Delta Queen is a true river steamboat, not a replica built in recent years to look like one. She is so old, and hence authentic, that she is registered as a United States National Historic Landmark. This is isn't just a tribute to the ship, it was a necessary part of a Congressional act that saved this historic vessel from being permanently moored 40 years ago.
Of all the many unique things about her, she has a wooden superstructure from the hull up which means she does not conform to the Safety of Life at Sea Act (SOLAS) passed by the U.S. House in May 1966. It was only through the efforts of a man all professional travel writers and photographers know, Bill Muster, that the boat was granted a special exemption when the bill hit the Senate.
Note: to read more about Bill Muster and how he saved the Delta Queen, read our article, "Losing the Delta Queen" by his daughter, Nori.
That exemption included a requirement to be renewed every two years, which it has been for the last 40 years, largely through the efforts of a woman named Betty Blake (now passed on) who persuaded artists like Johnny Cash and prominent Dixieland
jazz musicians to keep interest in the riverboat alive through the years.
Now, it has been decided by the company that owns her that the exemption given in 2006 will be allowed to run out and there will be no effort to renew it in 2008. The boat will sail its last full season as a tribute to itself with special events in all of the ports it visits. Considering the enormous effort that went into saving Delta Queen in the first place, this is a fitting way to end her career.
The problem is that her fate after 2008 is still unknown. Cincinatti contains most of the boat's historical archives, as assembled by Bill's daughter, Nori Muster, from everything that Bill kept over the years. The question is whether the city can afford her.
Bill Muster was a very special man, who established a foundation to award travel photographers with a prize offered by the Society of American Travel Writers every year for the best travel photograph. It just happened that I knew him personally as a child, as his daughter was, and still is, one of my best friends. Bill was a record mogul in Hollywood, working for Capitol Records back when it was Frank Sinatra's world and we all just lived in it.
Bill was a personal inspiration to me as a young man, as he lived the Hollywood dream life of the 1960s. Yet, to Bill Muster, hobnobbing with the stars, one of his biggest passions in life was the Delta Queen. To all the travel writers and photographers who know about the Muster Award for travel photography, I urge you all to get onboard with support for the Delta Queen to give her a great sendoff.
Why is this so important? Think of her as a symbol of New Orleans and the Mississippi River which as our main artery is responsible for spawning some of the most unique aspects of American culture - the sort of ones we can take true pride in worldwide. Jazz and rock 'n roll music, for one; some of best cuisine and our most honored chefs have come from New Orleans, and the river was the inspiration for our most celebrated author in history, Samuel Clemons, aka Mark Twain.
The demise of Delta Queen, like so much, can be attributed to the devastation of Katrina, and the fact that New Orleans is still struggling mightily to revive itself. Steeped in Mississippi River tradition, New orleans is vital to everything affiliated with the river. The state in which New Orleans still remains is a blight on our national pride, in my opinion. The taint of Katrina has damaged its most vital industry, tourism, so much that it is no longer just suffering a temporary setback, it has become a debilitating assault that seemingly is now causing irreversible damage.
The end of the Delta Queen is but one example of a tragedy to which most Americans are seemingly blind - the demise of New Orleans. One of our most important cities ever, in terms of American culture, is decaying and almost dying right before our very eyes. Certainly more could be done about it.
Losing the Delta Queen
One of America's great treasures, an historic landmark and the most authentic steamboat still in existence is about to end its career as a legal cruise vessel. The Delta Queen loses its congressional status.
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