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FDRs Mississippi River Inspection

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    FDRs Mississippi River Inspection

    Does anybody happen to know when and where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took his Mississippi River inspection in the 1940s? I believe he was on the Penniman (now Mamie S. Barrett) in either 1942 or 1945, but have absolutely no provenance at the moment.

    I know the Mamie has the elevator shaft that was created for his visit, and her NPS Nomination lists, "In 1945 the BARRETT carried a group of important officials and dignitaries on an inspection tour of the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and Cairo." (The citation reads: "From information provided by Clyde Wilkes and Leonard Busen, St. Louis District, Army Corps of Engineers.")

    Does anyone have anything concrete or an idea where I can find documentation of this inspection?
    Last edited by Franz Neumeier; 04-16-2011, 12:20 PM.

    *RE: FDR's Mississippi River Inspection*
    Hi, Jeffery,
    Your above inquiry will take some time and digging. I quickly consulted the 'Franklin D. Roosevelt Library' seeing a reference to Roosevelt's 'Inspection Tours' during his presidency along with those wife Eleanor made. A few photos show FDR visiting New Orleans and a W.W. II arsenal plant but, so far, no mention of the boat upon which he traveled. I've yet to click the Library of Congress on such with limited time here at my desk. I would imagine the WATERWAYS JOURNAL would possibly have all and more in their archives and 'morgue' of past issues. Tulane University could also be consulted. I'll keep looking--when I can. Good luck. No doubt others on this web could possibly nail more specific for you. Interesting topic; so keep us informed.

    R. Dale Flick
    Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati - 'Member/Librarian,' Literary Club of Cincinnati.


      The Pennimam (T2026) was never involved with FDR's expected river inspection. The Penniman had been bought by Major Spencer Merrill for his Harbor Point Yacht Club at Alton, Illinois. She arrived at Alton under his command and under her own power in 1948. As Spencer Merrills health failed the elavator was installed in 1963 so he might get up to the dining areas on the boiler deck.

      Now the second part of this involves the Str. Ellen (T0724) which was owned by the Corps of Engineer Rock Island Dist. The Str. Ellen was air conditioned and had an elevator installed in 1937-38 to be used for an Upper Miss inspection trip by FDR.
      The trip was cancelled with no reason given and no other trip was ever scheduled.


        Hi Bill,

        I beg to differ! I've been too busy with highwater to chime-in on this thread until now... but FDR's river inspection, which included his stay aboard the PENNIMAN, was supposedly in 1942 (before the U.S.E. sold it in 1948 to Major Spencer Merrill). They installed an elevator and special bathtub just for his trip. I don't have 100% evidence, but got some of this from the MAMIE S. BARRETT's National Historic Register info several years ago.

        I was able to find one photo of the PENNIMAN from the Univ. of LaCrosse web site that "might" be from the 1942 trip. It is attached.

        Jeffrey, I suggest you contact the Waterways Journal and ask them if they would look thru their 1942 issues to see if they have any articles on this trip. Surely they do. I have old WJ's from 1930 to 1941, then they jump to 1952, so I don't have the issues needed.
        Attached Files


          Thanks Steve. Good idea. I'll do that tomorrow when I have time. Yes, I got some of the info from the Mamie's National Register info and obviously the photos showing the elevator shaft. Now I'm trying to get verifiable historical provenance about this trip, which will increase our opportunities to save her. When I've discussed this project with others up here in the Upper Mississippi Valley, they all get mesmerized when I bring up the Mississippi River Inspection and want to jump in to help. Now I need to get the "proof" to back up our limited information.


            More on the MAMIE

            I checked my files on the MAMIE S. BARRETT / PENNIMAN and do find a couple of references about the elevator and bath tub being installed for FDR's inspection trip in 1942. However, as Capt. Bill Judd noted, there is no real evidence that such a trip occurred. A much ballyhooed presidential trip was to take place aboard the Str. MISSISSIPPI (later the BECKY THATCHER) in the late 1920's, but she ran aground near Paducah and it didn't happen!

