Steamboat Photos - Showboats
COTTON BLOSSOM Showboat Built in 1908
Formerly Eisenbath and Henderson's GREAT MODERN TEMPLE OF AMUSEMENT
Steiner and Needham (1908)
R. W. Emerson (1909)
R. W. Emerson and Roy Hitner (1914)
Ran on the Mississippi and Ohio River
Seated 900 people. She could be identified by the "dishpan front" with lights.
The COTTON BLOSSOM was crushed by ice at Mount Vernon, Indiana along with the towboat JEWEL in 1918.
Some of the towboats which escorted the COTTON BLOSSOM during her career of the rivers:
The SOPHIA M. GARDNER in 1910 and 1914.
The JEWEL in 1916 and 1918.
The COTTON BLOSSOM was also transported during unspecified periods by the ECLIPSE, FURY, GRACE DEVERS, MARGARET HALL and WALTER NEEDHAM.
There must have been other unspecified towboats who pushed the COTTON BLOSSOM as well. Some letters on the pilot house name board of the towboat in this photo are visible but there are not enough letters displayed to determine the boat's name. This original photo measures 7.70 X 9.35 inches, a pricey eBay acquisition.
These 2 screened photos came from an unknown and undated "pictorial" magazine about the COTTON BLOSSOM showboat showing cast members rehearsing a play and playing cards on the towboat that pushed the floating theatre up and down the river which I believe was probably the WALTER NEEDHAM (from a few letters visible on the pilot house name board).
text of caption:
"Top picture shows a dress rehearsal on the Cotton Blossom, Mississippi River floating theatre.
Bottom picture shows the floating theatre performers off-duty. Leisure hours find the upper forward deck of the steamer occupied by the actors seeking diversion."
French's New Sensation
Built in 1901 at Higginsport, Ohio
Owned by A.B. French and John McNair (1901-1907), it was the last of the French's New Sensation showboats.
Seated 960. Operated by Callie French and John McNair until 1907 when it was sold to E.A. Price.
Last owned by J.W. Menke from 1918 to 1931
Toured the Mississippi and Ohio rivers
Towed by the CHAPERON and in 1916 by the CHAS. B. PEARCE
She was at Higginsport, Ohio in 1901 and at Madison, Indiana in 1926
Disabled by a storm at Mound City, Illinois in 1930; dismantled in 1931.
The photo above comes from a cyanotype (blue "proof print") postcard. To learn more about Cyanotype postcards, visit the photo postcards page - click here.
Remarkable image of the Showboat "French's New Sensation."
The paintings on the outside must've been in full color, gives it a carnival side show feel and I expect a Wurlitzer band organ to be playing and carousel horses riding in a circle on the top deck. The actors and crew are colorful characters, great slice of life in them days.
French's New Sensation was a theatre on a barge pushed by a towboat although apparently it could be steered from the whimsical looking pilot house on top of the floating theatre. Not sure how they hooked up the steering to the rudder or rudders of the towboat or how they communicated with the engine room to order full speed ahead, stop etc.
You can see a little bit of the front end of the towboat which pushed it. There are two towing knees pressed against the stern of the showboat and the tow is lashed to the barge upon which the theatre was built. You can also see part of the jackstaff (for want of a better name) on the front of the towboat.
Associated Press Photo From Chicago 8-12-63
EDITORS: SUGGESTED FOR USE WITH SEYMOUR STORY IN AFTERNOON PAPERS OF TUESDAY, AUGUST 13.
H E R E C O M E S T H E S H O W BO A T
"The showboat Majestic is moored at Rosiclare, Illinois on the Ohio River as part of an itinerary devoted not to travel but to summer stock presented by 14 students of Indiana University. A towboat powers it from one mooring to another."
From "Showboat MAJESTIC Since 1923" website:cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com
In 1923, Tom Reynolds' new Showboat Majestic slid into the water near Pittsburgh. This started the Majestic on a career that carried her over the Ohio River and it's tributaries for the next 20 years. The Reynolds family lived, played and performed on the "Boat" until World War II, when it was tied up at Henderson, West Virginia for three long years.
In 1945, Hiram College and Kent State University leased the Majestic from the Reynolds family as a summer theatre experience for students. This academic alliance revived the concept of Showboatin' and tramped the "Inland Waterway" once again. In 1960, Indiana University took over and maintained the tradition.
