Mini-Flood 39: Goldenrod Showboat

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photograph by Michelle Williams

Built in 1909, the Goldenrod Showboat (once designated a US National Landmark) is one of only two extant showboats from the era of its origin. Since our last visit, the Showboat has suffered catastrophic damages that have sunk the project to restore it. Nonetheless, an effort is underway to build a permanent home to memorialize that boat, its history and artifacts. On our return visit, we got a sense of the state of the ship and the movement towards a riverboat museum.

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photograph by Diane Cannon Piwowarczyk

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photograph by Sue Rakers

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photograph by Jackie Johnson

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photograph by Jason Gray

For American rust belt cities, a sad conclusion befalls many glamorous, historical narratives. For the conservation team leading the blood, sweat and tears effort to revitalize the Goldenrod Showboat, and to ultimately return it to a place of prominence along the St. Louis Levee, a sad end seemed unavoidable earlier this year, when the Illinois River (where the boat was moored) rose above flood stage and a series of calamitous events (including the sinking of their tow barge) resulted in irreparable damage to the Showboat’s hull. With no options left to see their dream project realized, a less-devoted group would have given up and moved on. However, the Historic Riverboat Preservation Association (group behind the Goldenrod), simply envisioned another way to preserve the ship’s fond memories: a dedicated riverboat museum.

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photograph by Ann Aurbach

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Isaac Richardson

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photograph by Jason Gray

Stepping onto the Goldenrod a year and a half after our last venture there, much has changed. Many of the most valuable historical items have already been removed and placed into storage, which leaves most ceilings and walls devoid of fixtures and/or ornamentation. The plaque designating the Goldenrod Showboat as a US National Landmark is gone too (this status was revoked when plans to breakdown the boat were announced). The hull that was so severely damaged during the flood bulges out on one side of the vessel, while light penetrates through it in places on the other (visible because the boat is almost fully on land now). Extension cords stretch like vines throughout the structure, while drills and other power tools whirr in the background, all evidence that, every other weekend, a hard-working volunteer team assembles to disassemble more and more.

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photograph by Diane Cannon Piwowarczyk

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photograph by Sue Rakers

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Michelle Williams

Still, there is so much that remains familiar too. Things like bits of fabric that catch the light and blow gently in the breeze through shattered window panes, the darkened hush of the boat’s most tucked away passages, and the unmistakeable presence of people long gone (in the form of performer headshots, well-worn chairs, discarded kitchen utensils, handbills, etc.). Even broken down so thoroughly, the Goldenrod’s essential spirit remains; certainly, this is something that will be difficult for the forthcoming museum to ever emulate.

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photograph by Isaac Richardson

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photograph by Jackie Johnson

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photograph by Sue Rakers

The original plans to restore the Goldenrod Showboat were always magnanimous, both in ambition and cost. The effort to open a riverboat museum, though less expansive, is still far from a sure thing. The Historic Riverboat Preservation Association needs your help to see this realized (ask yourself, where else should a museum like this be located than in the St. Louis area?). Please consider making a donation to the ongoing effort here in order to preserve this important piece of local history for future generations- every bit counts.

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photograph by Ann Aurbach

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photograph by Michelle Williams

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Sue Rakers

MAP:
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*Special thanks again to HRPA Vice President, Jake Medford for inviting us back out.

1 Comment
  1. Diane Cannon Piwowarczyk 3 years ago

    Loved this flood, although it was sad to see the once grand boat in its current condition. With the talent pool of this group I am very very honored to have my photo selected by the judges. Great job everyone! And thank you Jason for the opportunity to explore this piece of our river heritage!

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