Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Good Olde Days

The  recent historic past always seems interesting and mysterious to me.  How those people lived, in the sepia and black and white world that I see them in, draws my wonder. Of course they wandered through life-- living, loving, writing, dying as we do.  Subjected to many of the same influences as we, they must have looked upon the past as being as quaint and uninformed, as I do  theirs.  But life was hard then, and then, and then, back through the ages even for those in the higher class or caste.

This photo was taken looking downstream on the Mississippi  from the Eads bridge in St. Louis somewhere between 1880 and 1918, a large segment of time I know but they kept giving these boats the same names after they sank, or burned, or exploded, and it is hard to research one specific boat (the bridge was completed in 1874 and is still in use; and the last Spread Eagle was crushed by ice near New Haven on the Missouri river in 1918 -- near where we live).  It was captained by  William Massey who carried a bullet that was shot when Wild Bill Hickock was killed in Deadwood, South Dakota during the gold rush.   A similar camera angle from the bridge today would show the stainless steel Arch (Gateway to the West) there in St .Louis, without the smoke.

In the 1800's , in the US, these steamboats were very prevalent.  One source states that 700 existed in 1838 and, double that, 1400 in 1851.  But it was treacherous going on the rivers: If the exploding boilers did not destroy a boat, snags in the shallow waters or ice in the freezing waters might.  Of the approximate 7,000 deaths on the boats by 1852, half were caused by explosions of the boilers and two thirds of those occurred as the boat was leaving the landing.  (The water was drained from the boiler while boat was at landing but the fires beneath kept the metal hot.  Upon leaving, sometimes to create a fast exit for the townspeople to be amazed by,  water was flooded to the boilers causing extreme steam for the power exit.  Too extreme in many cases as the townspeople were treated to a spectacular explosion.)
 Samuel Clements' (Mark Twain) 20 year old brother Henry was scalded and later died as a boiler exploded on the boat he was on near Memphis.
Fortunately the (evil) government stepped in in1852 and regulated the private industry of the steamboat and the railroad  by imposing standards for boiler construction and periodic testing.  In 1914 the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) established up to date codes and standards for boiler and pressure vessel construction which are requiredfor nuclear reactor vessels and coal power plants today.

But life was good if the disasters did not interfere:

J. M. White (Packet, 1878-1886)
Description:  BOAT DESCRIPTION: Sidewheel
BUILT: 1878 at Jeffersonville, Indiana; hull built at Howard Ship Yard
FINAL DISPOSITION: Burned at Blue Store Landing, St. Maurice plantation, Point Coupee Parish, Louisiana on December 13, 1886
OWNERS: Greenville and New Orleans Packet Company
OFFICERS & CREW: Captain John W. Tobin (master, 1886); Charles Smith (engineer, 1886); G. Wash Floyd (clerk, 1886)
RIVERS: Mississippi River; Ohio River
OTHER INFORMATION: Ways - 2867; She was a cotton packet. Original price, $103,500. Home port or owner's residence circa 1878, New Orleans. She was named for Captain J.M. White of Cloverport, Kentucky. The J.M. White was the 276th boat built by Howard Ship Yard and the fourth boat that they built for Captain Tobin. Careful selection was made in choosing the timber used in her construction: oak from West Virginia, pine from Pennsylvania and the heavy cylinder timbers, wheelhouse chocks, etc. were from Indiana. She was supposed to be able to carry 10,000 bales of cotton. The cabin was built from August, 1877 to June, 1878 employing ten to forty men. The style of architecture of the cabin was an original idea of Mr. Thomas Bell who planned the cabins for many other boats. Some of the attractive features of the cabin included: stained glass, skylights with busts and statuary in the center of each light, veneered sunk panels laid in rosewood and walnut burl, doors veneered with French burl walnut inlaid with root ash and ebony with panels engraved in gold, an enormous mirror in the ladies' cabin with Gothic frame, gold carvings with panels of ebony relief, bridal chambers paneled in mahogany and satinwood and the other in rosewood and satinwood along with engraving in gold and colors. The main cabin contained seven gold-gilt chandeliers designed exclusively for the White. Dining tables were set with monogrammed silverware and Haviland china. On her maiden trip south, the White towed the partially completed Edward J. Gay. The White never carried her cotton capacity due to poor times and yellow fever. In 1878 she carried her largest load of cotton: 5,067 bales. She ran New Orleans-Vicksburg teamed up with the Robert E. Lee and the Natchez. The cause of the fire which ended her career was gunpowder which was stowed in the boat's magazine in the hold. Several lives were lost but many more were saved due to the efforts of the clerk, G. Wash Floyd. His own life was lost in helping others

Some accounts claim 60  lives lost.  I think I would still take my chances on one of these boats back then.