The "Safety at Sea Act" of 1965 finally prohibited the wooden-hulled Majestic from transporting its company town to town. It was tied up and dry-docked, this time in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
The City of Cincinnati purchased the Showboat Majestic in 1967 to serve as a focal point for the developing Central Riverfront. Until 1988, it was leased to the University of Cincinnati as a summer stock theatre for its students. Now, under the administration of Cincinnati Landmark Productions, in cooperation with the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, the Majestic is a professional summer stock theatre utilizing local performers, providing them opportunity and experience in a theatre rich with history, nostalgia and river romance!
While there are newer boats on the Ohio today, the Majestic was the last of the purpose-built "floating operas", the last to make one-night stands, the last to actively travel, the longest-lived under one owner and home of the largest family - the eleven Reynolds children - ever reared on a showboat.
With the burning of the original Goldenrod Showboat in St. Louis, MO., on June 1, 1962, the Showboat Majestic became the last survivor of the singularly American tradition of floating theatres. On December 20th 1989, the Showboat Majestic became an official National Historical Landmark (#89002456).
For a grainy old snapshot there was a lot of detail was revealed in a super hi rez scan of the image and I was able to I.D. the Shamrock and Moonlight from this and provided the attached scan and my observations to the Daily Mail during my correspondence with them. Charleston with Towboat Shamrock No. 2, Edwards, moonlight.
New Era Floating Palace
Attached old photo from eBay of the New Era Floating Palace and their co-ed band. Probably the musicians were mostly actors and stage hands when they weren't in uniform like this. The photo had some major goobers on it on the upper left top deck that took many man-hours to resolve. I had to guess what some parts looked like under the blemishes.
Price's Floating Opera
Floating Opera and Towboat Troubadour, print purchased from A. A. Miran Arts and Books. Their description below.
PRICE'S FLOATING OPERA
Showboat and Towboat Troubadour
Heavy-weight gray card with ornamental dark gray rules - measures 12.5 x 11.75" (horizontal mount). Blank back. Glossy b/w photo with sepia tones - measures 9.5 x 7.5".
This photo was remounted in the distant past. It was originally on a thin card, which was trimmed, and the card and photo remounted on a thicker card. The thicker card is quite old too, so the remounting was probably done in the early to mid 20th century. The entire photo is backed by the original card except for a small area at the extreme bottom right corner. We supplied a close-up photo of this corner so you can see that there is just a small piece of the original card chipped away there - and that the corner of the photo is intact.
This river barge ("show boat") operated from c. 1889 until it apparently sank in a storm in 1900. It was a traveling venue for entertainment, first for Eisenbarth's Combined Wild West and Opera and then Price's Floating Opera. The barge apparently had more than one tow boat in its lifetime. Here is a handsome double-decker steamer, and the the name can be made out as ADOUR - but actually the initial letters are obscured by the stacks and other elements - the tow was named Troubadour.
It is said that the entertainers lived on the tow boat and entertained on the barge. This outfit operated on the Kentucky River, the Ohio River and tributaries, and perhaps other places as well. But this barge was to our knowledge mostly often associated with the Kentucky River, and that is a likely locale for this photo. The barge was said to have been equipped with a fine steam calliope, music from which could be heard at quite a distance although here the calliope is on the top deck of the towboat.
It was also said to be gaily painted - and in the portside profile here circular illustrations appear on the showboat The scenes appear to us to be probably sights along the river. The largest one at the top left shows a large building up on a rise with two impressive turrets - historians may be able to identify it (the second-to-last image we have supplied shows this). Another circle shows what appears to us to be a canal or lock. Yet another shows a long, low vessel in a river. More could probably be told with very careful examination.
At the time of this photo, the proprietor E. A. Price apparently operated out of New Martinsville. (Note: Price had a string of bad luck. Besides losing his barge, he was also injured in a July 4, 1901 train wreck near Charleston, WV on the Kanawha and Michigan RR, where there were numerous fatalities, and newspaper accounts said he was bruised and suffered "nervous shock".)
Floating venues like this one provided welcome entertainment to people in relatively isolated areas through the 19th century and into the early 20th century - in fact Billy Bryant's showboat Princess worked the rivers into the 1930s."Show boats" had a fond place in the popular culture and imagination. This show barge was in a class with The Majestic, Captain Hart's Showboat, and others of the same general era that plied the rivers.
This view shows well over a dozen men and women on the barge, some evidently workers and some probably passengers or performers. The focus and contrast are quite good, so a surprising amount of detail can be seen with a hand lens of the people on the barge - their expressions and garments. It must have been a fairly cool day when this photograph was taken because the people have jacket and coats and there are no leaves on the tree in the right area.
