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“Day FOUR of my Eight-Day Mark Twain Riverboat Trip Along the Upper Mississippi”
“Get your facts first, and then you can distort ‘em
as much as you please.” – Mark Twain
In the very short Chapter XXI of “Life on the Mississippi,” Mark Twain shares that he had hoped to work as a steamboat pilot for the rest of his life. But the Civil War came – with cannonballs lobbed against steamboat pilot houses — suspending commerce and ending his occupation.
He spent the next twenty-one years trying out various things: silver mining in Nevada and gold mining in California, working as a newspaper reporter for his brother and other publications, as a special correspondent in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Europe and the East, sharing stories and humor on the lecture circuit, and becoming “a scribbler of books.”
At the end of this time, he returned to see the Mississippi River and the steamboats again. Much of “Life on the Mississippi” describes what had changed, and so quickly, as the surge of progress moves forward as steadily and unstoppably as the mighty river itself.
On this morning of Day 4 of the cruise, despite warmer weather forecast promises, it was 28 degrees at 6:30 a.m. The scarf, ear muffs, angora beret and gloves had certainly come in handy. After a walk outside on Deck 4, I had a delicious andouille sausage hash for breakfast – spicy pork sausage, onions, peppers, potatoes topped with a poached egg, corn cake, cane syrup and cheddar cheese — along with the usual fresh berries and a small smoked salmon plate with cream cheese and capers.
The Upper Mississippi is largely a multi-threaded stream with many sand bars and islands. From its confluence with the St. Croix River just south of St. Paul down to Dubuque, Iowa, the river is framed by high bedrock bluffs lying on either side. The height of these bluffs decreases south of Dubuque. This topography contrasts with the lower Mississippi, which meanders through a broad, flat area, only rarely flowing alongside a bluff (as at Vicksburg, Mississippi).
Between La Crosse and Dubuque, the riverboat navigates U.S. Lock & Dams 8, 9, & 10, and, just north of Dubuque, U.S. Lock and Dam No. 11.
Dubuque, population approximately 60,000, is located along the west shore of the Mississippi River. The city lies at the junction of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin and serves as the main commercial, industrial, educational, and cultural center for the area. It is Iowa’s oldest city and among the oldest settlements west of the Mississippi.
Following the 1763 defeat of the French, Spain gained control of the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi. The first permanent European settler in what is now Dubuque was Quebecois pioneer Julien Dubuque, who arrived in 1785. In 1788, he received permission from the Spanish government and the local Meskwaki (Fox) American Indians to mine the area’s rich lead deposits. Control of Louisiana and Dubuque’s mines shifted to the United States in 1803, following the Louisiana Purchase. The Meskwaki continued to mine with the full support of the U.S. government until 1830 when they were illegally pushed out of the mine region by American prospectors. In 1833 the land was opened up for settlement under the Black Hawk Purchase Treaty and chartered as the city of Dubuque in 1837.
The region was designated as the Iowa Territory in 1838 and included in the newly created State of Iowa in 1846. After the lead resources were exhausted, the city became a center for the timber industry because of its proximity to forests of white pine in Minnesota and Wisconsin and was later dominated by various mill working businesses. Also important to the local economy were boat building, button making, brewing, and, later, the railroad industry.
Beginning in the 1850’s, Dubuque’s Iowa Iron Works specialized in building steam engines and boilers. In 1857, the City of Dubuque recorded 1,000 steamboat landings. In 1870 the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works built the first iron hull commercial steamboat on the upper Mississippi, The Clyde. In 1902 they built the world’s largest steam towboat. In 1931, they built the largest diesel towboat.
Before one gets off of the riverboat at Dubuque, one sees a flood wall and open flood gates that are closed to protect the town during high flood season. Beyond the flood wall is what’s called the Ice Harbor. This was built in the 1880’s to shelter boats in the winter.
My first hop off of the tour bus was the Fenelon Place Elevator, a short cable car ride transporting folks from the bottom of a hill to the top, described as the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway, 296 feet in length, elevating passengers 189 feet. As the story goes, a wealthy local banker and former state senator, J. K. Graves, lived at the top of the hill but had his business at the bottom. It took 30 minutes for the horse and buggy to transport him home for lunch, 30 minutes back, with 30 minutes left to eat his lunch, leaving him no time for his desired 30-minute nap. So, he built the little railway to move him up the hill. At first the cable pulling the cars up and down on two rails was made of hemp. After a couple of fires broke out, burning the hemp rope and causing the cars to crash to the bottom of the hill, the rope was replaced with a steel cable.
From the top of the hill, one can see the Dubuque business district, the Mississippi River, and the three states – Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin — with the riverboat docked at the riverfront.
My second hop off the tour bus was at Iowa’s first house of worship, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, which has served the community since 1834. Its foundation walls are built of 32-inch-thick Bedford limestone from Indiana, each stone cut by hand. It is often called the “Cradle of Iowa Methodism.”
Something I didn’t know, but with an interesting relation to the theme of the cruise: The part of the church where the congregation sits is called the “nave,” which means “ship.” The church is considered the ship in which Christians sail through the rough seas of life.
St. Luke’s Church is most noted for its large collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany stained-glass windows, created by the son of the founder of the Tiffany jewel company. Tiffany had developed a complex process for creating glass for his creations. His “Favrile” method, patented in 1894, made it possible to put the folds of a garment or ripples of water into the glass itself. Like gems, the colors in the glass change shades depending on the angle of view, time of day, or season.
Tiffany is considered one of the greatest of all glass makers. His style of design is Art Nouveau. The collection has been called “one of the five finest religious Tiffany collections in the world.” It was absolutely worth the visit.
As the bus drove through town, I noticed some murals on the buildings. One with the words, “I AM a Man,” is in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Another shows raised fists of different races spelling out the word “Solidarity.”
At 5 p.m., when the paddle wheeler pulled away from the shore, we were again serenaded by the steam-powered calliope.
Today’s lunch included a carrot and ginger soup, caprese, and beef bourguignon. Dinner began with a crawfish macaroni fritter appetizer, vegetable spring rolls, particularly tasty oxtail soup with barley (my first oxtail soup), eggplant parmesan, and honey almond cake for dessert. After this latest delicious dinner, I took some photos of our passing through Lock & Dam No. 12 about 8 p.m., well after dark. The lock area is brightly lit, making it possible to get some shots.
There are large spotlights on either side of the front of the riverboat. At night, their beams are shone on the river, shifted from time to time and side to side to focus on various parts of the water ahead. When a freight train came through on the far side of the river, one spotlight was turned on the woods where it was travelling. Then the spotlight shifted back to the river, to a red reflective buoy on the Iowa side and then a green reflective buoy on the Illinois side. As I’ve mentioned in other of these Mark Twain Cruise blog posts, the riverboat must stay between the two colored buoys.
The end of Day Four – another great day, passing too quickly.
“Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die,
even the undertaker will be sorry.” – Mark Twain
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American Queen Riverlorian Library (Chart Room, Deck 4); American Queen Voyages Hop-on Hop-off Tour Map of Dubuque; American Queen Voyages “Daily Voyage” newsletter, 10/20/2022 (Dubuque Issue 579); St. Luke’s United Methodist Church pamphlet with names of stained-glass windows and church history; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubuque,_Iowa.