William C. Davis has written many books about history, the United States, and the Civil War. His work has earned him two Nobel Prize nominations. His dedication to preserving history is obvious in the pages of Portraits of the Riverboats, a wonderful collection of photographs from the glory days when paddlewheelers plied the muddy waters of the mighty Mississippi River. From the early days of John Fitch’s The Steamboat to modern riverboats built to recall the nostalgia of traveling during the golden days of riverboating, Davis gives a thorough history of the invention, early years, heyday, and sad final days of the many sidewheelers, sternwheelers, and centerwheelers that once moved passengers and cargo along the Big Muddy.
The accompanying photographs are a wonderful visual history of the river, the boats, and the men who worked them. From the roustabouts who loaded the ships with heavy bales of cotton to the captains who steered around all the hazards the waterway could offer to the passengers who traveled aboard these fine ships, the photographs portray a method of transportation and a business lost to time and farther reaching competition.
The photo of the Three Queens was especially personal to me. While taking a dinner cruise on a paddlewheeler out of New Orleans in 2011, I passed the once mighty Mississippi Queen being pushed by a tug on her way to the scrapyard. Even in the waning light of the evening, I could see that she had once been a grand river lady and had the potential to be so again. As the flash of my camera reflected across her empty windows, she faded into the distance, leaving only a few haunting images in her wake. Like so many riverboats before her, the Mississippi Queen met a sad fate in a time period that no longer appreciated her.
William C. Davis captures the images and fates of the Mississippi Queen’s predecessors while preserving their memories and giving readers an engaging history of a lost era.
The once grand Mississippi Queen is pushed to her indignant end.