Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shantyboaters Darby & Mae Davis watch the Island Queen pass their tied-up shantyboat, visible behind scrub on right, in 1930.

“Another phase of summer began when a calliope was heard, and the excursion steamer, Island Queen, came up around the bend of her first trip to Coney Island from Cincinnati. The dread day was now upon us, for Coney Island lay almost directly across the river. It would be a lively place for the rest of the summer, and the Island Queen would make several trips each day. We resented all the disturbance this would bring with it—noise and lights and the gaudiness of carnival. We feared the spell of the river would be broken.
The Island Queen was one of the last side-wheelers on the river, and the sound of her enclosed wheels, a particular pounding which seemed to rise and fall, brought to mind the old Greenland and Bonanza.

Woodblock print of a shanty and jonboat, Harlan Hubbard, c. 1953

Aside from this and her deep-toned whistle, which had been handed down from an older boat, the Queen had no charms for us. As the days went by, her coming and going bothered us not as much as we expected, and before long she was part of the scheme of things.

The 1920s Cincinnati riverfront from Newport, Kentucky showing a sidewheel steamer, a shanty and jonboats.

The rocking of our boat by her “dead swells” was a nuisance in low water. These long smooth waves continued even after the steamer was tied up. Further off shore they were high rollers, and we sometimes took them in our johnboat [sic] or swam in their path…The Island Queen helped us in an unexpected way. While we never used it as a means of transportation to the city, as we might have, it afforded a novel and pleasant way for some of our guests to come and see us. We would row across to meet them in the johnboat [sic], and later ferry them over again for the return trip. As they waved at us from the upper deck, the Island Queen loomed as large as an ocean liner.”

--‘Shantyboat, A River Way of Life’, Harlan Hubbard, 1953, University Press of Kentucky

Images:, Harry Lemen Collection, Madison-Jefferson County Public Library, 'Shantyboat, A River Way of Life', 1953

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