I grew up in a small town shaped like a shoestring as it nestled between the sandstone hills and a sweeping bend on the Ohio River. It’s a picturesque town, especially from the river or the other side. I saw the river everyday, knew its serenity and playful nature, as well as the flood waters that entered storefronts and even filled the street in front of our house.
River barge traffic was common place, yet I recall my wife’s initial amazement with the sight. Orville, a friend in junior high, liked to talk about his father working on the river. One day while by the river we noticed a barge coming around the bend, so we decided to test Orville with, “What’s the boat’s name?” Orville calmly looked at his watch, part forth a name, and then we waited … and 10 minutes later, we knew Orville’s passion was right.
Depending on the time of day, twice a year would bring a treat – one signaled by the distant sounds of the approaching calliope. This sound of a bygone era would bring people to the river; just to watch and wave to her majesty and its passengers on its journey to or from Pittsburgh.
The Delta Queen, built in 1926, is the last of the overnight steamboats, and a link to times past. I’m now in Cincinnati, Delta Queen’s official home and locally owned from 1946 through 1969; and this city always looks forward to its May visit, as well as during Tall Stacks, an every-four-years-or-so major river festival attracting many riverboats to the Queen City.
The Delta Queen is much smaller and less modern than its contemporary cousin, the Mississippi Queen, but it’s the Delta Queen. Whether it’s docked or cruising the river, its mere presence embodies majestic grandeur and unbridled respect. Of course Cincinnati always cheer for it in its annual race against the Belle of Louisville during Derby week along the Lousiville riverfront.
Majestic America Lines, the Delta Queen’s operator, is now out of business. The Delta Queen lays still in New Orleans; forced to stop sailing after it lost its congressional exemption from a fire safety rule; now only moving from the ripples created by the passing traffic, thus maybe to never race the Belle again. The mere thought of partisan politics is difficult to accept; along with the rumors of its sale, potential gutting, or conversion into a stationsary hotel.
The Delta Queen, both a National Register of Historic Place and a National Historic Landmark, was recently nominated for the National Trust for Preservation list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places. She deserves more than a mere sideshow because she’s the Delta Queen.
Think about all the national treasures found throughout the USA; and there are many. The Delta Queen is a national treasure revered by all the towns and cities along the rivers in America’s heartland. She deserves to be saved, and saved as she is – and that is the mission of the grassroots organization, Save the Delta Queen.
And for Orville, wherever he may be, I think he approves this message.
Image courtesy of Majestic America Lines