            Attached herewith are two photos, taken in 1945, as the PENNIMAN was departing St. Louis on an inspection trip. Since she was a small steamboat, she often towed a quarter boat to accommodate all the guests. Because the boat has been altered several times over the years that she served as a boat club and restaurant, her current deck plan does not match her original drawings from the Howard Shipyard, on file at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana.

            Recently I was directed to a website containing a series of "Louisiana Lost" topics, one of which is the MAMIE, high and dry in the cutoff at Deer Park. Click Kent Hutslar to view the photos, two of which, taken in 1988, are from my camera! There is also an image of an earlier MAMIE BARRETT, built in 1913, that was later the DUQUESNE, BIRMINGHAM and KATIE LYONS -- not the MAMIE currently rotting down in Loozeyanna!

            Keep digging for facts and photos. Half the fun is the thrill of the hunt!
            Attached Files


              Bill Petersen's book, "Towboating on the Mississippi" has quite a bit of info. on the PENNIMAN, and I'm thinking he MAY have mentioned this Presidential trip. I am at work and my copy is at home, so I cannot check. Can anyone else with a copy of this book check this out?


                Str. PENNIMAN in Petersen's Book

                Thank YOU Bob! I knew there was a log of a trip on the Str. PENNIMAN that I'd seen somewhere, but couldn't remember WHERE. After seeing your posting I pulled the book from the shelf and there is the log on pages 113-125. Voila!

                The log is for the spring inspection tour of the Upper Mississippi by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, departing Minneapolis on June 4, 1945 and concluding at Cairo. Many of the passengers are listed, but it appears that the most distinguished guest was Minnesota Governor E.J. Thye. "Steamboat Bill" Petersen was aboard until the boat reached St. Louis on June 12th. Capt. Peter Antrainer was the master (he began his career with Streckfus on the SIDNEY) and the pilots were Capt. William Nolan (formerly on the WAKEROBIN and also with the Eagle Packet Company) as well as Capts. Allen Wiedler, Mark Ragsdale and Harry Grieshaber.

                There is LOTS of good information contained in this fascinating log, which is Chapter 12 of Towboating on the Mississippi, by William J. Petersen, published in 1979. The late Bill Petersen was director of the Iowa State Historical Society for many years and much of his personal collection is contained there. A number of fine photos from the trip on the PENNIMAN are included in the book and undoubtedly there are more in the archives. The collections at Dubuque might be another possible source. The book is long out of print, but copies are available at and elsewhere.

                Thanks again, Bob, for providing another clue to the puzzle! Of course, we are grateful to YOU, who first reported the location of the MAMIE a decade or so ago after she had mysteriously "disappeared" from the river in the early 1990's and nobody seemed to know where she had gone after her sojourn at Vidalia. Thank goodness your crewman on the M/V HAL D. MILLER went fishing at Deer Park and stumbled upon a dilapidated old steamboat high and dry! I well remember your phone call one night when I answered and you triumphantly announced, "I FOUND THE MAMIE!" Welcome news indeed! Since 2001 I've visited her at least a half dozen times and she looks dreadfully worse with each sucessive visit. I've never ventured aboard, as the locals report that she's a haven for cottonmouths and other critters! So, I pay my respects from afar!


                  Thanks guys. This is a BIG help. The fact that a Minnesota Governor was aboard is a big help. Like I said, I'm trying to make one last ditch effort to save her, and since I'm located in Minnesota, this will help tremendously in the fundraising front. After all, Minnesotans are so Minnesota-centric that it's not even funny. But at least if you find a Minnesota connection, there's a chance that Minnesotans will open up their wallets. Couldn't have gotten this far without my friends in the Steamboating community. I'm sure I'll have more questions later.


                    1945 makes more sense for the PENNIMAN's inspection trip. I had wondered how FDR (or anyone) had time to do this special inspection trip in 1942, while the U.S. had just entered WW2. Maybe they had anticipated having FDR as a VIP guest in 1941, ordered the tub, began installing the elevator, etc, then WW2 broke out? Just a guess. (i.e. Back then, why did they go to the trouble of installing a wheelchair elevator and special bathtub with handicap railings if it was not for FDR?).

