky" Fiegel,
Olive Oyl was modeled after Ms. Dora Paskel; J. Wellington Wimpy is based on Segar's
old boss, J. William Schurchert, owner and operator
of the Chester Opera House.These people
all physically resembled their characters.Photos show a clear resemblance to his cartoon characters, particularly
He was not impressed with Chester.It was not his choice of a place to visit on the river, even though he
acknowledged a grudging admiration for Popeye.
He sailed next to Hannibal, Missouri.
They had sailed all night and arrived at the Hannibal port at .He was sound asleep.So was she.He was awakened by the blast of a passing
train that ran parallel to the shore and only about 50 feet away from the
dockside.He got up, threw some clothes
on, and went outside to watch the boat crew prepare the boat for landing, do
the tie downs, tighten up the lines, and secure the boat.He went back to bed.For the next hour he marveled at how Hannibal, Missouri, had arranged for trains to come
by every 15 minutes commencing at and blow their horns loud enough
to raise the dead.
Eventually, he fell back asleep and awakened at , bleary eyed and tired.But it was time to grab a quick breakfast at
the buffet line, then head into Hannibal to do some research.
He wondered what would have become of Hannibal, Missouri ,had it not produced a genius like
Samuel Clemens.Clemens, who was born in
nearby Florida, Missouri, grew up in Hannibal and drew many of his characters
from family members and friends; some photos remain of the principals from whom
he drew his characters.One of the most
important, however, Tom Blankenship, upon whom Huck Finn is based, has no known
photograph.There is a photograph of the
Blankenship house, and they are building a replica on the site of the house.
The mind of Samuel Clemens was absolutely brilliant.His observations on the world, his pithy
sayings; they survive to this day and are just as funny, just as cogent, just
as piercing as they were when he first wrote them . . . or uttered them on the
Clemens would adopt the name "Mark Twain" and go
on to make a fortune, then lose it, declaring bankruptcy, then pulled out of
bankruptcy . . . built himself a lovely home in Connecticut . . . and would
eventually die there.
During all these years, the books of Mark Twain, most
notably "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" put Hannibal, Missouri, on the map.Today, somewhere between 50,000 and over
100,000 tourists each year visit the city for Twain-related events.
Had it not been for Twain . . . Hannibal would be just another river town .. would have remained small, nondescript . . . perhaps
drifting off to nothingness.
But, because of Twain, it is
today a thriving community.Still small, around 18,000, but vibrant.Good people live there.Kind people.Helpful people.
He was pleased that a lovely gal, Ila
Bunn, and her boss, Henry Sweets, of the MarkTwainMuseum, took him under their wing, made
a computer and the Internet available to him so he could make a deadline for
his paper.Ila, the always smiling Ila,
gave He and She a private tour.Being
media does have its perks, he thought.One of them is meeting folks like Ila
and Henry.Both are, as you would
imagine, very knowledgeable about Samuel Langhorn
Clemens.Henry, in particular, is a
storehouse of knowledge about him.This
you would expect from a former History Teacher and holder of several degrees,
including Museum Science.
Going upriver they had Missouri on their side of the boat, going
down river they had Illinois on their side of the boat.They were amazed at the seeming tranquility
of the river yet it was clear that this was a powerful, treacherous river.In Hannibal the river was two feet above
flood stage at 16 feet; in an earlier flood the river had risen to 32
feet.Even so, today we saw many homes,
on stilts, surrounded by water.
One home they saw had been crushed by a falling
tree.The raging river had eroded the
dirt surrounding a tree that was, perhaps, a hundred years old.The earth gave up its hold on the tree and it
toppled over, demolishing someone's riverfront summer home.There were luxury summer homes, there were
cheap and ugly mobile homes, their were shanties,
there were little more than camper shells.The River spared none.They were
all subjected to flooding and, to some, destruction.
These are big boats.The Mississippi Queen is 382 feet long and generates 2000 horsepower of
energy with her watertube type boilers.It's an all steel boat with three main
rudders, two rudders aft and one bow thruster.She carries 107,800 gallons of fresh waer and
carries 329,000 of Bunker C(#6) type diesel.If we estimate the cost of diesel at $1 per
gallon we're talking $329,000 each time this boat is fueled.A tank of fuel should last about 16 days so
we're talking a pretty expensive operating cost just for fuel alone.Add in the fact that the ship carries 157
crew members to service up to 422 passengers (a ratio of about one staff member
for every 2.7 passengers. These 422 passengers are accommodated in 208
To get some idea of the commerce of The River one need
only recognize that it is quite common to see a towboat (for they are not
called tugboats on The River) with two to three barges.
Think about this for a moment.
Each barge carries 1500 tons.A large semi-trailer truck by comparison carries
26 tons.Thus, when you see a three
barge tow, which represents 4500 tons of material being moved, you would have
to see a convoy of 174 semi-trailer trucks on the highway to carry an
equivalent amount of material!To take
this one step further, if you have a 15 barge tow (which though not as common
as a two the three barge tow is not uncommon) you would see some 22,500 tons of
material being moved.Now let's match
that up to what it would take our nation's trucking fleet to move the same
amount of material.You would need . . .