  1. Not in the same league by any means one of my favorite rides at Disney World is the paddle steam boat. All it does is go in a rather small circle but I always find it relaxing.

    The recent historic past always seems interesting and mysterious to me.

    Me too! Some small publishing company has a series of books about various regions in South Carolina. Found one about my hometown and it was surreal seeing the old pictures and reading about the various people living in Georgetown, South Carolina from the 1890's to the 1950's.

  2. Great photos, I always wonder if there was a Time Machine where would I go. I would like hot & cold running water and working toilets.

  3. Life, today, is still good if disasters don't interfere.

    Life in black and times, oft times, I'm guilty of seeing it that way!

    An interesting post, goatman...and great pics.

    Have a safe and Happy Easter. :)

  4. Not to take away from the point of your post, but I thought this line stands alone just great by its self: "Life was great when the disasters didn't interfere."

  5. classical post
    That black and white world did hold more colors of sentiments.

  6. have you watched the movie''schindler's list''

    what superb effect is hold of black and white.

  7. I've always wanted to go on a steamboat down the Mississippi. Gosh, isn't Mississippi an insane word to type - I'm all s's 'n' p's. Anyway, only if the boilers are ok!
    Great pictures. I love old, antiqued, sepia shots - they tell a story all of their own.

  8. My ears perked up when I saw the references to Jeffersonville, Indiana and West Virginia. Jeffersonville was nearby town on the Ohio River and I always remember the boatyard. In fact my mother worked across from there. When I was in my youth I saw it very often and all the men outside working on the boats/ships. (Perhaps women too.) Another interesting aspect of your post is the picture that says J.M. White. White is my fictitious last name. There are lots of synchronicities here.

    You are like me in your thoughts about old black and white images and wondering about the lives of the people within them. I enjoy being haunted by those eyes and those people and making up in my imagination the types of lives they may have lived and the types of joys they may have felt and the pain they might have felt as well. Black and white and sepia leave much to the imagination.

  9. Life was definitely harder in the good old days... but also simpler, less violent and neighbor helped neighbor in hard times. Today most are attached to modern devices and lose touch with compassion, love and humility.
    Today life is fast-paced and violence in one form or another seems to rule the day. While B&W photography may seem a bit stark it does allow for more thought-provoking viewing.

  10. Great photo at top. The beached ships,the people, the chimney smoke. Real live photo! Great!
    Nice boats if they don't explode right enough.

  11. Interesting post. A few miles away in nearby Marietta,Ohio there is a yearly paddle boat race. I attended my first this past fall. We learned from fellow spectators that one was running on used French fry oil.
    Thanks for your visit to my blog and your sweet comment about my photography.

  12. Great pictures! And thanks for stopping by my blog! Have a great weekend!

  13. I always think of paddle boats as romantic means of travel ... a little Huck Finn and Scarlet O'Hara rolled into one.

    How little I knew of their inherent dangers.

    On second thought, maybe going through life with a few illusions isn't so bad, really.

    Love the photos. And have to ask: have you traveled upon a paddle steam boat before?



  14. We had a small jaunt on the Mark Twain sternwheeler at Hannibal, MO once, which offers dinner and a cruise during their season. I can't say that I was taken by the calliope though -- noisy sucker.
    A few boats offer trips up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers now:

  15. History is the teacher of the wise. The wise in the present are considered fools looking for a dream of days gone by.

  16. We finished watching the life of PI. Do boats and ships get capsized like that. As sad as it is, it seems thrilling.

  17. I also look at pictures like this and wonder about life in that time. Actually, anything historical will send me that way.

    The first picture is about the same age as the house I'm living in. At the time it was built, horses were still considered a normal mode of transportation. The reservations were set up, but the Indians tended to stray. And it wasn't uncommon for menfolk to wander around with some kind of firearm.

  18. Where's my friend goatman? He's turned into one of those sepia pictures and disappeared! Hope all is well :)

  19. Now u are talking good old white n black days.. i only few of songs that my dad apperciated ..

  20. Wasn't Henry Clemens on a boat that was racing another boat boat up the Mississippi... Also, I think the worse accident in terms of numbers was a boat that blew up right after the Civil War carrying back north Union Soldiers that had been POWs. Great old photos!

  21. Sage,
    It was not a race, but the pilot was not at his post monitoring pressures.
    Samuel was helping his brother obtain training as a riverboat captain.
    Here is a nice link:

    Poor guy lived badly burned for 8 days after the explosion.