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Early view of Str. IDLEWILD

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    IDLEWILD at Omaha

    You mention that Betty had 4 days of charters at Omaha. I suppose charters were necessary to guarantee making that trip worthwhile. But were there any public trips during her Omaha stay? Also, I presume she used the group booking too, not just whole boat charters all the time? OK, as I type this, another question comes up: was she scheduled and promoted similarly as the IDLEWILD and as the AVALON? Or put another way, we know BB's methods - were they similar to her predecessors'? Oops, one more came up: was the IDLEWILD/AVALON operated differently than her contemporaries? This sounds like a separate chapter in your upcoming tome on the old gal!



      This is why I love history. Every person and every thing has a story that has so many twists and turns. Like a good book after you read it once and come back to it you discover something new. I also found it doesn't matter which is myth and fact, put together makes for a captive audience.


        AVALON at Omaha


        Some of your questions about the boat's excursions at Omaha have partial answers that can be determined. When I made my original contact with the research librarian at the Nebraska State Historical Society, I asked her to look first for AVALON newspaper advertisements over the Sept. 11-14 period in the Omaha newspaper. These, along with advertising posters or cards placed in the windows of retail establishments in town, were the standard means for publicizing "public" trips on the boat, i.e., trips in which the boat was not entirely chartered or trips for which there was no chartering organization at all. Betty would certainly book trips for which the entire boat was sold out, in which case no other tickets than those sold in advance by the charterer were available. However, trips which were "sponsored" by local groups did not necessarily ensure a sell-out excursion, and I would assume in these cases those trips were advertised in newspapers and tickets sold at non-discounted prices at the ticket booth on the boat the day of the trip. That was in fact the case for my last excursion on the AVALON in July 1961, a trip sponsored by the DAV Post in Dubuque, yet tickets were available at the boat that day, albeit at full price.

        There were no AVALON advertisements in the Omaha paper during any of the days the boat was in town; the only item related to the boat's presence in Omaha being a newspaper photo and accompanying caption. Her first trip on Friday night, Sept. 11, was a Mutual of Omaha charter carrying 1200 passengers. The article goes on to state that "other special groups have scheduled tours for tonight [Saturday], Sunday afternoon, and Monday and Tuesday nights." The Sunday Moonlite was a chartered benefit trip for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Since school was in session at the time the AVALON was in town, it appears that only the one Sunday afternoon excursion was scheduled, all the others being Moonlites.

        In reference to your questions about the procedures for booking the boat, I do know that the IDLEWILD employed the services of at least one booking agent, named Frank Buening. I don't envision him taking anywhere near as active a role in promoting and selling the boat as Betty did for the AVALON, however. He may have been more of a contact person in his role as booking agent. And perhaps he was based in Louisville, and didn't "cover the waterfront" like Betty later would. Prior to Ernie Meyer's hiring of Betty, the AVALON also employed at least one booking agent that I am aware of. His name was E. J. Floyd, and he worked out of Des Moines, of all places! And here's where the story gets a little spooky. In the fall of 1964, I performed a comedy monologue in my high school's talent show about the commander of a submarine, based on a routine by Bob Newhart. Later that fall, I received a letter asking me if I would perform that comedy routine in Rock Island at the Armory during a Christmas show for a group of veterans in early December. I was paid $25, and my parents drove me down to RI in a snowstorm and back to Dubuque that same night. The person who "booked" my performance was the same one who introduced me on stage that night (I was introduced as "Dave Siegfried" by this guy, who later told me that I needed to get a stage name if I were going to continue in show biz!) My "booking agent" was none other than E. J. Floyd!! I didn't find out until several years later that he had previously been a booking agent for the AVALON in her early days, according to an article in the Waterways Journal. How's that for a coincidence? At any rate, by the time Meyer hired Betty in the early 50s, I suspect that Floyd's services were no longer required.

        Doc or Tommy Dunn could probably give you a much more authoritative answer than I about whether or not Betty's modus operandi was the same as that of other excursion boat promoters, particularly those employed by Streckfus. Since these people were all called "advance men", I suspect they carried on their sales much the same and did much traveling as part and parcel of their work. I'm not certain that "booking agents" like Buening or Floyd would have traveled and promoted all that extensively.

        Sounds like I'm going to have to schedule another long session with Doc about promotions and sales of the AVALON in the near future. Like I said in a previous posting, and as Ed observed, there's always another "trail" to follow once you get on the track of something. Guess I'll have to dust off my magnifying glass and break out my Sherlock Holmes' hat again!

        Oh, and one other post-scrip. The AVALON's first trips up the Missouri as far as St. Joseph were well-patronized in 1958. The IDLEWILD (or any other excursion steamboat) hadn't run there since 1941. However, for some reason, the AVALON's return the next year saw an unexpected low turnout for excursions. That may provide a partial explanation for all the charters and sponsored trips for the boat at Omaha in 1959.


          PPS to AVALON's Omaha Excursions

          This old man's memory must really be failing, for I completely forgot to mention one other significant thing in connection with that historic Missouri river trip in 1959. Occasionally the AVALON is mentioned as having made excursions all the way to Sioux City, IA, on the Missouri, another 115 miles upstream from Omaha. In fact, the Waterways Journal of August 15th that year reported that Steamer Avalon Inc. had indeed received temporary permission from the ICC to operate excursions above St. Joseph (the farthest point on the Missouri she reached in 1958), all the way up to Sioux City. But a thorough page-by-page check of the Sioux City newspapers for September 1959 by yours truly (at the State Historical Society of Iowa archives in Iowa City three years ago) shows not one word about any AVALON trips there. Independent verification that Omaha was as high as the boat got, appears in a WJ report that the AVALON had trips out of Nebraska City (50 miles downstream from Omaha), the day AFTER her trips at Omaha. And a story by Capt. Tom Craig appearing in a 1966 WJ article also refers to the fact that after reaching Omaha, none of the PH crew had any desire for any further "adventures" up the Missouri. They were more than happy to be headed back to St. Louis!


            Final Chapter (for now) in IDLEWILD/AVALON History

            Yesterday morning a mailing tube arrived from Annie Blum in St. Louis with the results of her search in St. Louis for details of the boat's AVALON days there. Included were a wonderful newspaper photo of the steamer landed at the St. Louis levee and one of her taken from a bridge in Kansas City during her 1958 excursions up the Missouri. Accompanying those photos were scores of newspaper and WJ clippings about the boat. The final slides for the September program will now be photographed, and coordinated with the audio sound track that Jonathan put together for me when he was home last week. Getting this all gathered and assembled really brings home the fact that this project was a community effort from all my good friends in the river and steamboat family. A long and appreciative whistle salute to you all for your tremendous help and support in telling the story of the oldest operating sternwheel excursion steamboat in America!