. aconvoy of 870 semi trailer trucks to move
an equivalent amount!This, we suspect,
would cause just a wee bit of a traffic jam on our nation's highways.
The River . . . the Old Man . . .
Mississippi.It's clear that Native Americans, whom we call Indians, were the first
to use the Mississippi.The Sauk and Kickapoo Indians called it Meche-Sepe.The
Menomonee called it Mecha-Sepua.The Chippewa called Meze-Zebe,
and the Ottawa called it Mississ-Sepi.In all these slight variations, mecha, meche, meze,
and mississ mean the same thing: large or big.Sapa, sepua, sepe, zebe,
and sepi all mean: river.So the correct translation of any of these
words is "large river."
This large river was at first negotiated by canoe.That soon proved inadequate for
settlers.Being innovative, they created
the flatboat and rafts.They were often
crudely built for a one-way trip, then loaded with cargo and floated downstream
Orleans.Cargo was sold
and unloaded and the flatboats and rafts were broken up and sold for
lumber.Still later the keelboat entered
the world of river commerce.It soon
became the queen of the river trade.It
was a two-way traveler, long and narrow with graceful lines and built to
survive many trips.A keelboat could
carry as much as 80 tons of freight.Floated downriver it was then cordelled up
consisted simply of strong men walking along the river, pulling the boat with
lines.Despite treacherous river
currents, snags, shifting sandbars, hostile Indians and river pirates, river
navigation began to grow quickly.
Then in 1811 Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston built
the first steamboat at a cost of $40,000.She was a sidewheeler and she, the New Orleans, launched the golden era of paddlewheelers.
During Mark Twain's day the Mississippi was a busy area of
commerce.In fact, if you can imagine
this, it was probably even busier than today.Why?Because of
what we're riding on today.
In 1814 only 21 steamboats arrived in New Orleans, in
1819 the figure had jumped to 191 . . . and in 1836, a scant 22 years later,
there would be 1200 steamboat cargoes unloaded in New Orleans . . . a huge
But then what happened?
The steamboats eventually gave way to the railway
systems.Inland, the rail lines could go
where no steamship dared to go.
There is a passion among river folk and it's a passion
that is easy to understand.The river is
constantly in motion, even in the driest of years.The flow equates to power.And raw, naked beauty.Along its banks there is lush vegetation, the
river bottomlands represent prime farming country, never mind the occasional
inundation from flood conditions . . . it is still land so rich that almost
anything you plant there will grow.
This same passion is what drove young Samuel Clemens to
become a certified river pilot on April 9, 1895, in St. Louis, at the tender age of 24.
Clemens loved the paddlewheel steamboat.In fact, it was during his years on the river
that he chose his pen name, "Mark Twain," a frequent call of the
leadsman which would indicate the water was two fathoms, or 12 feet, deep and
thus safe for passage.
Many people who follow Mark Twain know the story of his
name.But there is another, lesser known
story.There was once a Captain Isaiah
Sellers who signed his letters full of river information and sent them to
newspapers signed Mark Twain.
Sellers was an old man who tended to draw on his expeiencewhen he wrote his letters on river
conditions.The brash young Sam
Clemens chose to parody him.It was a
witty parody and it stretched Captain Sellers' memories and mannerisms to
absurdity.Folks loved Clemens' parody
but apparently Sellers did not find it amusing.As Mark Twain later said, the old man did him the honor of despising
him.To later adopt the old man's nom de
plume may well have been an act both of piety and penitence.
Much of our common phrases used today comes
from the language of the river.Over one
hundred and fifty years ago when steamboats were plying the river their boilers
would build up excessive steam pressure from time to time; relieving that
pressure was naturally known as "letting
off steam,"and it has come to
describe the human emotion off getting rid of tension.
Many young lads of that era carried the name of Willy, or
Wilbur, or William, largely due to their German or English descent.They would use the Ohio River to journey to the hills of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennesse.They became known as "hill billys."
"I cotton to
you," became a phrase that mean "I like you," because the raw cotton that was the chief cargo
on riverboats stuck to your clothes.
Some people carried fiddles with them and would play
along the riverbanks and wharves for pennies.If you didn't work, you were accused of "fiddlin' around."
The "outland" was considered to be anything
west of the Mississippi
and early pioneers who traveled there were called "outlanders."Their rowdy behavior and loud clothing were
thought by many to be "outlandish."
There is so much about The River . . . so much tradition,
so much history, so much adventure.It
is a force unto itself.He was reminded
of this by a song lyric composed and sung by one of the boat’s entertainers,
“There’s a mystery
in these waters,
Something simple, something strong.
There’s a power,
there’s a peace,
A planet’s tale, an old man’s song.
And here we are
Standing silent at
Just listening to the mighty river’s tale.
--There’s a place I
can return to
Like returning to a friend.
And I can hear the
river calling me again.
Yes, I can hear the
river calling me again.
Music and Lyrics by Bob Sembiante c 2003.
The part of He was played by lyle e davis
The part of Her was played by
The part of the Mississippi was played by its very own self.
Coming Soon:A further look at the Mississippi . . . but from
the great cities of St. Louis and of Hannibal, boyhood home
of Samuel Clemens.
The Grand Staircase, on board the Mississippi Queen.
“The Arch,” world famous landmark, St. Louis, Missouri