by Peter Bronson, The Cincinnati EnquirerOctober 5, 2008
The Delta Queen is a wedding cake of a boat. It's a historic hotel on roller skates. A museum that floats like Ivory soap. A magical time machine that makes a lazy river stay up all night reading "Huckleberry Finn."
And it's being scuttled by the kind of people Mark Twain called "America's only criminal class" - Congress.
"I'm hearing that fat lady warm up," said Mary Charlton, who left Cincinnati and ran away to ride the riverboat three years ago as a Delta Queen discovery guide. She fell in love with the Queen when she was growing up in Hyde Park. Some kids run after ice cream trucks. She ran after the mournful whistles and clownish calliopes of steamboats, to watch and dream as they swanned down the Ohio River.
Now the Queen is alone - the last of the real steamboats. She's the final chapter in a story that opened the West, settled the country and spawned enough adventures to fill 2 million miles of water she has traveled in 81 years.
It's easy to see why so many fall in love like Charlton did. Just a few small steps up the gangplank are a giant leap back in time to 1927, when the Delta Queen was built as a last testament to dying craftsmanship. "They spent almost $1 million at a time when other boats like this were built for $60,000," said Delta Queen historian Bill Wiemuth.
In the Forward Cabin Lounge, carved oak woodwork and painted white ceilings are lit by sunlight reflecting off the river through panoramic windows. A grand staircase, trimmed in polished brass against ornate carpeting, leads to the Texas Lounge above.
Read the full story by Peter Bronson at The Cincinnati Enquirer
View the Delta Queen slide show by Enquirer Photographer Michael Keating