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Keith Norrington 11-30-2007 02:20 PM

40 Years Ago - River Queen Sinking at St. Louis
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December 2nd marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 sinking of the RIVER QUEEN, formerly the Eagle Packet Company steamer CAPE GIRARDEAU and later the well known Greene Line tourist steamboat GORDON C. GREENE. The last packet boat built by the Howard Shipyards at Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1923, the revered riverboat operated until 1952 when she began a new career as a permanently moored hotel/restaurant/bar/museum/gift shop - under the names of SARAH LEE, THE STERNWHEELER and RIVER QUEEN - at such locations as Portmouth, Ohio, Owensboro, Kentucky, Bradenton, Florida, New Orleans, Hannibal Missouri and, finally in 1964, returned "home" to St. Louis where she was a very popular attraction moored above the Eads Bridge. Directly across the street from her landing was the old Eagle Boat Store / Eagle Packet Company office building where Capt. Buck Leyhe and his brother, Capt. Henry Leyhe, had directed their river operations for decades.

The RIVER QUEEN went down in the very early morning hours and I well recall hearing the radio report later that day saying, "The famous riverboat used in the movie [I]Gone with the Wind[/I] is sinking on the St. Louis riverfront today." Although salvage was attempted, high water, ice and other problems made saving the old boat impossible and she quickly broke up. The city later brought in a scoop shovel and demolished what remained, leaving the steel hull in place. Quite a number of steamboat enthusiasts have made pilgrimages to the hull when it comes out for air during extreme low water periods. In early 1968 a portion of the pilotwheel was sold at auction for $140 and the anchor went to the now closed Golden Eagle River Museum (artifacts donated to the new Cape Girardeau Museum) with other prize artifacts being scattered far and wide -- in other museums and private collections.

Here are three images taken the day of the sinking by Miss Ruth Ferris and Mr. Rudy Gerber, St, Louis steamboat historians of the highest order!

Alan Bates 11-30-2007 02:55 PM

While the so-called River Queen (ex-Gordon C. Greene) was at Owensboro, Kentucky, an attempt was started to convert her into an excursion boat by Captain Roy McBride and a couple of backers. The USCG shot that idea down before anything was done. The only good result was that I was allowed to measure the boat and make hobbyists' drawings of her.

Keith Norrington 11-30-2007 03:13 PM

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Interesting! Glad you had the opportunity to make those drawings, as MANY a model of the boat has been made from them. Here are a couple of pictures of the old steamboat at Owensboro, including a view, taken by Capt. C.W. Stoll, of the Str. AVALON alongside getting the boilers from the GORDON C. GREENE in early 1954.

In 1955, while the boat was at Owensboro, she was towed up the Green River and used in the filming of the movie, "The Kentuckian", starring Burt Lancaster. She's also made appearances in other movies, including "Band of Angels" and, of course, "Gone With The Wind". All are on video.

Pat Traynor 11-30-2007 03:42 PM

Very sad pictures indeed - did they ever determine the cause of her sinking? It always haunts me when in St. Louis, to look at the spot where the hull lies. I've never been lucky enough to be there when she surfaced, but I do have some good friends who were, so I have a small piece of her. What is it about steamboats that they can reach out and grab our hearts forever - especially boats that we've never even seen in person, or ever been on.

R. Dale Flick 11-30-2007 06:28 PM

Steamboating colleagues:
Thanks to Keith for the lead posting RE: '40 years ago--sinking of the RIVER QUEEN,' Alan and Pat for their 'follows.' I recall her as the GORDON C. GREENE passing up and down here in Cincinnati as a kid. Pat's comment, "...reach out and grab our hearts forever...never seen in person, or ever been on" caught me. In the 1930s a young journalist [*Can't find his name now] penned his sentiments concerning the appeal and mystique of boats and ships. He wrote of them as one. It's worth sharing again here even if excerpted.

