Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cruising on the Lower Mississippi River in New Orleans



The reason we flew to New Orleans, Louisiana, was to babysit. Our daughter Jessica had a 5-day professional meeting to attend at the New Orleans Convention Center and brought her eldest son, our 5 years old grandson, with her. We had a grand time with him during the day and went several places that would interest him. One afternoon our daughter was free for a few hours so we all took a cruise on the Mississippi River on the Natchez steamboat paddle wheeler. As we waited for our 2:00 PM cruise on Toulouse Street Wharf, we heard a tune being played on the Natchez’ steam calliope. The calliope is an American instrument, patented in 1855. This 32-note calliope has the traditional loud and shrill sound which is produced by sending steam through large whistles. (Click on pictures to enlarge them, they look better. Click on collages and then on individual pictures.)



It was a warm day – around 80 degrees (26 C.) As the passengers from the previous cruise disembarked, the people waiting for the forthcoming cruise could buy drinks. The United States has what is called an “open container law” which prohibits open containers of alcohol in certain locations, like public places, vehicles, parks, etc. But the city of New Orleans allows the possession and consumption on the street of any alcoholic drink in an open plastic container. So they were for sale.



But my daughter gave our grandson some nice cool water.



My husband and I sat on a bench and watched a musician and a “living statue” of a man in a white suite with his “dog.” People enjoyed taking their photographs.



Then it was time to board the Natchez. We walked up to the rear deck above the paddle wheel.



I felt really good sitting there watching the changing landscape, listening to all the information on the sights, with a light breeze keeping the temperature cool. Below you can see the New Orleans flags with the distinctive fleur de lis.



Many people and goods have traveled up and down the Mississippi River. It is a very long river. From its source in northern Minnesota at Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico it runs about 2,500 miles or 4,000 kms. (Map below courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)



The first steamboat going up and down the river was named New Orleans and started service in 1811. Steamboats stopping in ports of little towns bordering the Lower Mississippi (the 1000 miles section starting at the confluence with the Ohio River) developed commerce in these areas. How I would like to be able to go back in time, at least for a day, and be a passenger in one of these riverboats and watching all the town people coming down to the wharf to look at these giant river hotels after hearing their riverboat whistle blowing. Below are some old photos of the era (owners unknown.)



The Mississippi riverboats brought something else from New Orleans to areas along the river – jazz. Louis Armstrong for example at age 17 or so was hired on the steamer Sydney to play in the band. Many river towns like Memphis and St. Louis became centers of jazz and blues after the jazz bands on these early steamboats were brought to them. Below are some vintage postcards of steamboats.



Jazz is still being played on riverboats. The Natchez advertised their dinner cruise with The Dukes of Dixieland.



Below the Dukes of Dixieland are performing “Basin Street Blues” aboard the Natchez.





We crossed paths with the paddle wheeler Creole Queen several times. The mighty steam whistle of the Natchez blew as we passed the Creole Queen. The Natchez has a three-chime Lunkenheimer steam whistle… certainly loud! It came from a ship that sank in 1908.



The captain explained that the current Natchez steamboat is the 9th vessel with the name. It was named after the Native American tribe “Natchez.” The first steamboat Natchez was built in 1823 and ran between New Orleans and Natchez, Mississippi. In 1825 Marquis de Lafayette was a passenger on this ship. The current Natchez, an authentic steamboat, was built in 1975, although she has some parts which are much older, for example her steam engines were built in 1925. Her bell was part of another steamship and made of 250 melted silver dollars. I walked around and took pictures. I also went inside the bar and purchased a frozen strawberry daiquiri – nice and cold and brought it back to sip on the upper deck (brought my husband a glass of local Abita beer.)




Sitting anywhere in the steamship we could hear the information given about the sights we were passing by. We floated along the center of the French Quarter then passed the MV Cape Kennedy. It is a “Roll-on-Roll-off” ship and is part of the U.S. Ready Reserve Force. A large tanker “California Voyager” from San Francisco passed us by and its crew took pictures of our ship. Then we passed the Lower 9th Ward, which had been so devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. We could only see the tops of the houses behind the levée.



