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Midship Museum - Str. Becky Thatcher

 
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Old 04-12-2007, 08:52 AM
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: On the "Beautiful Ohio" at New Albany, Indiana, opposite Louisville, Kentucky
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Default Midship Museum - Str. Becky Thatcher

Today in steamboat history marks the 38th anniversary of the 1969 grand opening of the Midship Museum aboard the Str. BECKY THATCHER at the St. Louis waterfront. Designed and curated by the beloved river historian Miss Ruth Ferris, the large room on the main deck of the former steamer MISSISSIPPI was a steamboat buff and buffette's "dream" with wonderful displays of artifacts that focused heavily upon the Eagle Packet Company and Eagle Boat Store (operated by the well known steamboating Leyhe family), Streckfus excursion boats, the GOLDENROD SHOWBOAT, the history of the Str. MISSISSIPPI and her work for the Army Corps of Engineers and all sorts of other wonderful river related memorabilia.

For the pittance of 50 cents (25 cents for children) visitors viewed the museum room and then were taken by guides for a tour through the engine room, up through the cabin, on up to the Texas deck (a stop was made to peek over the stern at the 24' paddlewheel and monkey rudders) and then on up to the pilothouse. Of course, the tour ended back at the boat's gift shop! For an extra dollar, visitors also had the option of taking a one hour harbor cruise aboard the excursion boat MISSISSIPPI BELLE, which landed alongside the BECKY.

Ruth was always very proud of the museum she created on the BECKY and said it was the highlight of her longtime steamboat interest. Retiring in 1957 from her 35 year career as a teacher and assistant principal at the Community School, Ruth became curator of the river collections at the Missouri Historical Society. Under her lively and enthusiastic reign, the collections grew until a larger gallery was needed. In 1962 the elegant River Room was opened, dominated by the pilothouse of the Str. GOLDEN EAGLE, a gift from the children of Community School -- where the pilothouse had stood since its salvaging in 1948.

In 1965 Ruth retired for the second time, but in less than a year was asked to set up the riverboat museum aboard the BECKY, and the prospect of working on her beloved St. Louis levee lured her out of retirement again. She once said that "Looking out one door of the BECKY at the magnificent Gateway Arch and out the other door at Eads Bridge and the mighty Mississippi all day long make my thoughts and spirit soar above everyday things." Ruth had a contagious enthusiasm and zest for life that were an inspiration to all who knew and loved her. She was my mentor and patron saint of steamboating from the time I first became acquainted with her in 1967 at age 13, and was a tremendous influence in my life until her death in 1993 when she was nearly 96.

In 1994 the St. Louis Mercantile Library (where most of Ruth's fabulous collection is now housed) published a book of some of her articles and talks entitled St. Louis and the Mighty Mississippi -- The Collected Writings of Ruth Ferris. The softbound and well illustrated publication is still available from the University of Missouri-St. Louis bookstore.

The "boaty" and sparkling Midship Museum and the ornate River Room gallery of the Missouri Historical Society at the Jefferson Memorial Building in Forest Park are now but fond memories. But the legacy of Ruth Ferris lives on. I strive to continue preserving and promoting our river heritage through my curatorial work at the Howard Steamboat Museum, as well as other endeavors, in a manner that I hope would be pleasing to Ruth. With much gratitude, a long and two shorts of the whistle to this extraordinary lady.
_________________________________________

Attached are three photos showing portions of the compact and neatly organized Midship Museum. In the first view, the glowing chandeliers are from the Str. GORDON C. GREENE. Also visible are the six gallon coffee urn from the GOLDEN EAGLE, big wooden acorns from Eagle Packet Company boats and the encased diorama containing a model of the Str. MISSISSIPPI, now in my collection after having been pieced back together when it fell off the bar during the Becky's 1984 sinking.

The second and third photos show a section of the counter and shelves from the Eagle Boat Store, laden with steamboat hardware. Above it is visible the backing bell from the engine room of the Streckfus sidewheeler J.S. DELUXE and a section of the charred pilotwheel from the GOLDENROD SHOWBOAT fire of 1962. These pictures (except the color one) were taken in November, 1970, when Ruth retired for the third and final time -- and several days before the museum was largely dismantled for the room to be utilized by the gift shop, with the remaining artfacts used as background.
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Last edited by Keith Norrington; 04-13-2007 at 01:01 PM.
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