A Goldenrod Showboat Timeline
A History Spanning Over 100 Years
The Goldenrod Showboat
September 1909- Markle's New Showboat is built in Parkersburg, West Virginia by the Pope Docking Company. The cost is $75,000 dollars ($1.36 million in today's terms). The vessel measures 200 ft x 45 ft. and has a capacity of 1400. The name is soon changed to Golden Rod Show Boat.
1910- A major storm crashes the Show Boat into a sandbar. The repairs are an estimated $21,000.
1913- The Show Boat crashes into a luxury steamer. The repairs are estimated at $15,000.
1914- Due to repair costs and a large gambling debt, W.R. Markle loses the vessel to foreclosure. Federal Marshalls sell the vessel for $11,000 to Captain Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson changes the name of the boat to Emerson's Golden Rod Show Boat. The Show Boat travels the river systems under Emerson and gains notoriety.
1922- The Menke Brothers (Bill, Henry, Ben and Charley) purchased the Golden Rod. Captain Bill Menke takes lead of the boat and lives aboard while it travels the river systems, at times reaching 15 states in a season.
1926- The Golden Rod Show Boat stops travel below Memphis, TN. The cost of travel during a time of economic depression and the evolution of the entertainment industry does not lend itself well to profit.
1927- Use of the calliope is discontinued aboard the Golden Rod.
1937- Menke brings the Golden Rod to St. Louis for repairs and ends up staying. There are some legal issues regarding the vessel being up to code but they are quickly resolved.
1947- A new hull is put onto the Show Boat.
June 1961- A disastrous fire strikes the Goldenrod destroying the auditorium and leaving the superstructure of the boat in shambles.
1964- A group of St. Louis businessmen headed by Don Franz & Frank Pierson purchase the Golden Rod Show Boat and begin rehabilitation and renovation. The total cost is $350,000. The Show Boat is brought up to code and given a new look suitable to the times.
May 1965- The Goldenrod Showboat reopens with a slightly different name and a new look. She also becomes the home of the Annual St. Louis Ragtime Festival.
1967- The Goldenrod Showboat is declared a National Historic Landmark.
1975- The Goldenrod is leased to Bill Oakley & Gaslight Enterprises of Denver, CO. A kitchen facility is added to the vessel and dinner theater operations are kicked into full gear.
1983- The Goldenrod is moved from beneath the Arch and taken just north of the Eads Bridge.
1984- The Auble Brothers take over the management team for the Goldenrod.
1989- The city of St. Charles, MO purchases the Goldenrod Showboat and move it the Missouri River. The boat is leased to Ample Entertainment, Inc who spends two years renovating the vessel at a cost of $350,000.
1991- The Goldenrod Showboat reopens as a dinner theater along the bank of downtown St. Charles.
2001- The Showboat is run aground due to changing water levels. Repairs are deemed too expensive and the city decides to sell the boat.
2003- The Goldenrod is given to Lewis and Clark Landing LLC and is moved.
2008- The Historic Riverboat Preservation Association is started by John Schwartz after he donates the vessel to the organization.
2013- The Goldenrod is sold at auction to Pool 24 Tug Service for unpaid mooring fees.
2015- The Goldenrod Showboat was moved to the bank to prevent further damage from the flood, the river dropped too suddenly and the Goldenrod was on uneven land. At this point the Goldenrod's hull buckled and the decision was made to salvage the vessel for a museum.
The Goldenrod Showboat was debuted as the largest showboat ever built when she came onto the scene in 1909. She was a vessel of pure decadence fitted with brilliant decor and lighting for which no expense was spared. Her extravagence and beauty quickly gained her noteriety as she began to travel the river systems of the Midwest touching the hearts and imaginations of many. The music of her calliope would signal her long awaited arrival as she traveled from Omaha to Pittsburg and all the way south to New Orleans. Although she changed owners three times during her first 15 years on the river, she would became and remain a hub of entertainment, offering small towns the access to melodramas, vaudeville, music, dance, and in some instances,” talkies” that would have otherwise been out of reach.
When the Goldenrod stopped traveling the river in the mid 1930's and settled in St. Louis, she transitioned from a traveling attraction into a popular travel destination. She brought both audiences and performers from all over the globe to her home on the St. Louis riverfront and over the course of the next 60 years, became a mainstay in local entertainment for music and theater lovers alike.
Though the Showboat has continued to change hands many times over the years her spirit has never diminished. Even after her doors closed in 2001, she still has kept hold of the hearts and minds of those who remember her and is continuously gaining new admirers.
Photo Credit: Murphy Library University of Wisconsin- La Crosse