We came by the Domino sugar plant. It is America’s largest sugar refinery and is over 100 years old. It produces more than 2 billion pounds of different kind of sugar products a year, including 7 million pounds of sugar a day for home and other uses. At the waterfront we could see brown sugar being unloaded by huge sugar cranes clawing it out. It smelled like brown sugar. Then we saw the white top of the monument erected on the site of the battle of New Orleans, which is actually located in the city of Chalmette.



We passed by several ferries. We were told that the Mississippi has such a strong current that bridge supports cannot be built so ferries are used instead. New Orleans sits 6 inches below sea level so pumps are constantly working to remove excess rain water, or excess water coming from fluctuations in the river or from Lake Pontchartrain.



We also passed by Holy Cross High School, founded in 1895, and now closed and boarded up because if was flooded during Katrina (top photo on left below.) We also saw one of two historical houses called “steamboat houses” built circa 1905 by a riverboat captain. I could see then the top of the only plantation in New Orleans (bottom photo on left.) It is being renovated now. It was built by Leon Godchaux, an illiterate Jewish immigrant from France in 1837, who became a multi-millionaire sugar plantation owner.



The cruise was coming to an end. We passed the Audubon Aquarium and then came to a rest against our wharf. I waited until everyone disembarked, even the musicians, so I could take more pictures.



We all enjoyed this cruise on the Lower Mississippi River and wished it had lasted much longer. But…. while reading on riverboats I found out that the historic Delta Queen is berthed in Chattanooga, Tennessee – 2 hours from our home, and is being used as a floating hotel while awaiting its next owner. (Photo courtesy Delta Queen.)



In addition, our daughter Céline who just moved to Memphis, Tennessee, told me that she saw the American Queen float by her house last week. It seems this other historic riverboat is now calling Memphis her home and will be cruising up and down the Mississippi. She was christened on 27 April 2012 by Priscilla Presley, the wife of late rock star Elvis Presley. (Photo courtesy American Queen.)



So…. I have a good idea that there will be more riverboat pictures on this blog in the future…..


The Robert E. Lee leaving New Orleans in 1870, by John Stobart, English born in 1929


39 comments:

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

How fun. I haven't been to NOLA in years. So glad to decided to take a riverboat cruise.

We lived along the lower Mississippi River in Vicksburg, just north of Natchez, for years. That's when the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen were cruising up and down the river. They both docked in Vicksburg for their passengers to visit the Civil War Military Park and the antebellum home tours. Our home was near the river and we've heard their horns (and they are loud!) and they always played the calliope music when they departed.

Yes, the Delta Queen is docked permanently in Chattanooga on the river there. We hope to go over and spend the night this summer. I would love to see her again. Sorry to go on and on. I just love the Mississippi River and its history. Great post.
Sam

Jeanne said...

Such a lovely post and what a fun thing to do with your very cute grandson! Such an interesting shot of that caliope. I have heard of a caliope before, but this is not what I imagined it to be. How interesting. Yes the history of the Mississippi is so interesting, and will look forward to more steamboat pictures in the past. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

DJan said...

As usual, an incredibly informative post about your trip, as well as a teaser for more trips like this one in the future. I had never seen a calliope before.

It looks like Blogger is beginning to heal up from some of its latest changes. I found this in my mailbox when I awoke on Saturday, May 5.

Jenny Woolf said...

Ever since I read Mark Twain as a kid I have had a yen to go on a steamboat. Lucky you!

Jen (emsun.org) said...

I loved my trip on a paddle boat a few years ago - the kids did, too.

French Girl in Seattle said...

Another wonderful post, Vagabonde. As an admirer of "the South," this story had a special appeal to me. From New Orleans to the Mighty Mississippi, you took us on a great trip. How fun that you got to spend time with your grandson while "rescuing" your daughter. Now, that's what I call babysitting :-) On a different note, j'adore that picture of Priscilla christening the new boat, or rather, the faces of the two gentlemen next to her. Methinks Priscilla has been working out a tad much and hit the bottle with a wee bit too much force! :-) Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Pat said...

