Monday, September 09, 2013

Are you a river rat? I know that I am. Pleased to meet you.

NPR's definition of "river rat": a person born and raised on the Mississippi River.

Interesting program on NPR's On Point this morning, about a new book written by a guy who kayaked down the Mississippi River.  On the show, Paul Schneider talked about his trip between St. Louis MO and Cairo IL and dang if that wasn't my ole stompin' grounds right there.  Before My Space got gutted with the change of hands, one thing I'd blog over there was that river, the Mark Twain Trail, the Great River Road, where to find the Trail of Tears nearby on the Illinois side, where the pirates used to hang out, and all that.  I did save a copy of my My Space post somewhere, links and all, and I'll have to dig that up and post that here, as I'm sure that China's river folk in particular would be interested.

I've traipsed up and down that river a bazillion times, and via a steamboat named The Admiral a few times. By rail, back when St. Louis' Union Station was actually still a passenger train station, went all the way down to New Orleans and back.

As I dig up more stuff on this subject, I'll add it here.

S. S. Admiral. Usually moored between the legs of the Arch when it was in service. It's been scrapped, alas.

My own photo of the Admiral's rooftop calliope. Camera: Kodak Tourister. Film: 620 black & white.

 The Admiral before it became the Admiral

 A shot of the Admiral's ballroom (Blue Salon) on the upper deck. The band always played "Hokey Pokey" for the kids, too.

 I was hoping to find an online picture of the engine room, but nobody (not even me, dang it) saw fit to take a picture of at least Popeye and Olive. Those were the humongous drive arms (one on each side of the hull) that drove the propulsion.

Wikipedia on the S. S. Admiral 

And here's a salute to a Buffalo Soldier river rat, William Cathey, registered male.  Nee Cathay Williams, female.

Bayou Zydeco

Okay, I found the HTML copy of my MySpace blog posting, and given that it was first posted May 2007, the HTML copy/paste might not work on the current site.  I may have to edit the HTML to bring it up to date, so here goes....

Mary Morris was recently plugging her book, "River Queen" on a couple of my favorite radio sources WGN's "Extension 720" (April 19) and NPR's "All Things Considered".  However, I have to say that I found Morris' appearance on Extension 720 exceedingly unimpressive, as it appears that she forgot so many things about the towns along the Mississippi that she confessed that she needed to have a map in front of her to recall any of it.

A great deal of what she admitted to forgetting was significant, and I know this because I used to be a Mississippi River rat, and that's my old stomping grounds, especially the part between Memphis TN and St. Louis MO (tho I've been further north on rare occasion, and further south).  I happen to know that there's another river town in Missouri that has just as greatly significant, historically as St. Louis and Hannibal, and that would be Ste. Genevieve.  

I would strongly advise anyone who wants to make a trip down the Mississippi to make a point of visiting Ste. Genevieve, as its remarkable history isn't confined to pioneering days; it has an equally remarkable recent history insofar as the massive flood of the Mississippi River in 1993 is concerned, too.  Its historic graveyard was raided by the river's waters, and they've been all a-hustle to restore this and its other historic landmarks as the result of that.  

There is a bridge there, that looks like one might take it to cross the river to Illinois, and I've been faked out by that appearance.  The bridge is historic and has been closed to traffic for many years.  Between Cape Girardeau and St. Louis, the only way of crossing the river by road bridge is at Chester IL/Perry MO.  One must not leave out visiting the historic Fort Kaskaskia on the Illinois side, either. Both of which Mary Morris failed to mention or recall in her interview.  

Just as she forgot Cape Girardeau and East Cape.  Political animals know full well that Cape was Rush Limbaugh's old stomping ground.  When his show first launched on TV, I do recall Limbaugh taking in a phonecall which mentioned The Purple Crackle, and Limbaugh said that he frequented the joint.  And I could tell you stories about the Purple Crackle.  I never went inside myself, but the locals had plenty to speculate as to why it was frequently visited by fires.  

The Purple Crackle burnt down for the last time and no longer exists in its old location just across the bridge from Cape Girardeau in East Cape on the Illinois side, but the legend lives on.  Last time I checked, it was replaced by a convenience store that gladly sold Illinois Lottery tickets to Missourians during the time when Missouri stubbornly held out against having its own state lottery.  And during the time that Coors beer wasn't sold on the east side of the Mississippi, it was bootlegged across. Not that it was worth the trouble--its nickname, "Colorado Koolade", was well deserved.

