Steamboating colleagues:
Alexander Borosovich Lakier crossed the Alleghenies by train to Pittsburgh for a visit before seeking a steamboat to Cincinnati. Born in 1825 in Taganrog, Russia, he was only thirty-two years old at the time of his American journey. It was a long, exhausting, expensive and dangerous even by today's standards. Along the way he was asked by Americans if he "carried a gun for protection in the wilds of America," which he did not. No photo or image is known to exist of him here or in the Russian State Archives. Comments =[*]
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"One of the flat-bottomed multidecked steamboats that was tied up at Pittsburgh, unloading and loading cargo and taking on passengers had a huge sign inviting people to board who wished to travel down to Cincinnati, and announcing when it would depart at precisely the appointed hour the following morning. I...looked it over and see whether it could trusted: one so often hears about accidents on steamboats. I obtained a ticket and the next morning hurried to board fearful of being late. But there were no signs of getting up steam, and one might have thought that is was not the right steamboat. Seeing that it was the MORNING STAR [*Way's Directory No: 4037 an "elegant boat."] I went looking for the cpatain, 'Are we getting under way soon?' 'Right away,' was repeated with different variations until the next morning. Since this was the only boat departing for Cincinnati the captain was waiting for more 'booty.' What did it matter to him? On the other hand one lives on the steamboat and has free room and board for the extra day because of the fair paid for the trip. One might think that the captain or company would sustain a loss, but the American knows his profit and does not throw a dollar away if he is not convinced it will return to him a hundredfold.

Despite the dangers of navigating these changeable rivers and despite the constant enocunters with other steamboats, the captain never refused to sail at night, however dark it might be, just so long as there was no fog. True, a lantern is hung between the two stacks. To give the pilot a fixed point by which to steer, a black ball hangs from a mast on the bow. It is reflected against the sky on even the darkest night and, by having it in front of him, the pilot can make for some object he is familiar. He has every right to call his guide the 'Night Hawk.' I had been warned of trouble when another steamboat wants to pass and a race ensues. Winning these races means enhancing the reputation of the steamboat and getting as a reward, not only deer antlers or a horseshoe, but extra income in cash dollars.

I had lost hope of ever departing from Pittsburgh. Steam was raised and the bell sounded several times for departure--which there was not the slightest thought. 'Praise be to God,' I said to an acquaintance as we finally got under way. 'I hope we will be in Cincinnati in two or three days.' 'Maybe,' he replied, 'but don't count on it for sure.'

NEXT: Down the Ohio with stops bound for Cincinnati.

R. Dale Flick