Dave says: I FOUND MENTION OF THE "HOLLYWOOD" IN VANCE LAUDERDALE'S "ASK VANCE" BLOG AND INCLUDE HIS POSTING BELOW AND THE AD FROM A NOVEMBER 1933 EDITION OF THE MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL NEWSPAPER THAT LANCE REFERS TO IN HIS POST.
Monday, October 4, 2010
The "Hollywood" Showboat - 1933
Posted by Vance Lauderdale on Mon, Oct 4, 2010 memphisflyer.com
Back in the early 1930s, Memphians could go downtown to the various theaters, which were gradually being converted from vaudeville and stage shows into "moving picture" theaters, but we also had another entertainment option that's no longer available: showboats.
Poring over a November 1933 issue of The Commercial Appeal, I noticed this ad for a production of "St. Elmo" aboard the Hollywood showboat. Reserved seats were 40 cents, which seems a bit steep for the time, but maybe this was a classy boat, and a good production that was well worth the price of admission.
What's interesting is where the boat was docked—near "Second Street and the Wolf River Bridge." I would have thought they would have just tied up at the cobblestones, about where the Memphis Queen Line is located today. But back in the 1930s, the riverfront was considerably busier than it is now, so maybe this was the only place the boat could stay for extended periods of time. I really don't know. Do you?
Showboat River Queen
Attached brand new still that just arrived from MISSISSIPPI, 1935 with W.C. Fields as "Commodore" Orlando Jackson on the RIVER QUEEN showboat beating his own drum to promote a performance.
Fields contributed to the publicity of MISSISSIPPI by writing a treatise on the beautifying properties of "Mississippi Mud" which I have included in slightly abbreviated form below.
MUD & THE MISSISSIPPI
by W.C. Fields
Ah, well do I remember my first encounter with Mississippi mud.
When strolling up the gang plank of my river steamer I was filled with an unaccountable desire to swim.
I leaped into the river, diving deeply.
But the river wasn't deep, and I was stuck in the Mississippi mud where I would still be to this day if a couple of passing deck hands had not seen my feet and pulled me up to the deck, looking like a lump of licorice.
There I stood, excoriating, vituperating and exculpating the Father of Waters, little thinking that I had stumbled on the greatest beauty secret of all time.
On the next morning, when I woke from the effects of my imbibing I discovered that the mud had formed a hard mask on my face, making it impossible for me to drink from my bottle.
With a hammer, saw and chisel, my crew removed the Mississippi delta from my features, and with it a portion of my features, too.
Perhaps that is the secret, for from that murky mask emerged a new and more glorious Fields, a Fields that was so beautiful that his face now appears in movies.
Now, in gazing at the august and beaming countenance of the Yogi Fields you ran see for yourself what a mere riverful of mud has done for my schoolgirl complexion.
My features are now puncture proof, as you may well observe.
But that is not all.
Nay, indeed not.
They are also sun proof, wind proof and judgment proof, and they will last indefinitely if washed in nitric acid and lukewarm water.
Now my honest countenance glows with a new and more brilliant light at least the nose part of it does.
And I have grown so beautiful that I can only look at myself in the mirror for three minutes at a time.
The news of my discovery has spread quicker than a new story about the traveling salesman and the farmer's daughter.
Today you cannot walk into a beauty parlor without, being invited to sit down and play mud pies.
But have I achieved recognition?
No, a thousand times no!
If I cock my ear, do I hear cheers for Fields?
No, for the thousand and first time.
And so, my friends, I ask you, in the quiet retreat of your homes tonight, with your wives and kiddies snuggled about you. to spare one thought for W. C. Fields the man who took-mud-slinging out of politics and put it in the nation's boudoirs!
Price's New Water Queen
A large albumen photo of THE NEW WATER QUEEN pushed by the towboat ARGAND. It seems likely this was taken in the mile long canal near Lowell, Ohio which was constructed near the mouth of Cat's Creek to bypass a series of rapids in the Muskingum River.
Area: Miss. and Oh. R.
Owner: Capt. Edwin A. Price, New Martinsville, W. Va.
Captain: Edwin A. Price
Footnote from Fred Way:
The towboat ARGAND was sold in April 1901, to Capt. Edwin A. Price, New Martinsville, West Virginia, who used her to tow his showboat WATER QUEEN. Price usually wintered in the Muskingum River at the Lowell, Ohio lock and the ARGAND burned there in December 1927. The boiler was still there in the mud as late as 1949.