Added note: when I found the article by KFVS-TV about The Purple Crackle, I had no idea that its owners were running the lotto operation, and was taken aback by the news that they plan on turning it into a strip club, although given its seedy past, I can't say I'm surprised.  There is also a Purple Crackle in the former "Hambletonian Capital of the World", Du Quoin IL.

But ya know how that goes with stuff subject to one form or another of Prohibition--the bootleggers do brisk business.  And so it was with the 4th of July fireworks market, too.  Illinois residents would go across the bridge and buy fireworks from roadside stands to bring back.  Lower gasoline taxes were in Missouri, and there was a lot of going across the bridge just to fill up, and this was just as true over the Cape bridge as it was at the Chester/Perry bridge and the St. Louis bridges.

What really shocked me out of my shorts, though, was Mary Morris' total unfamiliarity with the legendary steam sternwheeler riverboat, S.S. Admiral.  On Extension 720, they took a call in by a guy who was the son of a prominent piano player (Virgil  Dorman) who not only got regular gigs around the St. Louis metro area, but also played in the Admiral ballroom AND played its calliope.  I was just plain ole stunned at this.  Before The Arch, the major riverside landmark in St. Louis was the S.S. Admiral, especially since it didn't look ANYTHING like the stereotypical 19th century steamer as it did when it went by the name of The Albatross.  It had a very shiny metallic skin and was rounded and sleek instead of boxy, Art Deco style, in its renovation.  There's no pic on the Wiki page of its '30's-style appearance, but I found one HERE

In THIS pic, the calliope was basically located in that section behind the smokestack on the uppermost level, and this was right above the ballroom. The ballroom was very, very classy indeed, featuring big bands when it was in service; below, the public wasn't permitted around the steam engines as such, but in the arcade section, one could view the massive piston arms that drove the paddles in alternate fashion.  One was named "Popeye" and the other "Olive" (the steam engine was removed when it became permanently anchored), which brings up another important point Morris missed--Chester IL claims to be the home of Popeye. It is also the home of that river-side prison that the original Blues Brothers were released from--Menard State Prison.  She mentioned only Metropolis IL and its celebration of being the hometown of Superman.  That's it.

(Latter day correction note: in this old post to MySpace, one drive arm was misidentified as Olive; they were actually named Popeye and Wimpy.)


She did speak much of Hannibal, of course, as it not only was Mark Twain there but she said her dad lived nearby Twain's house.  A caller had pointed out that a picture of her dad's house might be the one in the background of a pic that showed up in the National Geographic, on page 122 of the July, 1956 issue.
Anyhoo--The S.S. Admiral got decommissioned from excursion service and for a while it stayed anchored in its customary spot near The Arch and Eads Bridge in St. Louis, and then got sold down the river.  It was moved to New Orleans, where it stayed a number of years, and then St. Louis got it back again.  At this point I have NO IDEA which of those two places it resides now, tho I suspect that if it didn't get wrecked by Katrina, it's in St. Louis because of it.  Should you take a river trip yourself, you owe it to yourself to visit this boat whether it's in New Orleans or St. Louis.  There's nothing like it.
Should you drive instead of take the river, I recommend, on the Illinois side, Route 3 (the Illinois section of The Great River Road) for a scenic leisurely rural trek; if you desire a nearby Interstate, on the Missouri side there's I-55, which does extend further south down the river, as you might expect.  Should you choose the Route 3 road, it's important that you remember that the Mississippi River is also a major flyway for migratory birds, and you WILL hit birds with your car during a major migration....not to mention deer.  But on the Route 3 side you will also have an opportunity to explore the part of the Trail of Tears that approaches the Mississippi, and that would be a bit north of the Anna-Jonesboro turnoff.  It runs roughly along route 146 beginning from Cave-In-Rock (erstwhile former HQ of river pirates) on the east of Illinois' tip thru to East Cape.  But don't forget to visit the breathtaking Bald Knob at Alto Pass on the Illinois side either.
The Shawnee National Forest on the Illinois side-- like the Mark Twain National Forest on the Missouri side--is well worth your while to tarry a bit in your journey all the same.  Converted desert rat or not, it's stuff like this that still makes me proud of my origins as an Ozark hillbilly, one who is fully within her rights to refer to Oklahoma as "Ozarks West".