What a heavenly trip. Everything about it is appealing - especially sitting and watching the passing scene with a strawberry daiquiri.
Just as well your grandson didn't try the malibu - it used to taste so good:)

Down by the sea said...

What a wonderful boat, by clicking on the photos as you suggested while listening to the music it almost felt we were on the boat with you! Thank you for the lovely post.
Sarah x

Filip & Kristel said...

Looks like a fun boat with a lot of history behind it.Good collages again.

Greetings,
Filip

rosaria williams said...

I now want to take a trip down or up the Mississipi, and enjoy old time sights and music. Thanks for sharing your trip.

Fennie said...

Thanks for this amazing history and travelogue. I now know much more than I did. But your last picture shows a steamboat called 'The Robert E Lee' leaving New Orleans in 1825. Why was it called Robert E Lee who in 1825 would have been just 18 and a cadet at West Point? Was it 1925? Or was there some other Robert E Lee?

OldLady Of The Hills said...

What a great outing that was...LOVE all the pictures of the different ships....The AMERICAN QUEEN is Huge!!! That would be fun to travel on, wouldn't it---I am put in mind of "GONE WITH THE WIND" when Rhett takes Scarlett on a Riverboat for their Honeymoon....There is something very romantic about the idea of these boats--But, who knows if it is actually 'romantic' to take a trip on one...lol!
GREAT Post, my dear, as always!

Thérèse said...

Wonderful!
I sure would love to cruise up and down the Mississipi River! The calliope seems to be the perfect instrument for a steam boat.

Pondside said...

I'd love to go back in time for a sail down the Mississippi. I remember visiting some old estates with their own docks - and dreaming of what it must have been like to hear the whistle and to rush down to see who and what would come off the boat. I've seen ads for cruises and I think such a cruise would make a lovely holiday.

Frances said...

Varabonde, you all must have had such a grand time on the river! What a memory you have given to your grandson. xo

Retired English Teacher said...

I would love to take this trip sometime. Thanks for the wonderful photos and the great commentary regarding this area.

Vagabonde said...

Fennie – thanks for your comment and noticing that I had written under the painting “1825” the date the Robert E. Lee was leaving San Francisco. This was a typo. I went back to my notes and the Robert E. Lee was leaving San Francisco in 1870. I corrected my post. Thanks for your keen eye.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I really enjoyed this post as I visited New Orleans once, but did not have the opportunity to ride a steamboat on the Mississippi River. It looked like a pleasant experience and I'm sure you enjoyed it even more as you were with your grandson.

I also enjoyed you post about the very interesting Titanic exhibit.

Elaine said...

We did the riverboat cruise when we visited New Orleans too and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll bet your grandson loved it. Riverboats played a big role in early Fairbanks too, and today the Riverboat Discovery is a big tourist attraction. I love all your vintage riverboat postcards!

Mary said...

Such a great post on the riverboats and New Orleans area. I took the riverboat cruise many years ago - recall it was unbearably hot and humid (high Summer) and vowed never to visit at that time of year again!! Need to go at this time or in the Fall perhaps.

Lovely photo of your pretty daughter and grandson - bet he found it fun there. Good to start them traveling at a young age (I assure you they don't want to go when teenagers!!) - but sticks with them and makes them want to see the world later, and is very educational.

Happy week dear.
Mary X

Vicki Lane said...

Oh, the romance of the riverboats! Lee Smith has a good novel -- THE LAST GIRLS -- about a group of women who had been college friends taking a trip on one of the riverboats -- it's quite good -- as is your post, as always.

Olga said...

I want to say that this post is awesome and I thank you for taking the time to share it.

Richard Moisan said...

J'aimerais beaucoup voyager sur un bateau, tel que celui que tu nous montres. Mais je connais les bateaux à roues à aubes. Il y en a sur le lac Léman, entre la France et la Suisse. Malheureusement, il n'y a pas de fêtes à bord. Dommage!

Richard Moisan said...