Detail of the Water Queen Showboat with actors and musicians show people. Note nice looking actresses far left. Musicians make up about a dozen aboard on deck. The two ladies far right may be back stage wardrobe ladies. Two kids on shore add a lot of charm to the picture.
FOLLOWING IS FROM THE WEST VIRGINIA CULTURE. ORG SITE ARE HIGHLIGHTS FROM A 1925 NEWSPAPER ARTICLE REGARDING THE FILMING OF A SILENT FILM STARRING GLORIA SWANSON ABOARD THE SHOW BOAT "WATER QUEEN" AT NEW MARTINSVILLE, WEST VIRGINIA ON THE OHIO RIVER. ATTACHED PHOTO OF THE "WATER QUEEN" FROM THAT ARTICLE.
Gloria Swanson and the Filming of "Stage Struck"
August 20, 1925
New Martinsville, West Virginia
Actual filming of Gloria's great picture, "Stage Struck," was begun of Tuesday of this week with the "shooting," in the afternoon, of a number of scenes around the local wharf and on the floating theatre "Water Queen." Miss Swanson did some work on the boat during the day, and, in the evening, appeared and thanked the big crowd that was jammed in the auditorium of the "Water Queen" to furnish the "atmosphere" for the scenes that will feature Gloria's rise in the theatrical world from the position of waitress in a restaurant. There were assembled at the wharf Tuesday evening no less than 2500 persons to witness the work of the Famous Players organization, and it was a gay throng. The company had a number of powerful electric lights in operation preparatory to filming the crowd going up the stage plank of the show boat, buying tickets and going in to see the show, when the palatial excursion steamer "Washington," bearing a merry throng from New Matamaras, Sistersville and Paden City, swung into the harbor with thousands of lights of varied colors gleaming from stem to stern. Thus there were presented to view at one time the great lights used for filming, the beautiful show boat, gaily bedecked, the brilliantly lighted excursion palace and the throng of people, all of which, against the background presented by the countryside across the Ohio, made a scene that beggars description. A very amusing incident of the evening occurred when, at a signal that all was in readiness for the crowd to start on the boat, Ford Sterling, the comedian, who was in full dress and with an unusually large "stove pipe" hat, began "barking" for the show. He vociferously urged both the people on the wharf and those on the excursion steamer to attend the big show, the price of admission being only a "quawthah" of a dollar. A number of amusing scenes were also "shot" inside the boat.
The filming of many other scenes, both of individual acting and the countryside, is progressing, but it will be several days before the work is completed. Perhaps the biggest single set to be filmed will be the picnic scene in Clark's grove. It was intended to have the picnic Thursday, but postponement was necessary, and it will probably be Saturday, the 22nd. The public in general is invited.
Quite a crush of the Water Queen Tuesday night.
Scenes for "Stage Struck" were being made on the Water Queen all day on Wednesday.
Already, all the girls are wanting their hair cut just like Gloria's.
ATTACHED A COMPOSITE OF IMAGES REPRESENTING BRYANT'S SHOWBOAT PUSHED BY THE VALLEY BELLE (WHICH WE HAVE ON WAYBILLS1) I BELIEVE THAT JOHN FRYANT BUILT THE MODELS OF THE SHOWBOAT AND TOWBOAT IN THE COLOR INSERT THAT CAME FROM "AMERICAN HISTORY: ON THE WATER." BELOW A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SHOWBOAT IS THE OBITUARY OF SHOWMAN BILLY BRYANT'S DAUGHTER BETTY FROM THE NY TIMES JANUARY 1999.
BRYANT'S NEW SHOWBOAT was built at Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1917.
Launched in 1918, it could seat around 880 people in its theater.
Most of the shows put on for Bryant's patrons in small towns along the Kanawha, Ohio, Monongahela, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers were vaudeville or follies productions.
The ornate stage of Bryant's New Showboat was home to dozens of plays like Hamlet and Little Nell of the Ozarks, and even the antics of a trained bucking mule named January.
Owner Billy Bryant offered $10 to anyone who could stay on the animal's back, but he had to retract that offer in mining towns, as the miners were strong enough to stay on.
The vessel was sold to new owners in 1945, at the end of World War II.
Movie theaters, personal automobiles and other developments had gradually ended the colorful showboat era on America's rivers.
