Riverboats certainly are missed

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 13, 2001

When you see something repeatedly, you don’t notice the details – until something changes.

I’ve seen “The Natchez Story” more times than most folks, I suppose. You see, the Natchez Visitor Reception Center has become a regular stop when entertaining out-of-town visitors to Natchez.

And it was on such an occasion recently that I noticed something didn’t seem right.

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I’ve seen the film so often I can quote certain portions. I sort of chuckle each time I hear co-worker Joan Gandy’s voiceover about a running barefoot as a child. The film contains lots of familiar, local voices.

About a week ago, I was watching the film when I realized the change.

The narrator was talking about a special arrival in Natchez in the 1800s – the first steamboat.

And since those early days steamboats have seemed as much a part of Natchez as the river itself.

Sadly, due to financial difficulties and a recent bankruptcy, the Delta Steamboat Company has severely limited the number of riverboats stopping in Natchez and in doing so has made the film seem suddenly outdated.

Three riverboats routinely stopped in Natchez before the bankruptcy: the Mississippi Queen, the Delta Queen and the American Queen.

I miss seeing them tied up at Natchez Under-the-Hill and hearing the calliope toot along.

And apparently I’m not the only one who feels that way.

A group of concerned steamboat lovers has begun a new, grassroots campaign, Save Our Queens.

“It’s a campaign that’s been started in Florida by former workers on all three of the queens,” Natchez resident Bill Hall said.

Hall and his wife, Caroline, are both serious steamboat fans.

“(We) have sailed on them about 15 or 20 times,” he said. “We know it helps the lifeblood of Natchez.”

And Hall isn’t alone.

Merchants from every corner of Natchez and Adams County feel the effects of the riverboats.

“Natchez, St. Francisville, Vicksburg, everywhere on the river, it’s hurt,” said Edie Christian, owner of River Boat Gift Shop at Natchez Under-the-Hill. “People don’t realize how much a dollar goes around. That’s why I always say ‘shop at home, shop at home.'”

Christian’s shop is one of the most visible stops for passengers departing the riverboats, but it is certainly not the only local business to feel an impact from the absence of the boats.

“It has really affected me, and I’m sure all of downtown,” she said, adding that often people forget the impact on the riverboats’ crews.

“I don’t think people realize all of these people lost their jobs,” she said. “I know they want their jobs back, and we want them back here, too.”

The Save Our Queens campaign is asking steamboat fans to show their support by signing a small form available at www.saveourqueens.com.

So if you miss seeing the spectacular vessels cruise up the Mississippi River, show your support.

Kevin Cooper is editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail to kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.