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*Was it 'really' all that wonderful?*

 
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Old 01-30-2017, 10:58 AM
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.
Posts: 1,553
Default *Was it 'really' all that wonderful?*

Morning, Steamboating colleagues:
Capt. Bob Reynolds recently commented or pointed to one of my historical research postings added to Steamboats.org. This also ties in with a very pointed 'private off-line' message I received from a 'lurker' mostly unknown or out of our circle several years ago. Her bombastic dressing down to me was, "You, Mr. Flick, are destroying the history of a beautiful, wonderful, romantic period." DUH! Since I didn't know the name of the person I had apparently burst the bubble of their perceived romance, I politely, courteously, politically, legally replied in kind. Yet more historical research in the steamboat not only here but on our East and West coasts revealing. She thought that bad then she should have talked privately one-on-one with Capt. Fred Way or read his private letters.

Case in point from an old letter 1850s: "They [steamboat builders here] give a preference to white and gold paneling, covered with florid carving. From each beam, fretwork and open lattice work hangs down, and the constant repetition of this carving, illuminated by coloured [s.i.c.] light thrown from the painted glass skylights on each side, in a saloon over 200 feet long, produces one of the most beautiful effects of light and shade I have ever witnessed." Yet others noting the more than "flimsy" construction of river steamboats here had different views. Primary were engineers and architects American or from Great Britain. British naval and marine experts horrified that our inland river steamboats not then equipped with "iron rods or chains to the rudder." Use of hemp for steering vulnerable to fire. British engineers and naval officers shocked at the flimsy, dangerous construction of early American railroads. Others decryed construction of our inland river steamboats noting "some better assembled than others." "Food aboard steamboats often loaded with grease, not well attended to good health...served indifferently." Reminds me of Capt. Alan Bates' comments/writing on steamboat food. Yet, other letters also with praise and wonder. European travelers [primarily British] cringed at the "custom of all dining together elbow to elbow at the main table with no regard to class, manners or deportment...wolfing food."

Case in point: "An indefinable sham splendor all around, half disgusting and wholly comical. The paint and gilding, the velvet and Brussels, the plate and the attendants [period term for other fixtures, items and not people] show bravely by lamp light, but the honest, indignant sun puts all the dirty magnificence to shame." And, "...Hard use reduced the original elegance of the saloon to a sorry shabbiness long before the vessel had served out its brief span." Another: "The assumed glory of the main cabin above a sham for the misery of common deck passengers, crew of colour laboring just feet below." Commerce records then reveal that the vast majority of steamboat passengers were those on the lower decks. 'Cabin' passengers totals far less in percentages. The often perceived romance and glory of a past era usually only in the eye and mind of later generations. Again, what do I know?

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