Dispatch, American Queen: Rich history


Emma Weissmann was on the American Queen, sailing to the Mississippi River towns of Cape Girardeau and St. Louis, Mo., and Chester, Ill. Her second and final dispatch follows. Click to read Emma's first dispatch.

As a passenger on the American Queen, I felt as if I had been transported back in time.

The boat's interior reminded me of the early 1900s, a peak time for steamboat travel. The boat had it all — a ladies parlor, a gentleman's card lounge, an engine room bar, a purser's lounge and a grand saloon, and all were decked out with old-fashioned wallpaper and wooden antiques.

While I did enjoy spending time in all rooms of the boat, I grew particularly fond of the boat's chart room, home to our "riverlorian," Jerry Hay.

Hay had found a passion for rivers growing up near the Wabash River, and he had gained a wealth of knowledge about all things river-related. He even has his own website, www.riverlorian.com.

During the day, Hay offered formal pilot house tours to passengers, as well as themed lectures. He spoke on the history of the Mississippi River, as well as famous explorations and explorers (William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition is No.1 in Hay's mind, followed by James B. Eads, the engineer of the Eads Bridge in St. Louis).

Occasionally, I would find Hay just sitting in the chart room, staring out of the front window at the open water ahead and enjoying the view. Sometimes, passengers would join him, to chat, to learn or simply to sit. I was there quite a bit.

The first time I entered the chart room, I took note of the floor-to-ceiling bookcases that covered the walls, all of which were filled with accounts of the history of the South and its major bodies of water.

According to Hay, the book that had most captured the interest of other passengers was one he had authored: a children's book called, "A Goose Named Gilligan."

A true story, " A Goose Named Gilligan" relays a special encounter in Hay's life. In 2000, he helped to save the life of a goose that had become entangled in a fisherman's trap near his home.

Soon after the rescue, Hay found himself "adopted" by Gilligan. The goose would often stay at Hay's house, honking and following him around. Their friendship lasted until Hay's home was destroyed by a flood, and he was forced to move out of the area.

While the book is out of print, Hay said that passengers have taken such an interest that they have purchased the book online (as soon as I returned home, I bought my copy from Amazon) and have brought it to be signed onboard.

As an added touch, Hay has made a custom-made stamp of a goose's foot, with "Gilligan" written under it, so he can sign it, too.

Correction: The name of Hay's book is "A Goose Named Gilligan." A previous version of the dispatch had an incorrect title.

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