It’s so much more than ghosts. To gaze upon a relic is to infuse yourself with everything that relic has come to represent: the people, the era, the ambience. History in today’s society has been relegated to the monotonous memorization of names and dates of people to which we believe we have no connection. We have forgotten the world as it once was, lost in the grind of our breakneck society while traversing what had once been countryside through concrete monstrosities and lifeless asphalt. And so, when one of those relics is greeted with the demise of a scrap pile death, such as the historic Goldenrod Showboat, most don’t even bat a manicured eye at its imminent destruction.
It was a jewel on the Mississippi River, the largest and most luxurious showboat ever constructed. Red Skelton got his start there and other famous talents performed on its stage, such as Bob Hope. Do those names even resonate with people anymore? For nearly 100 years the Goldenrod provided laughter and life for thousands along the old waterway, providing a means of escapism from life along the river, but now it rests on shore, a rusting hulk replete of its previous grandeur. Must we allow ourselves to forget all that has come before us?
Stand still for a moment and listen to the lap of the water against the shore and the breeze gently caress the leaves of nearby trees. Open your eyes and stare not at your cell phone but at the gentle ripple of a wave or the delicate veins of a leaf. For just a moment lead not with your persuasive techniques or heavy hand in the corporate boardroom, but lead with your senses. Where does it take you? Does anyone look at the stars anymore or have they become so blotted out by the false light of our street lamps that no one even bother to look?
From the deck of the Goldenrod I finally understood why the ancients so revered the celestial heavens. That night, the darkest sky I have ever experienced produced the brightest stars in the highest abundance I have ever seen. For the first time I saw the constellation Orion in its full glory flanked by so many other brilliant twinkling skylights that I almost couldn’t discern it. One word describes the moment and even it doesn’t do that moment justice: amazing. The night sky greeted me with a sensuous kiss that I have longed to return.
Make no mistake that I enjoy having my car to travel from place to place and my computer is currently making this article possible, but having modern conveniences doesn’t mean we should forget the past and the world around us. Locations like the Goldenrod Showboat are a time capsule, a vessel to take us to a place we’ve left behind. The encompassing energy when one steps inside its main doors instantly whisks you away to that forgotten era of ragtime and authentic melodrama, making you drunk on escapism within escapism if you allow it. It’s a pure looking glass into that time of American history without the overzealous pandering of modern commercialism.
Soon the Goldenrod will be gone. Whatever doesn’t get salvaged for scrap will be burned, adding further insult to injury as longtime owner, Captain Bill Menke, pieced a significant portion of the boat back together by hand after a fire in 1962 when he was more than 80 years old. To this day his spirit still roams his life’s passion, literally going down with the ship.
In the end the Goldenrod Showboat will be a footnote in history, relegated to a few paragraphs on a dusty webpage with a few museum items kept on-hand by those who truly cared for it. Hopefully, it will be remembered for a bit more than just a few names and dates — for the best history teachers are storytellers. And its ghost stories that they tell.