‘Riverboat Legacy’ Exhibit on Display this Summer in Museum

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., May 20, 2005 — “Riverboat Legacy: A Gift from the Golden Eagle River Museum” will be on display from May 31 to Aug. 14 in the Southeast Missouri Regional Museum at Southeast Missouri State University.

Riverboat enthusiasts, local historians, and families are invited to the opening reception, to be held on June 11 from 2 to 4 p.m. in the museum in Memorial Hall on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University. Family Day activities, including milk-carton boat building and sand casting, will be held on the same day, June 11, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The exhibition features riverboat models, photographs, bells, steam whistles, navigation equipment, tableware and many other artifacts that recall the golden era when steamboat packets plied the western rivers.

When the Golden Eagle Club was founded in 1942 in St. Louis, members were required to have ridden on the “Golden Eagle,” a packet boat operated by the Eagle Packet Line. Among the many interesting photographs on display is a 1943 image of the club’s first annual banquet, said Dr. Stanley Grand, director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Museum.  During a club excursion on May 18, 1947, the “Golden Eagle” hit an obstacle and sank. One conscientious passenger later made a scrapbook filled with photographs and written commentary. The scrapbook contents will be on display in a digital format, Grand said.

After the loss, the club continued to meet and members later founded the museum, which was located in the Nims Mansion at Bee Tree Park from the 1970s until the museum closed in October 2004.

In the spring of 2004, the Southeast Missouri Regional Museum approached the Golden Eagle Museum about the possibility of transferring its collection to Cape Girardeau. At the time,  the Regional Museum was seeking artifacts for future display at the new River Campus Museum, which is scheduled to be completed in August 2007, Grand said.

“This exhibition will offer local visitors the first opportunity to see the extent and richness of this gift, which the Golden Eagle River Museum Board of Directors made in late 2004,” he said.

The exhibition is organized thematically. Model boats trace the evolution of watercraft during the 19th and 20th centuries. The revolutionary impact of the steam engine on transportation is clearly demonstrated by comparing models of pre-steam vessels (canoes, bull boats, flat boats, and keel boats) with steam-driven side wheelers and sternwheelers or diesel-powered propeller craft.

The exhibit contains a number of large and impressive artifacts. One outstanding example is the pilot wheel from the Steamer “Betsy Ann,” which was captained by Fred Way, Jr., who was also a noted river historian and author, Grand said.  The anchor from the “Gordon C. Greene,” formerly the “Cape Girardeau,” is also on view. Communication devices, including an engine-room telegraph, bells, whistles, towboat company house flags, and a megaphone from the “Tennessee Belle” also are on display.

Visitors also can see examples of tools used to build and repair riverboats. A tool chest salvaged from the “Golden Eagle,” mallets and wedges for caulking wooden-hulled boats, and foundry patterns used in casting engine parts are included, Grand said. Storage bins from the Eagle Boat Store Co.ᾰwhich once sold tools, ropes, and other river necessitiesᾰand Captain “Buck” Leyhe’s roll top desk are reminders of a past era on the St. Louis wharf.

Riverboats confronted numerous hazards as they plied the inland waters. Sounding rods and lead lines were used to determine the river channel’s depth and thus avoid sand and mud bars that could ground and sink a boat.

Nonetheless, many boats were lost. On view are a diver’s air pump that once provided salvage divers with a steady supply of air, and a pair of heavy brass diver’s shoes, Grand said.

Finally, the west gallery has been set up as a children’s interactive activity space. A replica of a pilothouse, complete with wheel, is the highlight of this area, which also includes a knot display and knot-tying materials.