Friday, May 17, 2013
POINT PLEASANT RIVER MUSEUM, W. VIRGINIA
Yesterday, we crossed the bridge from Gallipolis,Ohio to Point Pleasant, W.Virginia. Practically under the bridge is a complex of State Land devoted to a fort, a War of 1812 memorial and this River Museum.
We don't see much about the War of 1812. On the grounds is also a mansion, the site of government and all community meetings. You can see it to the left of the monument.
It kind of makes you smile, especially this crooked wall and rustic construction. Originally a tavern, it was the biggest building in the community and to them, it was a mansion. It's all in the perspective.
The museum is about life on the river in this particular river community of Point Pleasant. The Museum is so full, you need a full day to really see it. And there is a wonderful river walk full of murals, and a fort nearby. Much to see here if you go.
A lot of different types and sizes of river boat models.
The usual artifacts of all things river boat you would expect to see.
You can play this calliope, they even give you the number guide to play country roads.
Ten whistles, but the music was loud and harsh to my ear. I think it needed the river atmosphere to sound right.
The river is life. Boats like this are called shanty boats where people lived. They couldn't afford to buy land and build a house.
Who snapped the picture? You learn nothing about the family but what you can discern from a random photo.
The boats were owned by the captains of industry, but this captain, Tom Reynolds was a stern wheeler driver. He loved his job and he was known to sit in a chair and steer with his feet in an area where the river was stable.
The Sprague was called Big Momma. She could pull 56 loaded barges in a line.
Men who worked the boats gathered for a picture. They probably never would have had their picture taken in their whole life except for an arranged gathering like this.
All river towns face flooding at some point or another and Point Pleasant had a big one in 1903.
Amid hardship, the theatre owner employed a bit of humor. The town has since built a huge river wall, but the river wall couldn't protect them from their very worst disaster that still affects the townspeople today, one of whom we met.
A new bridge in 1928, built in a style never tried before was called the Silver Bridge by the locals. It crossed from Point Pleasant to Gallipolis, Ohio. One horror filled night in 1967, the bridge gave way and toppled into the river, killing 47 people. Five men were rescued from the cold waters and lived to tell the tale.
A video shows the type of attachment that held up the uprights on the bridge.
A hairline crack, after 41 years, snapped and sent the bridge to the bottom in seconds.
All the tons of steel and concrete were nothing in the end. Visible is the rusting old railroad bridge in the back ground that our local fellow told us everyone worried would fall into the river some day.
But it was their bridge that fell. He told us he lived four minutes from the bridge. His wife and her visiting mother had gone shopping and were planning to cross over to a favorite restaurant, but they were tired, the traffic was heavy so they chose a local cafe instead. The lights blinked in the cafe. It was reported all over town the lights everywhere blinked as the bridge toppled. And, of course, the drama is, they would have been on that bridge. He told us of dozens of stories of people who would have gone, were supposed to be on it, and those who felt the shaking and were close enough to back up, or get out of their cars and run to land. Feelings were so raw, their loss so great, no one talked about it for years. They finally put up a memorial in the 1990s, if my memory is correct.
I particularly enjoyed a story about vaudeville and entertainment that made riding the boats up and down the river one of those glorious experiences.
One family, the Bryants worked vaudeville/melodrama aboard the paddle wheel steamers. Josephine, on top of the piano, married into the family and was a born entertainer. You had to have a villain to boo, a heroine to save and a hero. The audiences didn't tolerate intermissions. And if the show was short of two hours, they felt cheated and let you know it.
Billy Bryant was known for his wicked antics, he'd dance and hop all over and became an acrobatic thespian, much loved by audiences.
The Bryant family, as it grew, spent most of their lives aboard the boats. Sam and Violet, back center in the photo, came here from England. He had a traveling medicine show where he sold kerosene and red peppers made into a liniment. They got jobs working the Water Queen and decided they needed a boat of their own, which they did accomplish by 1907.
They sold cigarettes, candy and snacks, much like the nightclubs of Hollywood and New York while they sang and danced up and down the rivers. Such a life.
Jim and I walked the River Walk, and enjoyed the murals, some pastoral scenes of Virginia.
Others of a political nature.
And all within view of the gorgeous, cooling Ohio River. (And that rusting old railroad bridge still standing.)