There have been queries about Benton Duhme, and I promised to share this obit written for him and printed in the Steamboat Times.
From the Steamboat Times, Wednesday, May 26, 1971, "Tribute to a Steamboatman":
Only four steamboats still ply the waterways of the Mississippi River and tributaries. Only four remain of the thousands that once carried the commerce of a new, growing nation. Their passing is lamented, and steamboat people know that in only a few more years, all the steamboats will lie quietly along some city front and will be floating museums or restaurants, or else lie moldering in some backwaters of the great river.
Steamboats get their very breath from their fiery furnaces, but a steamer’s pulse beats from within the hearts of its people. Without the people, a steamboat is only a hulk of steel and wood, glass and a coat of paint. It is the people who make the boat become alive. Steamboat people are strange clannish folk. When asked why they stay on the old boats, they might quote W.C. Handy when he wrote, “I’d rather be here than any place I know…”
Two steamboats, the DELTA QUEEN and the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE, passed each other, yesterday, and the sad news came over from the BELLE that a steamboatman had died two days before. Benton Roblee Duhme was a steamboatman as true as any who ever trod the decks of a boat. He, too, would have “rather been here” than any place he knew. But Benton was ill and had to be elsewhere. Though he was away, he thought of the DELTA QUEEN, and the people on the boat remembered him, too.
Benton was remembered that he did work on the DELTA QUEEN. They remembered how he washed pots and pans, managed the storeroom, toted heavy luggage, and carried coffee for the pilots. They knew that he would do about anything just to be on a steamboat. The steamboat people also remembered how, after his fatal illness was known, Benton would get a pass from the hospital and visit the QUEEN when she steamed into his hometown of St. Louis.
Benton Duhme was remembered for his yarns- his tales of the Mississippi River and the boats and crew that sailed upon the mighty river. The steamboat people knew of his collection of steamboat paraphernalia, possibly the best private collection in existence. Benton collected anything that was that was in the least bit related to steamboating, and this “stuff” was crowded into his room at home. A boatman was honored to be invited to Benton’s house to view the collection. Steamboatmen, on the river, saved things back for Benton, items rescued from the trashman that they knew he would prize, like an original stanchion post, or a piece of discarded teak railing. There is still some old DELTA QUEEN life preserver notices still stowed aboard for him- he would have been down upon the St. Louis levee on the Forth of July to take them home. But now the steamboat crew will keep them, for him, and probably put them into some museum so that they can be shared with others, as he would have done, and so that others can remember the young steamboatman from St. Louis, as the steamboaters will remember him.
Benton Roblee Duhme, steamboatman, author, scholar, yarn-spinner, and adventurer died on Sunday, the 23rd of May, 1971, in St. Louis at the age of twenty-three.