The Delta Queen has been in Cincinnati twice this month. When she pulled out on the 9th, it was for a trip to Nashville and back. When she pulled out on the 21st, she was headed to New Orleans and an uncertain future. Common thinking is that the Queen was almost accidentally included in a 1966 law that forbids boats with wooden superstructures from carrying more than 50 overnight passengers and common sense has resulted in her being almost routinely exempted by congress -- until now. It's not that congress has actually voted against the exemption. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota refuses to let it reach a vote. It's all about safety, he says. Of course, Oberstar has voted for the exemption himself a couple of times and you've got to wonder if anyone exists who would actually feel safer on a metal boat in the middle of the Atlantic than on a wooden one on the Ohio or Mississippi River. Neither river is ever much more than a mile wide and both are much much narrower than that for most of their lengths. The Atlantic is somewhat wider.
Since the last granting of the exemption, as Oberstar's concern for passenger safety mushroomed, the Delta Queen has been sold. The new owners, Majestic America Line, declined to negotiate a contract with the Seafarers International Union and the SIU declined to support the exemption as they always had before. Of course I can't say for certain but there is much about this situation that looks like a labor dispute run amuck. Instead of keeping a crew of 120 employed and thrilling passengers while contributing to the economy of many riverside communities, the officially designated National Historic Landmark will be forced to try to survive on short day trips or retire completely. More information is available at Save-the-Delta-Queen.org.
My first row of photos is from the October 9 visit starting with the Queen's shiny monogram at the base of her single smokestack. There wasn't much of a crowd and I had hopes of being allowed on board for a brief peek during her next to last Cincinnati visit. No such luck. I crossed the river before she untied to get that shot of her passing under the Roebling Bridge with the city of Cincinnati as background.
The remaining photos are all from the "Tribute Event" on the twenty-first. These events are being held in several of her "final" stops. Estimates put the crowd at around 300 and that sounds about right; Many more than the handful that saw her off last time but still not a pressing throng. Speakers included Congressman Steve Chabot, who has introduced a bill for a stand alone exemption for the Queen, and Jane Greene, daughter of Captain Tom Greene who brought the Delta Queen to these rivers in 1946. Cincinnati's mayor gave a key to the city to the Delta Queen's captain with the comment that he'd have to give it back if an exemption became fact. Mayor Mallory's comment sounded kind of silly but it illustrates the general feeling of disbelief surrounding this cruise. It's not easy to find someone who doesn't believe that common sense will eventually prevail and put the real silliness to an end. The last row shows the Queen raising her gangplank, turning around, and heading down river. In the last photo, it's the modern skyline of Covington, Kentucky, that serves as backdrop to the 150 year old bridge and the 80 year old stern wheeler.
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