Cruising the Mississippi; Echoes of Huck Finn and Civil War ghosts around every bend!

Cruising the Mighty Mississippi with the Prossers; Echoes of Huck Finn and ghosts of the Civil War around every bend!

American Duchess taking on passengers in Memphis, TN
(credit for all photos to Craig Prosser).

Craig and Fern Prosser are old hands at cruising; after ten ocean voyages they just enjoyed their first river cruise. The mighty Mississippi River, made more so with record floods and setting weekly high water marks, made for exciting times during their time on the river.

They cruised on the American Duchess (part of the American Queen Steamboat Company’s fleet) from May 26 to June 3, adding two additional nights at cruise-end in New Orleans. The American Duchess is a real paddle wheeler (which also has diesel auxiliary engines). It was built in the 1990s and carries 130-140 passengers, a far cry from ocean-going cruise liners, many of which have passenger capacities in the several thousands.

On the cruise, the Prossers got to know many of their fellow travelers (smaller passenger list and morning tours made it easy). They also befriended the four on-board entertainers, including a banjo player who doubled as the boat’s (they explained that river boats are just that, “boats” – not ships – because they don’t have keels) ‘riverlorian’, who gave daily lectures on the history and culture of the river.

A barge and pilot boat make their way up the flood waters of the Mississippi River.

The cruise route took them from Memphis, Tennessee, to New Orleans, (the published itinerary was altered, due to the high water forcing the boat to bypass two stops, West Helena, Arkansas, and Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana). The Prossers spent the first night in the stately Peabody Hotel in Memphis, enjoying “the ducks on the roof,” ducks trained by the bell hops over the years to march from their roost to the elevators and down to the fountain in the lobby daily at 11 AM.

Before boarding the boat the couple took a bus tour of Memphis focusing on the historical landmarks of the city’s legendary music scene, places where Elvis Presley, BB King, Johnny Cash and others got their starts. Memphis was one of the largest cities in the Antebellum South, a robust market for lumber, agricultural products and the slave trade prior to the Civil War.

Statue of Elvis Pressley stands in Memphis, noting his presence and
impact on the city’s and nation’s music scene.

A highlight of the cruise was the stop in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where the Prossers joined many of their fellow passengers in touring the Vicksburg National Military Park. Vicksburg was ‘the Gibraltar of the Confederacy’; Confederate President Jefferson Davis noted, “Vicksburg is the nailhead that holds the South’s two halves together.”

For 18 months Union and Confederate Forces jockeyed for control; from May 18 to July 4, 1863, Union General US Grant held the Confederate Army and city of Vicksburg under a hard and brutal siege before the city fell to Union forces.

Cannon and monuments to states and their Civil War regiments stand on the ramparts in Vicksburg National Military Park.

At a later stop in Natchez, Mississippi, the Prossers crossed the river into Louisiana for a tour called “The Story of Cotton.” They visited the Frogmore Plantation, a large cotton growing and ginning operation, where as a sideline the owners have created a replica of a 19th century plantation complete with antique cotton gins and quarters for the slaves (later sharecroppers who would have worked the place).

Recreation of the slave quarters at Frogmore Plantation,
part of the Story of Cotton tour.
USS Cairo, a Union ironclad warship, on display in Vicksburg.

Food on the cruise was uniformly good at the casual buffet or in the dining room, with three delicious meals each day prepared by the boat’s American crew. Passengers also had the choice of dining ashore but usually just for lunch since the American Duchess was typically underway and heading for the next town by 5 PM.

Dress was “resort casual” on board, no suits, tuxes and fancy dresses required and no formal nights. The riverboat generally cruised during the evening and overnight hours and spent the days tied up in the river towns. Free “hop-on, hop-off” bus tours of local landmarks and shopping opportunities were offered at each stop in addition to longer more elaborate tours for which an extra fee was charged. The Vicksburg Military Park and the Story of Cotton were among those that cost extra.

The Mississippi was out of its normal banks for the entire route of the cruise with thousands of acres of land underwater, but except for an occasional cancellation or rescheduling it had little affect on the passengers’ enjoyment of the trip. The captain elected to dock overnight in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, because flooding prevented landing at the final stop on the cruise. Passengers who had booked a tour of the Nottoway Plantation at that stop were bused to the location from Baton Rouge.

The flooding Mississippi overtakes part of a road in this shot.

The Prossers booked two extra nights in New Orleans after the cruise, finding a nice place on Decatur Street close to the river and about three blocks from Bourbon Street. Before checking in to the hotel they took one last bus tour covering most of the popular sites in the city from the French Quarter to Lake Ponchartrain. New Orleans is, of course, a food lover’s paradise. Oysters, Shrimp and grits, gumbo and beignets; Craig says he was there just long enough to try them all.

The scene on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Fern and Craig Prosser enjoy dinner during their Mississippi River excursion.

Stocktonians will remember Craig as a long-time broadcaster with KOVR CBS 13 News. Prosser, from Columbus, Ohio, graduated from The Ohio State University; his first news assignment on the air was in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963-64, with Armed Forces Radio, the station made famous by Robin Williams in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam”. He completed his 45-year broadcasting career with 35 years at KOVR. He and spouse Fern have lived in Stockton since 1970; they have two sons and three grandchildren.

Author’s note: Credit for the writing of this article is shared by both me, and by Craig Prosser, who authored portions and provided deep detail on the Prosser’s adventure. All photos were taken by Craig Prosser.

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Contact Tim at; follow at Happy travels in your world!

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