Wed October 22, 2008
Sun may be setting on the Delta Queen
By Candice Ludlow
Memphis, TN –
The Delta Queen may be the Taj Mahal of paddlewheel steamboats with her ornate crystal chandeliers, curved, dark teak interior, splashed with brass and rich carpet throughout. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
The Delta Queen has a storied history. Built in 1926. She originally traveled the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in California. She was commissioned for military service during World War II. Following the war, Tom Greene bought the steam-powered vessel at auction and brought it to New Orleans via the Panama Canal.
Gordon Greene was just 11 when his dad brought the Delta Queen to New Orleans.
Like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, the Delta Queen has had many adventures. A major snag began in 1966 when Congress passed the Safety At Sea Law not allowing overnight passengers on wooden boats. Within a couple of years, Congress passed an exemption allowing the Delta Queen to carry 50 or more passengers overnight.
Gordon Greene grew up on the Delta Queen. Later, he became an attorney and went to Congress to fight for an exemption.
The people that were The Delta Queen does not apply to this .we got an exemption and then the exemptions continued.
But last year, everything changed. Congress did not grant the exemption. First it stalled in the Senate, after the House passed it. Then got stuck in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure because Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar does not believe it's safe overnight, and Oberstar chairs that committee.
Mark Twain's brother, Henry Clemens, passed in Memphis in 1858, after a boiler exploded on the Pennsylvania. The accident occurred early in the morning just south of Memphis.
Delta Queen advocate Vicki Webster says safety is not the issue.
So what is it? A safety issue or is it about a union crew?
A spokesman for the Seafarers International Union or SIU denies any conversation with Oberstar's office about the Delta Queen. Still, the issue for an exemption is not dead. Ohio Senator George Voinovich introduced a bill to the Senate in September. The exemption expires on Halloween.
The Delta Queen is scheduled to arrive in Memphis on October 30th - and it may be her last. Then, she'll chug downriver with the American Queen to her homeport, New Orleans, stopping in river communities along the way.
Still, it's hard to know what will happen to the Delta Queen. Will she become a day excursion steamboat churning the inland waterways? A floating museum? Or will she be mothballed and a slice of Americana forever lost.
Save the Delta Queen website: www.save-the-delta-queen.org/
Majestic America, owner-operator of the Delta Queen, website: www.majesticamericaline.com/