"Like human beings, vessels are unmistakably individual. No two are exactly alike, not even sister vessels. Like human beings, they are subject to fate--to accident, unforseen happenstance, disaster and failure. They are conceived and born, they have productive periods of varying length, they grow old and die. They are coopertive or obstinate, proud or humble, eccentric or predictable. Like people they are also beautiful or ugly or somewhere in between. They're smart or dull, fast or slow. They're worse than average, better than average or outstanding. Like people they live up to those hopes, sometimes not.

They are repositories of hopes--of the designers, the builders, the owners, the crew, and one set of passengers after another. They have friends and enemies, yet legions of people who are indifferent to them. Boats and ships are invented not once but many times. Until the advent of aviation they were without peer.

They have given us good reason to be endlessly fascinated with them." END

R. Dale Flick

Shipyard Sam 11-30-2007 11:14 PM

How Many Years, You Say?
In September, two years before the GORDON went beneath the waves, I spent all the time aboard her I could whenever the DELTA QUEEN was in St. Louis and I was off-watch in the engine room. On my last trip down from St. Paul, during the record flood of '65, I got off the DELTA QUEEN, tied below the "RIVER QUEEN" and flew back to Cincinnati with Jane and Mrs. Greene. A couple of weeks later found me in the Air Force, and after an absence of fifty-one weeks I was back on the DELTA QUEEN, but the next time the DELTA QUEEN and I were back in St. Louis, together, the Arch was built and the GCC was gone.

Keith Norrington 12-03-2007 09:39 AM

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Pat: Although they never disclosed publicly the cause of the sinking, many thought it was likely due to what happens all too often when old steamboats become restaurants -- not enough attention and maintenance devoted to "below the waterline" and the hull was tissue paper thin. According to newspaper accounts, several people who were aboard at the time of the sinking in the wee hours of December 2, 1967, reported that the old boat began listing and went down rather quickly.

Attached are several photos, from a series taken in early 1968 by a newspaper photographer, as the boat began to disintegrate. Sad!

Shipyard Sam 12-03-2007 10:06 AM

Remember BRD Grand Adventure?
Who's heard the audio tape of a certain BRD telling how he was able to "liberate" some of the article from the RQ before she became a total wreck? He described the "decks at a 45-degree angle"; slipping off them and sliding into the freezing water. And I could only imagine how those icy decks looked until I saw Miss Ferris' photographs.

Various tiny tid-bits of river history, such a B's narration, above, will be lost soon, I'm sure, as they are only vignettes of the broad spectrum of the story of the river. We all have these scraps in our collections, and they would make an interesting conglomeration if assembled in some sort of medium for the record.

Keith Norrington 12-03-2007 11:09 AM

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For years I've heard ABOUT the late Benton Roblee Duhme's tape recounting his "salvaging safari" by boat to rescue relics from the RIVER QUEEN, but I've never heard the actual tape. One of the artifacts Benton liberated was the engineroom telegraph. The tall pilot's chair, a fixture on the boat since her days as the CAPE GIRARDEAU, fell through the pilothouse door as the boat listed and floated downstream to the BECKY THATCHER, where it was fished out of the river to become an exhibit in Ruth Ferris' Midship Museum. Benton rescued the large cushion and later presented it to Ruth. The dilapidated chair was last seen aboard the GOLDENROD SHOWBOAT in the 1970's.

Attached is another dramatic and sad photo of the RQ, showing the collapsing stacks. The building (with three contiguous windows) seen over the roof of the pilothouse is the old Eagle Boat Store building, which was converted into a bar called "The Old St. Louis Levee House", owned by Frank C. Pierson, who also operated the GOLDENROD SHOWBOAT and Str. BECKY THATCHER. The St. Louis Ragtimers often performed there, as did pianist/singer Jean Kittrell and other entertainers. The building burned in March, 1972 and was razed. The color picture was taken when the RIVER QUEEN was at Hannibal. A portion of the pilot's chair is visible. The elderly gentleman is Mr. Ernest Reynolds Warren, who was curator/guide on the boat for many years at her various locations and who built a number of steamboat models for the museum on board.

mike kraft 01-17-2008 02:50 PM

Becky Thatcher
would you happen to know of any photos of the Becky Thatcher when it sank in 1984?

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