Missouri Great River Road--See Also:
Bowling Green
Cahokia Mounds

Cape Girardeau
Crystal City
East Prairie
Egypt Mills
French Village
La Grange
New Hope
New London
New Madrid
New Wells
Old Monroe
Point Pleasant
River Aux Vases
St. Charles
St. Francisville
St. Mary
St. Peters
Scott City
Stark City
Valley View
West Alton
West Quincy

Well, well, that worked out just fine without modification.  Enjoy.
I don't think I can move back there and be comfortable because of all the years I spent in Arizona.  From river rat, used to humidity, I morphed into a desert rat and I now find humidity horrendous. Oklahoma (Ozarks West to me), drought and all, is really a good compromise.

The soil is every much desert hardpan that I learned how to garden in thanks to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. which presented workshops on that, and it's greener here. No escaping Spanish here in Oklahoma.  I don't know of any francophone who could live in either Arizona or Oklahoma and managed to escape it either.  When all has been said and done, it's all Latin anyway, and because of Latin via the Vatican, even the Quebecois and the Cajuns are just as Latino as any Spanish speaker, as are any Creole and the residents of Haiti and French Guiana. All of these people, of a certain age, certainly used to all speak Latin--in church.

So--where does that leave Spanish-speaking Protestants?

UPDATE January 8, 2014:  As the result of receiving an alumni magazine from one of my alma maters, it's become necessary to make an honorable mention of the city of Metropolis IL in its history of steamboat building technology as reported therein by one Gordon Pruett on page 21 (Vol 75, No. 4, December 2013 issue of Southern Alumni) about Metropolis resident Bob Swenson.

The article says that Swenson has cataloged 65 ships built in Metropolis between 1855 and 1915,  and that some of them were large enough to ferry locomotives, being equipped with rails.  I never would have guessed that Golconda was a ship-building area, too, but apparently it was, according to this.  One of the ship builders that worked with James Eads near St. Louis was a guy that had a tugboat named after him: Alfred Cutting.  Eads we already know because of the St. Louis bridge named after him, of course.  Their shipyards were around Carondelet rather in St. Louis proper.

That's a right tidy piece of research.  The photos came from the Metropolis Public Library.

Western Kaintuck legend John Prine, the way I remember him.
And John was right about the Peabody Co. They, and coal, were part and parcel of Mississippi River history. I'm sure a bunch of self-important historians in W. Virginia like to pretend that theirs was the only coal that built the U.S. but us river rats know different.  WVA remains coal country because their coal is low sulfur, but fact is that the coal that fueled U.S. expansion came from Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas...
Ladies and gentlemen: John Prine now, on the Colbert Report--
Well, DAMN that copyright claimed by Viacom. As a published article writer, you'd think that I'd be in favor of this high level of protectionism, but you'd be wrong.  I know the history of the evolution of copyright, patent, trademarking and "intellectual property", but that would set me off on a rant about Tom Edison mixed with Bill Gates/Steve Jobs, all of whom you can thank for the current mess with current copyright law, which is a travesty IMHO.  Don't Edison-Gates-Jobs have more to do with just patents? Enter software and the material recorded, judged to be unpatentable but fall under copyright law until Gates invented "intellectual property" as a legal concept, and the answer is not only NO, but HELL, NO.  Don't get me started.  Instead, give this NPR feature a listen, toward the end, when "Mission to Set Chopin Free" is covered.
The Takeaway (audio player) mp3
Some performances are just too damn outstanding to be condemned to death-by-copyright. Robin Thicke clearly knows this, and that's why his one song (Blurred Lines) went viral and has been coronated "Song of the Summer". He shared, and now he has a bigger fan base accompanying a bigger demand for his other stuff.  Copyright law, as it currently stands, benefits only the entertainment "plantation industries" like the ones Prince and Pearl Jam rebelled against. Performers, not so much. Being stingy with one's rights not only quashes anything from going viral but squashes demand as well, and in biblical terms, amounts to putting one's little light under a bushel basket.

Let all the little lights shine--some are brilliant. Justin Bieber would still be an unknown nobody if he hadn't shared on You Tube, ya know.

Found an embeddable version of John Prine on the Colbert Report on the CR site itself, so here it is...not anymore.  That chingaderra keeps auto-launching so I'm going to just post a link to it instead of embedding it...

LINK to Colbert Nation's video

The Chopin Project on Kickstarter

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