Mark Twain lived in and captured the gilded age of riverboats. Even his pen name is usually attributed to the safe-water depth shouted aloud --- ''mark twain'' --- when the physically taken measurement was two [twain] fathoms, or 12 feet in depth. Twain died in 1910, in Bermuda surrounded by the great Atlantic waters, salty as were many of the writer's words.
As early as 20,000 B.C. rivers were fished from rafts and dugouts, small crude percursors to the great wood-burning steamboats, which today are powered by diesel engines with several thousand horsepower. The foamy water churned by the paddlewheel remains the same. Today's riverboats offer the best of both worlds: the nostalgia of a grand time passed with the comfort, safety, and conveniences afforded by sophisticated navigational and weather instruments as well as other modern-day equipment.
Today's riverboat captains still never lose sight of the power and fickleness of the river. It is still a great responsibliity to pilot even a short tourist cruise on the calmest days. The great emphasis Twain placed on a remarkable memory as the hallmark of a pilot's mind remains valid. Twain himself meticulously studied 2,000 miles of the river for more than two years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859.
The river has a romantic aura. Twain's well-known charatcters, Huck and Jim, could never have developed their special relationship on land --- the magic and detachment they enjoyed on the river is timeless.
The Mississippi is famous for its Riverboat
Paddlewheelers. These authentic steamships are a constant reminder of the
rich heritage of the river.
One hundred years ago there were over
11,000 paddlewheelers plying the waters of the Mississippi and Ohio
Rivers. Today there are only three overnight paddlewheel steamboats left
in America. The Mississippi Queen, the legendary Delta Queen and the new
(but authentic circa 1900 Victorian) American Queen, duplicate the
grandeur of the bygone era of Steamboatin'.
always referred to as boats not ships, regardless of their size. They also
have a very shallow draft that allows them to navigate into the most
remote and interesting areas.
Riverboats still dock at the
cobblestone landing in Memphis, Tennessee, reminiscent of days gone by
when cotton was king and cries of "Mark Twain" echoed up and down the
banks of the Mississippi. The paddlewheels once churned in and out of
Memphis, bringing wonders from points North and South.
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