J'aimerais beaucoup voyager sur un bateau, tel que celui que tu nous montres. Mais je connais les bateaux à roues à aubes. Il y en a sur le lac Léman, entre la France et la Suisse. Malheureusement, il n'y a pas de fêtes à bord. Dommage!

Richard Moisan said...

J'aimerais beaucoup voyager sur un bateau, tel que celui que tu nous montres. Mais je connais les bateaux à roues à aubes. Il y en a sur le lac Léman, entre la France et la Suisse. Malheureusement, il n'y a pas de fêtes à bord. Dommage!

.•♫•. Nancy .•♫•. said...

*** Un petit passage chez toi, je suis heureuse de découvrir tes dernières publications. GROS BISOUS et à bientôt Chère Vagabonde :o) !!! ***

Kittie Howard said...

Great post! The mime is one of my favorites in the Quarter. My great-aunt Edna was a can-can dancer on those steamboats back when. I've never been on the dinner cruise, but, hmmm, this Christmas? The French Quarter is nine feet above sea level, the only area above sea level. Gosh but your photos stirred my heart. Thanks!

Shammickite said...

One of these days I'll visit New Orleans and take a riverboat cruise of my own. Until then I will enjoy your description of a very entertaining voyage!
I love the previous post about Aunt Edna being a can-can girl on the steamboats..... WOW!
I hope your grandson enjoyed himself.

Madelief said...

Dear Vagabonde,

Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog. I enjoyed reading it and hearing about how things go in the south of the US very much.

You chose a beautiful day for your boattrip. Your photo's look beautiful: the old ship, the river and most important, good company! You must have had a great day out.

Happy Wednesday!

Madelief x

sonia a. mascaro said...

What a wonderful trip. Sounds you had a great time with your grandson! Thanks for sharing so beautiful photos and the video of Dukes of Dixieland too.

Dee said...

Dear Vagabonde, . . . your name is surely well chosen. You are a true vagabonde who explores our country and then enriches all of us with the treasure you've found. Your photographs are such a welcome addition.
Having read this posting and learned about steamboats/paddleboats still wending their way on the Mississippi, I find myself eager to take a vacation with a friend and ride as you did.

The biggest surprise for me was one of the early pictures of a steamboat. It was one of a group of three--the one on the lower right. I never imagined they were so large. Enormous!

Thank you once again for taking me with you on this wonderful cruise.

Peace.

River Cruises said...

It sounded like you guys really had fun with this river cruise. And, yes, do post more river cruising stories in the future; will look forward to that!

Ruth said...

So much culture and history from that little river boat. It sounds delightful, and especially to have time doing such things with your grandson. I so look forward to that. A wonderful collage of information, photos and adventure, as always from your traveling pen.

Arti said...

What an interesting cruise... something that's purely American, and I admit I haven't the chance and pleasure to visit New Orleans. Hopefully some day, but it's going to be a long trip from Alberta, Canada. ;)
I'm also very curious about the photo collages you have on your posts. Do you need a special software in your computer to do that or just thru blogspot?
On another note, I know you've read the book Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey (from a comment you left on another blog), I've just finished it and posted a little write-up. You're welcome to share your opinion of the book. ;)

Reader Wil said...

Merci de ce voyage par bateau. Et merci de votre visite à mon blog avec la lettre Q.

Miss_Yves said...

A part la chaleur humide, cela a dû être une magnifique croisière, avec une belle ambiance musicale. Que d'échos historiques (et littéraires!Moi aussi, je pense à Mark Twain!)
en France aussi, les statues vivantes ont du succès

Vagabonde said...

Thank you for coming to my blog and leaving comments – I read them all and appreciate them very much. If you ask me a question I’ll go to your blog to answer it. I am still behind visiting blogs as we have been traveling, but I’ll come as soon as I can. Thanks again.

Mona said...

I found your blog through Cajun Delights and now I am your newest follower...very interesting. I'll be back to read more.....
Mona

Franka said...

What an interesting post.
Now I want to visit New Orleans and the Mississippi!

♥ Franka

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