                    All too often I've seen myths that are embellished as facts, to lend "extra" historical value to properties, so it's good to get these facts about the PENNIMAN's 1945 inspection trip!

                    Jeffrey, there is one other person that you should check with regarding this PENNIMAN/FDR story: Capt. Norm Antrainer. His grandfather was one of the regular captains of the PENNIMAN in the 1940s. I have Norm's email address if you want it.


                      Regarding the Str. Penniman's June, 1945, trip it is for sure that if planned originally for FDR to be aboard, the reason he was a no show was he died April 12, 1945. Kind of ironic that most of this thread was posted on April 12, 2011.


                        *RE: FDR's Inspection Trip*

                        Steamboating colleagues:
                        'Takes a village to tell a story' and the responses have been fascinating. Further digging in the 'FDR Library' found a mention briefly, "The inspection trip was never made."

                        Steve is on the money with the dates and events of then raging World War II. Roosevelt was more than occupied to put it mildly anchored at the White House with incredible security measures for his person. Yet, trips he did make during the war. The logistics with FDR's disability stemming from polio well known with even more information coming forth in recent years. His personal valet and attendant commented years later on the effort just to lift FDR in and out of his bath. His son also worked out to strengthen his arm muscles so as to appear casual when supporting his father to walk with effort. FDR worked long days but relished the late afternoons when he could relax with his personal staff, break out the martini shaker and smokes.

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


                          More about the Mamie

                          Found an article, written by Nixon Adams in the Northshore Conifer on January 25, 2010, entitled In with the Old; Out with the New. Mr. Adams chronicles the history of the MAMIE and how she ALMOST came to the Lake Ponchartrain Basin Maritime Museum during his directorship. The primary movers and shakers for this at the time were Capt. Norman Antrainer and Les Calvin, an Abita Springs historian. The estimated million dollar price tag for the project squelched it.

                          Access the article at Northshore Conifer - Articles - In with the Old; Out with the New


                            Thanks for that link Keith. I remember providing Norm and Les with details and key contacts for that Maritime Museum project. Too bad it didn't happen. The MAMIE would have had a good home.

                            I've helped others with similar attempts to save the boat, but it always comes down to too much $$$. Norm made a valiant effort. Since he is a marine surveyor, and has connections at Florida Marine for towing the boat, I thought it might actually happen, but costs were too high.


                              MAMIE MISC.

                              Herewith is a clipping from The Waterways Journal of March 15, 1947, showing the PENNIMAN being towed (note ice in river) to the Vollmar Brothers dock in St. Louis. Joseph and Lewis Vollmar for many years operated a river construction business, and Joe was the speaker at the S&D meeting in 2000, giving a fascinating presentation on James B. Eads. He probably could fill in some gaps of information concerning the brief time his company owned the PENNIMAN before it was sold in 1948 to Spence and Lela Merrell to become a boat harbor at West Alton, Missouri (renamed PIASA) where she remained until 1981.

                              When I first visited the boat at Harbor Point Marina in 1978, her whistle, roof bell, engine room telegraph, acorns and other steamboaty parts were extant. All of that was later removed by subsequent owners and I've heard that her roof bell now reposes on a farm at Mount Vernon, Indiana. Ruth Ferris was given one of the boat's engine room bells many years ago by the father of one of her students at the Community School who was a Coast Guard officer. The bell is now in the Ferris Collection of the Pott Waterways Library at the Mercantile Library, St. Louis. Harbor Point Marina is still very much in business and the base of a "lighthouse" on the property is fashioned from one of the boilers removed from the MAMIE / PENNIMAN when her machinery was taken off the boat to make space for the boat club meeting room on the main deck. When the MAMIE was a restaurant at Vicksburg, my parents and I had lunch in the former engine room. Her Howard built hull had such delightful sheer back there that it was a bit difficult to keep the dishes and condiments on the table!

                              (1) PENNIMAN under tow at Vollmar Brothers dock, St. Louis, 1947.
                              (2) Waterways Journal clipping 3-15-47
                              (3) As PIASA at Harbor Point Marina, West Alton, MO, October, 1978 - KN photo.
                              Attached Files