Perfect River Night

I made a run downtown, but the place I needed to go was closed, so I took a stroll down to the riverfront. It was a perfect night. There was a guy sitting near the Broadway entrance to the floodwall playing a guitar. Next to him was a buddy with a huge boxer on a leash. He started to move him out of my way, but the dog was wagging his tail and I motioned him to stay put.

There’s something about the river at night that brings out the friendlies. It’s like the setting breaks down the barriers we erect when we’re walking down Main Street. Everyone who came by smiled and made a nice comment about the weather or the river. The temps were in the low 70s or high 60, with almost no wind.

The photo was kind of dull until these two young women walked down to the water’s edge to take photos with their cell phones. (It would have been better if they had strayed off to the left just a tad more. That would have made a nice triangle of them, the bridge and the bollard.)

I started to thank them for adding visual interest to my photo, but they didn’t speak much English (or they were faking it to get rid of the guy they thought was hitting on them). When I showed them their photo on the display of my camera, they nodded and understood.

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge

I mentioned that we were on a pecan mission the other day. I knew of a couple of nice pecan trees right near the old Mississippi River traffic bridge overlook on the River Campus, so I pulled in to see they had dropped any nuts. Either they had been all picked up or my car headlights didn’t spotlight them, so I came up dry.

I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to shoot a four-frame panorama of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge. Like always, you can click on the photos to make them larger.


Dredge Ste. Genevieve

Huge crowds turned out to tour the Corps of Engineers Dredge Ste. Genevieve in the middle 1960s. I tried to find the story associated with the photos, but came up blank. The “Genny,” as she was called by the men who worked aboard her for more than half a century, was built in 1932 by Dravo Corp. at Neville Island in the Ohio River at Pittsburgh.

Last stern-wheeler

The Ste. Genevieve, the last steam-powered stern-wheeler cutterhead dredge to be operated by the Corps, was retired in 1984. A story by David Hente June 18, 1994, tells of its sad end. Or, at least part of it. After it was retired, it spent several years in Davenport, Ia., where it was supposed to be turned into a museum. That never happened.

Donated to Marine Learning Institute

In 1992, the General Services Administration donated the craft to the Marine Learning Institute, which had offices in Missouri and Maryland. The institute wanted to turn the boat into a floating museum and educational center on the banks of the Missouri River at St. Charles. That didn’t happen, either.

The next plan was to put it at the corps’ environmental demonstration area on the Mississippi River at a former marina at West Alton, Ill. That also didn’t come to pass.

Sank in 1992 near Cairo

While the institute was trying to find a permanent home for the dredge, they received an invitation from the city of Cincinnati to bring the dredge to its Tall Stacks ’92 festival on the Ohio River. It was towed to a staging area below Cairo to wait for a ride up the Ohio. While it was there, it sank on Oct. 1, 1992. After spending 31 days on the river bottom, it was raised, emergency repairs were made to its hull and it was towed to the Missouri Dry Dock and Repair Service in Cape for permanent repairs.

Repairs and wrangling

After the Ste. Genevieve made it to Cape, there was a two-month delay, but the repairs were finally made to its hull in 1993. The shipyard placed a lien on the boat because the Marine Institute didn’t have enough money to pay for the repairs. The repaired dredge was put back into the water and remained docked in the shipyard while the legal wrangling went on through the rest of 1993 and early 1994.

Sank again in March 1994

On March 10, 1994, for reasons unknown, the Ste. Genevieve ended up on the river bottom again. That brought about even more legal squabbling. The Missouri Dry Dock owner, Rob Erlbacher, said he wanted to cut it ip for scrap to get it out of the way. “I want to see the boat removed regardless of what it takes to do it. We need to get it out of here.”

More grand plans

The institute argued that the boat was worth $775,000. Richard Wooten, a spokesman said that a number of groups were interested in preserving the boat. “After the Genny is raised, we intend to take her to Ft. Meyers, Fla., where the Ford Foundation and the Edison Foundation have placed $500,000 in their budget for a permanent berthing area for the vessel as a museum and educational center,” he told The Missourian.

The sad end

I don’t know what finally happened to the Genny, but based on photos I saw of its paddle wheels on the LittleRiverBooks website, I’m pretty sure she never made it to Ft. Meyers. Here is a photo showing only the stacks and pilot house sticking up out of the water. Dan Back photographed the stacks and pilothouse with the dry dock in the background; the stacks were removed eventually and sent off to be dismantled. During the high water, spring 1995, she was completely under water.

Here is a photo of the “recovery” effort. It’s the last mention of the Ste. Genevieve in The Missourian.

Ste. Genevieve photo gallery

Here’s a collection of all the photos I could find of the dredge’s visit to Cape Girardeau. They remind me a little of when I photographed the Delta Queen taking on passengers in Cairo in 1968. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.









Remember the Birds?

The evening I shot the St. Vincent’s Catholic Church at sunset, I turned the camera in the other direction (standing in almost the same spot) and took this photo of a radio tower that stands along the railroad tracks. (Click to make it larger.)

There was something about the blue sky, the silhouetted tower and the microwave dish that looked like a flying saucer on its side that appealed to me. When I enlarged the frame, there were streaks of birds flying by (or they might have been mosquitoes; they were that big that night).

Sky would turn black with birds

That reminded me of the huge flocks of starlings that would turn the skies over Cape black at dawn and dusk in the 1960s. They would fly over the house making the most raucous screeching sounds. Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone. I stood out in the yard blasting away with my Daisy BB gun a few times, but quickly realized I’d never hit anything.

The birds made the news in 1965, when folks in Dexter started testing positive for histoplasmosis, a lung disease attributed to  fungus in the droppings and soil underneath the roosting areas used by several million starlings and blackbirds. A March 24, 1965, Missourian story said that the birds had been roosting on a 20-acre tract near the city for the past five winters.

Eight million birds near Dexter

A five-acre tract near Frisco, about 1-1/2 miles south of Essex, had also been a roosting area for an estimated three to five million birds. It was estimated that as many as eight million birds were nesting around Dexter.

I did a tongue-in-cheek story about suggestions the city had received for taking care of the bird problem. They ranged from the bizarre to the impractical. One, I recall, was to spray them with detergent from the air in the wintertime so that water would penetrate their feathers and they’d freeze to death. The problem with most of the solutions, a city official said, was “what do you do with two million dead blackbirds?”

Birds roosted on bridge

Another story quoted Marvin Campbell, Cape County sanitation officer, as saying that the main roosting place for the Cape Girardeau starlings appeared to be the Mississippi River bridge. Evidence was found that thousands of birds frequented it. The problem wasn’t as great then as it had been in previous years when the birds roosted on State College property, he continued. (I wonder if that’s where the Home of the Birds got its name?)

Ridding the bridge of the birds was going to be complicated because authorities from both Missouri and Illinois would have to be involved. Songbirds were mixed in with the starlings, so mass extermination was not an option.

I suspect that development eliminated most of the nesting areas and the birds either died off or moved on.