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J.M.WHITE and Others........ooooooh Gross

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Old 10-22-2016, 08:31 AM
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.
Posts: 1,584

*JIm's DVD project/Steamboat food plans*
Steamboating colleagues,
Jim, having viewed your first DVD steamboat project, my eyes bugged reading above RE: your continuing project with references to: LEE LINE, ANCHOR LINE, U.S. MAIL LINE/L&C LINE etc. In doing so I am sure you will take off the 'rose colored glasses' RE: prevailing opinions of "romantic, beautiful, wonderful old time steamboat life" you and I have mentioned in conversations before. Records, financial notes mention that even the great ANCHOR LINE was entering its final years to decline by the year 1895. Believe-it-or-not, the higest years of steamboat operation was the 1850s. But that's another story.

For a fine insight on the famed LEE LINE, I direct you to the four serialized articles written by Jim Lee, family member, appearing with David Tschiggfrie's editor talents in installments of the S&D REFLECTOR from 2015 to 2016. You can go on line with your search engine to type in LEE LINE and see what pops up. Jim's research, family memories focus on the plan the LEE LINE, and other lines, had to institute the 'European Plan' for passengers paying for meals aboard al la cart and not included in the flat rate of their passage. The matter received wide attention, discussion with other steamboat companies, individual owners etc. with many holding to the old ways. It became a hot issue in late steamboat days of operation due to the rapidly escalating costs. There were the two lines of thought: provide all meals with the passenger tarriff or charge for meals. Other steamboat lines here, on the East coast, Great Lakes had the same issue. The great Hudson River night boats charged extra for meals as did other. Many passengers ate ashore before sailing only purchasing breakfast aboard before the boat docked from the one night run. The LEE LINE also explored the issue of baggage handling by porters or crew in addition to the wages wearing 'Porter Badges' with numbers. The term in those days for porters/roustabouts handling passenger luggage was "smashing bags."

The legendary food on the great cotton boats was true--to a point--but often heightened by later writers. Boats offered wonderful meals with some 30 dishes and 15 desserts at a sitting with tureens, bowls, platters laid down the center of the long tables. The Chief Steward, Captain and shore office used the old ploy of piling on the food heavy the first two days; then slacking off knowing the passengers--most of them--had their fill. Many observers/writers commented on the quality, or lack of, with steamboat food. There was no concern for most at the lack of balanced meals, healthy offerings in that day of self-indulgence. Most who wrote mentioned all the steamboat meals "very heavy with fat and grease." Even our own late Capt. Alan Bates, as mentioned, said/wrote. "Most of the boat food was slop not better than a second rate boarding house ashore. They could cook anything with lots of lard, sugar, flour, salt and pepper." It was an era of gross inequality from the very well fed to the impoverished and immigrants. It was not a kind, loving era contrary to what many romantics believe. The passengers with the money in the ornate steamboat cabins with meals always the minority then to the 'deck passengers' below fending for themselves often with no meals, beds or any shelter on the lower deck. After the U.S. Steamboat laws came in in 1850/1852 things changed but not without protests, political lobbying by steamboat owners and stock holders. Sound familiar?

In later years professional food and travel writers on DELTA QUEEN trips wrote about their first "disappointment aboard" thinking they would find tables laden with steamboat foods endlessly like in Mark Twain days. In the end they praised the limited food, desserts on the DELTA QUEEN. The DQ food decidedly 'southern' in flavor until later years when the menu varied from year to year from 'southern' to 'California cuisine,' 'Cajun cooking,' 'American cuisine' etc. Keep us posted on your project. Again, what do I know?

R. Dale Flick
Old Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.
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