A common refrain and complaint in the Gateway City is that residents have turned their backs on the river. An ungrateful thing to do when one considers that St. Louis would not be here without the Mighty Mississippi River.
A thankful resident, who will never turn her back on the Mississippi, is Annie Blum, who authored the Arcadia book titled, “The Steamer Admiral.” I have had the good fortune to do several Arcadia book duet presentations with Blum in the process of peddling my own “Forest Park” tome.
Blum offers a great show with her images of the now-defunct Admiral in its glory days. Blum has the scoop and archival information to pen an authoritative account of the Admiral. Thanks to Capt. John Streckfus, Blum was hired for 16 summers to work on the Admiral.
Her book covers decades of riverboat fun from the popcorn stands of the first deck to the incomparable vantage point on the fifth deck. That deck is called the roof, or lido, or the “Top of the Admiral” as many passengers referred to it.
Here’s a bet that lots of local readers have cherished memories from that top deck: catching views of the legs of the Gateway Arch under construction; stealing a first kiss on a date below the crow’s nest; listening to the noisy calliope being played; ducking under Jefferson Barracks Bridge – the southern most limit of an Admiral excursion.
Memories were made on other levels of the Admiral as well. The Admiral’s deck, known as “The Cabin,” contained the ballroom and mezzanine. In hot St. Louis summers, the air conditioning on this level was amazing. Women loved the four elaborate powder rooms, all named for movie stars like Greta Garbo.
The river was not so kind to the Admiral. In 1979, the U.S. Coast Guard condemned its hull and prohibited the ship from plying the river. A runaway barge collision later caused millions of dollars in damage.
The sad end came in July 2011 when what was left of the Admiral was towed out of St. Louis to the scrap heap. Blum’s book includes photos of the dismembered boat, but she notes that the joyful memories will never be torn asunder.
Although the Admiral is gone, there is now more activity on the riverfront, due in part to a reinvigorated museum at the Gateway Arch. Mississippi memories also are being made thanks to Mississippi riverboat cruises.
Among this fall’s offerings:
- Sunday brunch trip accompanied by Dixieland music and cash bar.
- Evening Blues Cruise with illuminated views of downtown at night.
- Kimmswick Cruise, a day-long fun excursion to a quaint riverside town.
For information, including details for the Octoberfest, check out: gatewayarch.com/experience/riverboat-cruises/.
“Strong Brown God”
Poet T. S. Eliot told us the Mississippi River is “a strong brown god.” When that god gets angry, you don’t want to be too close. Fortunately, we have weather forecast technology now that gives a warning to the wise to stay off the water when storms and winds are on the way.
That was not the case in the past. In 1896, a super tornado hit St. Louis and crossed the Mississippi. It tossed boats around like toys and took out a chunk of the new Eads Bridge. Our “great brown god” liberated souls once again in the great floods of 1927, 1993 and 2008.
Don’t even get me started on the river disaster precipitated by the New Madrid Earthquake of 1812. At 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13, I’ll be recounting disaster stories from “Show Me: Nature’s Wrath” at Schlafly Library, 225 N. Euclid Ave. in the Central West End.
The library event is called the great “Author Shout Out!” and features a dozen writers talking about genres, ranging from crime noir, sci-fi fantasy, young adult fiction, true life inspirational and, of course, weather mayhem in St. Louis.
Author keynote at 2 p.m. will be given by Susan McBride, who has more than 20 titles with her latest release called “Walk A Crooked Line.” For more info. email the library’s Shout Out King, Joe Schwartz, at firstname.lastname@example.org