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A Pilothouse Dedication - 64 Years Ago

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    A Pilothouse Dedication - 64 Years Ago

    As I presided over the dedication of our new pilothouse replica at the Howard Steamboat Museum last Saturday, I couldn't help but think of a similar ceremony that took place some 64 years ago.

    On May 28, 1948, the renovated pilothouse of the Str. GOLDEN EAGLE (formerly the cotton packet WM. GARIG, built at Howard's in 1904) was dedicated on the campus of the Community School, a private institution at Ladue, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb. Through the persistent efforts of Miss Ruth Ferris, well known river historian and teacher/assistant principal at the school, the pilothouse was salvaged from the revered riverboat following the May 18, 1947 sinking and, for the sum of $257, trucked from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dock to Community.

    The dedication festivities included a play, commemorating the 1939 trip the "GOLDIE" made from St. Louis to St. Paul when a packet boat had not traversed that stretch of the Mississippi for over 25 years. A demonstration of the actual lead line used on the boat was featured and a song, "GOLDEN EAGLE", composed especially for the event, was sung by the children as a bottle of water, from the five rivers plied by the steamboat, was splashed across the front of the pilothouse to christen it. A special guest at the event was Capt. W.H. "Buck" Leyhe, much loved master of the GOLDEN EAGLE, who watched with tears streaming down his face.

    The "sky palace" remained on the school grounds until late 1961, when it was donated to the Missouri Historical Society for display in the new and elegant River Room gallery, a gift from the children of Community in tribute to their beloved teacher, who from 1957 until 1965 was curator of the river collections. New administration at the MHS in the early 1980's dismantled the pilothouse and placed it, along with all of the fabulous steamboat artifacts, into a storage facility, where they remain today.

    As many are well aware, Ruth Ferris was my main mentor and patron saint of steamboat history. Shortly before her passing in 1993, she tearfully asked me to do whatever possible to keep interest alive in the pilothouse. I, of course, faithfully promised and waged a longtime and UNsuccessful campaign to get the pilothouse back on display. The Golden Eagle Club, upon disbanding their river museum overlooking the Mississippi in Bee Tree Park, donated $20,000 toward getting the pilothouse on exhibit again, but to no avail. Ruth had intended to write an illustrated book about the history of the pilothouse, but the years zipped by and suddenly she was nearly 96 and in rapidly failing health. So, it is my hope that I can eventually finish what Ruth hoped to accomplish and write the definitive story of the pilothouse.

    In many ways, I feel that I am following in Ruth's footsteps, and the dedication of our new pilothouse last Saturday afternoon was another of the ways I strive to carry on the work of preserving and promoting our river heritage that was near and dear to her heart. I truly hope that Ruth and Capt. Buck were smiling down upon us!

    Images:
    1948 dedication play of Golden Eagle pilothouse at Community School
    Watercolor of pilothouse by St. Louis artist Marilynne Bradley
    Capt. Buck Leyhe, Miss Ruth Ferris and Douglass Mesker, fifth grade student who portrayed Capt. Buck in the play at the pilothouse dedication
    Attached Files
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