Monday, August 8, 2011

A New Passion

I know, like I need something else to keep me busy. This passion is one of research and history, however, and it's something I've wanted to delve into for some time. It got kindled into flame this weekend at the Inland Waterways Festival at Marietta, Ohio.

First, I have to admit that I am embarrassed. You know how much I love to visit historic places. Well, Marietta Ohio is only an hour or so from my house, and I have never explored there. Oh, I've been through the town several times, and about 30 years or so ago we took our boys there to take the cruise on the Valley Gem (or was there another boat there at that time?). But I have never taken the time to really appreciate the history that is practically on my doorstep. Shame on me.


Marietta was the jumping-off point for settlers heading into the Northwest Territories. The first governor of the territories was actually sworn into office in Marietta, on the banks of the Muskingum River. This early town provided supplies for the pioneers and witnessed many a flatboat traveling south from Pittsburgh to wherever the settlers thought was a likely place to start a home. It saw Indian troubles, English troubles, Aaron Burr's quest for empire--and before all of those, George Washington himself sent settlers to establish a town on the site of the current city. These monuments are in a park very near to the museum.

And then there is the river--the Ohio River and her mighty past of flatboats, keelboats, steamboats, and now the diesel tugs that push loaded barges up and down the river. Until this weekend, I did not know the difference between a flatboat and a keelboat and did not have any idea of the importance and impact of the Ohio on the development of the United States. The river was a major highway, the way to get to New Orleans from points east, by overland travel to Pittsburgh, then down the Ohio to the Mississippi and on to New Orleans. Thousands of vessels made the journey, and it is still a major route for industrial shipping on the big barges.

The Inland Waterways Festival held at the Ohio River Museum this past weekend celebrated the river and its history, and explored the river ecology too. Displays of Ohio River fish--caught the day before and put into a display tank--were a revelation of the rich aquatic life that teems beneath the river's surface. I had no inkling there were so many kinds of fish in the river! I suppose I am naive, but I am not a fisherman and I figured it was the usual bass, catfish and sunfish mixture. There are those, and many more, as you can see in the photos.

There is a flatboat on site too; it is slated for renovation in the coming year so that people can tour it and educational programs can be offered. (These were taken before the festival opened. There were a lot of people there both days).

A steam tug is available for tours; I was able to do part of the tour between my sets and found it fascinating. Larry took the whole tour and counted it as one of the best parts of the festival. He also got to take a ride on a steam launch--that looked like so much fun! I missed that too but in my long dress it would have been a challenge.The Valley Gem sternwheeler is onsite at the museum as well and does regular excursions.

Inside the museum there are excellent exhibits that explore the history of rivercraft and river life, including a large photo exhibit of the devastating flood of 1884. Oddly, that flood was caused by the far-off eruption of Krakatoa. The eruption was so massive that it caused extreme weather changes resulting in the heavy rains that caused the river to rise to 58 feet at Marietta, destroying many buildings and taking many lives. There is also a wonderful old dugout canoe that is quite long; it was used as a ferry! Imagine riding in a canoe as transport across the wide Ohio. Ships' wheels, calliopes, examples of the silver used in the dining rooms, signage, and many other items were on display in the well-maintained Ohio River Museum.

Besides history and ecology, the festival offered entertainment. Mark Twain was there, portrayed by my friend Stephen Hollen, and riverboat music was played by  man and wife whose names I cannot now recall. They were excellent, and her washtub bass (actually a 5-gallon bucket, but who's counting?) was a fun addition. A couple who build flatboats were there in a living history exhibit and gave a fascinating presentation on flatboat life. A presentation on the NEW ORLEANS (yep, it's supposed to be all caps), the first steamboat to travel from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, was the first time I'd heard about that ship and its importance to history. Living history presenters were there to represent the captain of that ship, Nicholas Roosevelt (great-uncle to Teddy Roosevelt) and his wife, who went on that voyage in 1811and gave birth to a son along the way.

And I was there to tell stories. I researched some new tales for this festival and mixed them with stories already in my repertoire to provide a lively mix of two intriguing steamboat stories from the area, some tall tales, a few ghost stories from communities along the river, and a few ballads. And now I want to learn more, to dig in deeper and find more stories about this beautiful river that I have long admired but from a distance only. I think I'll be returning to the festival next year to tell more stories, and I will be ready. Already three books are making their way to me via eBay. It's my new passion: the beautiful Ohio.


5 comments:

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

Granny Sue -- How wonderful that you discovered Marietta and was a storyteller there last weekend. I lived in the area of Marietta for about a year and a half MANY years ago. I found the town fascinating.

If you revisit Marietta may I suggest a visit to the native American mounds which are located right in Marietta. The native Americans cultures that created these mounds were the Adena (800 B.C,) and the Hopewell culture (1000 B.C. -- A.D 400).

Thanks for a tour down memory lane -- barbara

Granny Sue said...

I didn't realize you'd lived there Barbara. I did know about the mound--I've visited several at different locations, including the Serpent Mound, but not the ones in Marietta--yet. Thanks for the reminder :)

Nance said...

Rivers . . . they will get a hold of you and demand attention. I live between the Mississippi and the Missouri. . . they both pull me there. And my West Virginia Mama talked about the Ohio the same way I talk about the Mississip. There's a culture, history and a way of life to learn/tell/relate when it comes to Rivers.

Granny Sue said...

How true, Nance. I try to imagine the lives of the river people who lived on shantyboats or traveled the river on flatboats. Imagine, most of the early pioneers didn't know how to swim yet took the huge risk of floating down the river in hopes of a better life.

Nance said...

yep, they took to the river boat or the barge . . . to get on. To advance their way of life. You can (as can I)imagine what the women went thru . . . to get here. To get on to the next stage.

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