Monday, May 16, 2022

The Soapbox: Top Ten Reasons to Return to Fulton’s Folly

Brandi Chambless

There is no unhappiness like the misery of sighting land (and work) again after a cheerful, careless voyage.—Mark Twain

When engineer Robert Fulton changed the world with his invention of the commercial steamboat, his work was the laughing stock of his community, dubbed Fulton’s Folly.

But the joke was on them, because before too long, steamboats dominated riverways in the trade industry until the early 1900s when they had all but been replaced by railways.

Though the steamboat era is history, the nostalgia of today’s recreational steamboats lives on.

It has been a long-standing summer tradition to find undiscovered places filled with adventure. To step away from the iPhone. To grow. Unfortunately, our generation of kids’ growth has been concentrated on the part of the brain that calls itself “achievement” and they rarely have time or take care to play outdoors with the exception of organized sports.

With kids’ RPMs being in overdrive just like mom and dad, life has become a circus of one achievement followed by high tech reward after the next. For this reason, the steamboat river cruise is a great beginning to building memories of a lifetime and reconnecting with our families.

Here are the top reasons to take a modern day steamboat cruise.

  1. Still Have Some Day Left – A river day cruise can be a nice addition to a larger concept vacation. The ideal spot is one that offers a few hours of breathtaking scenery. Launching at the Port of Bismarck, the Missouri River steamboat cruise floats along the longest river in North America, one that pours into the Mighty Mississippi at St. Louis.
  1. Night Life Romance – Not surprisingly some of the best night dinner cruising with entertainment and a feast is found in New Orleans aboard the Steamboat Natchez. It is no secret that New Orleans is one of the best at romancing night life and never fails to delight visitors for this very reason.
  1. Jazz Appreciation – Known for its Big Band dinner cruise “In The Mood,” American Queen Steamboat Company comes in big for the win! Dance the night away in this beautiful venue and take in all the riverscapes your camera and senses can handle.
  1. Make a Memory with a Private Event – River cruises, especially those aboard a steamboat are perfect as a private event venue for weddings, family reunions, school events, and even business meetings. Have an unforgettable cruise that will be remembered for a lifetime!
  1. Excursions Work! – Summer is for going places, but go to places in your imagination before and afterwards. It’s always bittersweet to come back to the reality of autumn knowing that your summer experience passed quickly, but worse is not having an experience at all. Step away from the laptop….One example of an excursion offered aboard the American Queen is a pre-cruise excursion beginning with the St. Louis City Tour: The Lewis and Clark Gateway to the West. The post-cruise excursion of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota will even transfer you to the airport.
  1. Discover an Authentic Piece of History – A ride on a steamboat is sure to take you back in time, but you can also be guaranteed to overhear ancestry stories, become inspired to research steamboat history, ask about stories of steamboat captains with river town mansions, or choose to ignore disaster tales. There is folklore galore entwined in a steamboat river cruise. Take a Civil War Cruise from Memphis to New Orleans when you see through the eyes of our ancestors for a few days.
  1. Travel Stress-Free and Safely – One way to pass the time on your steamboat cruise is to research 19th century steamboat disasters. They are intriguing. Touted as bloody accounts, Lloyd’s Steamboat Directory, and Disasters on the Western Waters will create the anxiety and fear of any horror flick when you hear of everything awful from faulty boilers to men overboard never to return to you name the calamity. If you were a person who could not swim in a swimming pool, much less the ocean, after watching Jaws… don’t do this. But for the rest of you…have fun! Seriously, don’t worry. Modern steamers are environmentally and structurally sound while still capturing the aura of yesteryear.
  1. Reader’s Nook – On a river cruise, you can read books as you float along, including those written about steamboat travel. The most infamous steamboat pilot of all times, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, transformed his life while becoming the very essence of life on the Mississippi River. Today, he is known as Mark Twain, a name derived from the boatman’s call noting that the river is at the lowest navigable depth for safety (2 fathom = 12 ft. deep). Twain became the author of at least 23 books, but he wasn’t the only writer enthralled with river life. There are hundreds of books written about steamboats in both the historical and nonfiction genres.
  1. Buy a Groovy Piece of Artwork – How can you relive the story best? Buy some of the coolest art that tells two centuries of survival tales, sinking treasure chests, trading goods, the gangplank, or Indian attacks. At you will find an online museum with meaningful art that would be a great conversation piece in your office or home following your trip.
  1. Finish the Plot of Your Own Mystery Novel – Steamboats are fertile ground for actual unsolved mysteries! Why not try the classic whodunnit aboard a murder mystery dinner cruise when you try The Pride of Susquehanna pulling out from City Island Docks in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania just down the street from the Harrisburg Senators minor league baseball team.

So, after reading this, get inspired and get your research on. Go somewhere this summer that has a unique story to tell, a destination where you will make friends of strangers and connect with those around you in a far off place. But most of all, bring your journal! Tell your own tales and save your writings for the rest of your life. They will be your children’s most cherished possession.

Brandi Chambless
Read Brandi's column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.

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