Betty Bryant, Showboat Performer, Dies at 76
She wrote "Here Comes the Showboat," published by the University Press of Kentucky in 1994
THE NEW YORK TIMES OBITUARY nytimes.com
By ROBERT McGILL THOMAS Jr. (1939-2000)
The New York Times, January 25, 1999
Betty Bryant, who had such a satisfying childhood career in the backwaters of show business that she never bothered to try to top herself in the Broadway mainstream, died on Jan. 15 at her home in Park Ridge, Ill. She was 76 and was recalled as the third generation of a family of showboat performers who brought corn pone and culture to riverside mid-America.
The family showboat was both her home and her stage, and for 20 years, until World War II helped bring the showboat era to an end, she spent her springs, summers and falls going from town to town along the Ohio River and its tributaries, sometimes stopping for several weeks in bigger river cities like Pittsburgh or Cincinnati.
During the off-season, with the boat tied up in West Virginia, the family would visit New York or Chicago, sometimes staging variety acts, sometimes just taking in the theatrical sights.
With her mother as her tutor, Miss Bryant managed to get her high school diploma from a cooperating school that monitored her progress.
Based on Miss Bryant's 1994 book "Here Comes the Showboat" (University Press of Kentucky), hers was an idyllic life and one she was certainly born to.
To say that show business was in her blood would be something of an understatement. Her grandfather, Sam Bryant, a onetime gardener at Buckingham Palace, had no known theatrical inclinations until he fell in love with a young Gilbert and Sullivan actress named Violet Chapman, who had inclinations enough for both of them.
After the couple married and came to the United States in 1884, it didn't take many years of nagging before Lady Violet, as she preferred to be known, had persuaded her husband to seek thespian adventure, initially, as it turned out, in a horse-drawn traveling medicine show in which Dr. Sam, as he was known, would hawk a cure-all mixture of gasoline and red pepper on the first night in a town, then stage a tent show on the second.
The couple's children, Billy and Florence, were part of the dodge from the beginning and by the time the family graduated to vaudeville a few years later, they had become the Four Bryants.
A chance summer booking on a turn-of-the-century Mississippi River showboat gave them the river bug. Within a few years, Dr. Sam and Captain Billy, as his son was soon known, had acquired first the Princess and then, in 1918, Bryant's New Showboat.
By then, Captain Billy had married the floating troupe's piano and calliope player, Josephine Costello, who gave birth to Betty four years later.
From her start in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Miss Bryant swiftly advanced to other roles and vaudeville turns, including impressions of George M. Cohan and Eddie Cantor.
As the only member of her generation among the now six Bryants (although Aunt Florence was increasingly an absentee actress), she played boys as often as girls, but regardless of the sex, she soon learned, her forlorn character was sure to die before the final curtain.
That's because the Bryant plays tended to be heavy, heart-rending melodramas, which never failed to delight their small-town audiences.
Captain Billy did stage an abridged version of "Hamlet" once, but after he got a look at the dazed audience on its way out, he quickly reverted to more familiar fare, replacing it with "Ten Nights in a Barroom," a sure audience pleaser, partly, no doubt, because Miss Bryant died so convincingly.
By the time she graduated to grown-up roles, Miss Bryant had mastered the psychological subtleties of the showboat method of melodrama.
As she wrote in her book, "A dependable leading lady must be able to run, duck, fall, get up, fall again, crawl over a bed and under a dresser, scream, swing by a rope, deliver an uppercut, struggle and kick and still have enough breath left to say, 'If this is aristocracy, thank God I'm a country girl.' "
At 20 she married a fellow showboat actor, Jat Herod, a jazz violinist who joined the Army and was soon entertaining troops, as he and his wife continued to do after the war.
She is survived by two daughters, Jo Aleene Miranda of Des Plaines, Ill., and Mary Perry of Park Ridge, and three grandchildren.
After their divorce in 1962, Miss Bryant, who never tried to win acting jobs in New York or Hollywood, settled in Park Ridge, where she directed amateur theatrical productions and frequently gave lectures on what it was like to grow up on a showboat.
Betty's father wrote his own saga of showmanship in the floating palace venue:
CHILDREN OF OLD MAN RIVER, The Life and Times of a Show-Boat Trouper. By Billy Bryant was first published by Lee Furman Inc. in 1936, then reprinted in 1988 by Lakeside Press. Out of print book dealers offer copies of both these editions online at Abebooks and Alibris.