A couple days earlier I went online to see what kind of deal I could get on a nice hotel. I found a pretty good price at a yet “unnamed,” chain, like how they do on the Internet when you don’t know what you’ve paid for until it’s too late. So, it was with an attitude of surrender and anticipation that we drove into St. Louis and found ourselves at the threshold of the old Union Railway Station – renovated into a Hyatt Regency Hotel. I guess we lucked out. Entering the grand hall was like stepping back in time into a Roman, Victorian and Art Deco masterpiece. With a vaulted ceiling and craftsman touches, built in 1892-94, the massive Union Station was once the busiest train station in the world. After passenger service declined in the 50’s and 60’s, Amtrak took it over. It then declined to the point where it serviced only three trains a day, a sad, neglected shadow of what it once was. It was closed in the early 70’s then a couple years later underwent a massive renovation and transformation into a hotel and shopping complex. I, myself, am not at all fond of shopping development, but I had to give the architects credit for making a beautiful space out of the old train station footprint. It was a great place to be and a grand welcome to the city.
Union Station was about twenty blocks west of downtown. This provided us with an excuse to get some excersize and walk into town. A plan evolved to walk past downtown to the Gateway Arch and the Riverfront district, and then circle back up Washington Street. Walking east down Market Street was like a stroll through an oversize museum of twenties and thirties era architecture – the Post Office, the Municipal auditorium, City Hall, and the Justice Buildings to name a few. Then that undeniable slender and graceful arch, stood before us between the hard and straight stone lines of the Romanesque buildings. Its shadowy curve doesn’t demand your attention until you look directly at it, then you see nothing else. With each footstep eastward it grew higher and higher until Sue reminded me to watch for traffic.
It was an early Friday evening in late August and there was a home game at Busch Stadium. As we approached downtown we found ourselves swallowed up in a river of red jerseys – Cardinal fans on the way to the game. Waiting at a crosswalk, we looked south at the stadium. Our view went directly into the right and center field bleachers, seats filling up; opening pitch minutes away. There was a pulse of excitement emanating from the stadium, lights turned on, and blazing bright in the early dusk. We were almost tempted to buy a couple tickets from a scalper on the corner and go with the flow into the stadium.
We soon found ourselves crossing over I-70 and walking into Gateway Park. Now I’ve passed the Gateway Arch on the interstate so many times and thought it was pretty cool, but nothing compares to standing beneath and walking around it. Its height is dizzying, and its continually curving surface challenges the mind to comprehend. No mental references stick to its skin, far too smooth and reflective. The arch is compelling, mysterious, seductive, and is different every time you look at it. Like any great work of art it is alive and naturally interactive. And all this without even going up to the top and having a look out, to see the documentary on how it was built, or to the view the Lewis & Clark film in the IMAX theater (four stories high, underground – beneath it!). There just wasn’t time! That will give us reason to return another time and explore further.
The next day we bid farewell to St. Louis and made tracks through southern Illinois toward our gig in Cannelton, Indiana. Cannelton sits on the banks of the Ohio River in Southern Indiana, and we were asked to play an outdoor concert for the town that evening. We were setting up our sound gear on a trailer-bed stage in a park on the river side of the levee when someone shouted “look!” A most beautiful apparition was floating by. It was the steamboat Delta Queen churning upriver. People were waving from the decks to where we were standing on the shore. Someone mentioned, “They’re gonna retire her this fall. The government won’t be renewing her exemption”. That’s all they could tell me at the time, but the thought of this classic riverboat being shut down because of some political red tape compelled me to research further. It turns out that our fair Delta Queen has quite a history…
She was built in Scotland and California between1924 and 1926 along with a sibling boat The Delta King. Assembled in Stockton, California, the Delta King and Queen serviced commuter transport between Sacramento and San Francisco up to 1940. During World War 2 the Navy took her over to shuttle troops, and re-named her Yard Ferry Boat 56. At the end of the war the Navy put her up for auction. The Delta Queen was purchased in 1947 by Tom Greene, president of Green Line Steamers and her towed her 5,000 miles through the Panama Canal from San Francisco to New Orleans, where upon her arrival she sailed under her own power up to Pittsburg for a $750,000 facelift.
Since 1948, and restored to her original glory, the Delta Queen has been cruising the waters of the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Cumberland, and Tennessee Rivers. In the 1960’s Federal legislation outlawed overnight accommodation on wooden structure boats and brought the Delta Queen to the edge of extinction. But by 1970, after countless letters and more than a million petitioned signatures from her fans, the steamboat was granted a congressional exemption. However, now, the exemption is coming to end this year, and there is as of yet not enough support to continue the extension.
Yesterday, during a fit of surfing the web, and researching the Delta Queen, I wrote a song about her. I promptly practiced it a few times, recorded it onto Garage Band, converted into an MP3, and loaded it onto our Myspace page – http://myspace.com/danaandsusanrobinson/ . It’s a bit rough, but I’m happy with the song. So go check it out. Share it with your friends, and anyone else who loves beautiful historic things that should be cared for a preserved. If you’d like more information about the Saving Delta Queen campaign go to: http://www.save-the-delta-queen.org/ Sign a petition, write a letter to your congressman – it should not be turned into a museum or casino, but continue being a living breathing (it is wooden after all) boat that gives thousands of people joy and a sense of what life was life prior the busy and insane world we live in now. That’s my two bits anyway.
Take good care, keep in touch, and support live music!
By Dana Robinson
The paddle wheel’s goin’ roundi-o
Along the banks of the Ohio
Gliding handsome and serene
There goes the Delta Queen, oh Lord
There goes the Delta Queen
I met her back in twenty-eight
Upon the waters of the Golden State
From Sacramento to the Frisco Bay
Riding on the Delta Queen, oh Lord
Riding on the Delta Queen
She shuttled troops in forty-two
And did what she was asked to do
Carried presidents and royalty too
Upon the Delta Queen, oh Lord
Upon the Delta Queen
In forty-six came good Tom Greene
Brought her five thousand miles to New Orleans
Now she’s a celebrity
We love the Delta Queen, Oh Lord
We love the Delta Queen
She’s sternwheel driven and steam propelled
In her day she gave ‘em hell
Oh the stories the promenade could tell!
Now there’s a dispute o’re in Washing-town
Some old law’s been throwd around
They say they’re gonna shut her down
Let’s save the Delta Queen, Oh Lord
Let’s save the Delta Queen
Sing out your Calliope
Ring your bell and glory be!
Here’s to your posterity
Long live the Delta Queen, Oh Lord
Long live the Delta Queen
Long live the Delta Queen, Oh Lord
Long live the Delta Queen