The Sad Story of Becky Thatcher Riverboat Steamer

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Photos from old PC 966 - Version 2

I found some photos today that I thought had been lost and I had always been a little sad about it.  But sorting through an old PC, I was thrilled to find the photos that I had taken with an old Kodak while on holiday in America, back in 2004.  In those days I really only used a camcorder, the camera was back up, but I remember I had taken the camera with me to visit a very special boat the ‘Becky Thatcher’

Photos from old PC 968

We were staying with my brother in Marietta, Ohio and one night we went to visit one of his acquaintances through his work, on a Steamboat that was moored in the river.  I was so excited, ok it wasn’t going anywhere, but that didn’t matter, a real Riverboat Steamer.  The photos are not great, but they are a record of our visit and to me now, are my record of a little piece of history which is no more.  We visited her when she had just stopped being used as a theatre, and I managed to take one photo of the area which had been the theatre.  I only wish that I had taken more, but I am really lucky that I found these photos.  The following is the history and sad ending of the ‘Becky Thatcher’

Photos from old PC 967

The Becky Thatcher was originally built as Mississippi (III), an inspection boat of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, in 1926. Her steel hull and machinery were new but the cabins came from her predecessor, the Mississippi (II). Although she was primarily a workboat she was outfitted with comfortable accomodations for 65 passengers. Because of her Texas deck she resembles more a packet boat than a workboat.

Photos from old PC 627

On April 19, 1961, she was retired and in 1963 sold to Mark Twain Enterprises of St. Louis, MO. In 1964 she was towed to Hannibal, MO, to serve as a restaurant and museum. In 1965 she was purchased by St. Louis Investment Co. and towed back to St. Louis. She was renamed to Becky Thatcher and extensivley restorated between June 1968 and February 1969. The boilers were removed and in 1973 also the engines which were sold to the New Orleans Steamboat Company. The Becky Thatcher broke her mooring lines in 1969 during a storm and was swept downstream. With 100 people aboard she passed two bridges but did not suffer any severe damages. The restaurant closed in 1974.

In 1975 the boat was purchased by a group of intersted citizens of Marietta, OH. They planned to bring her to Marietta as part of the Bicentennial project. Those citizens formed a not-for-profit corporation, the Ohio Showboat Drama Inc.. In September 1975 the Becky Thatcher was towed to Marietta, OH. In 1976 the production “Showboat” was performed by the Mid-Ohio Valley Players on the decks and an adjacent barge with 3,000 people watching from the shore.

Photos from old PC 621

In August 1977 the Becky Thatcher opened as a showboat after remodeling her first deck into a theatre. One month later the second and third deck opened as restaurant aera. The Becky Thatcher was moored near the W. P. Snyder Jr. on the Muskingum river.

Photos from old PC 615

Photos from old PC 970

The Becky Thatcher was entered into the National register of Historic Places by the National Park Service in October 1983.
In 1984 the boat sank during a spring flood with heavy damage to her hull and superstructure but she was raised and returned after repairs for the 1985 season.

Photos from old PC 624

After having been out of service for a few years the Becky Thatcher was sold and towed to a mooring on Neville Island in the Ohio River, Pittsburgh, Pa, in October 2009.

Photos from old PC 625

During severe weather conditions, the Becky sank during the weekend of February 20-21, 2010. Her decks collapsed and the venerable vessel declared a total loss, the firm of Delta Demolition was contracted to remove the wreckage from the river. Heartbreaking images were published in newspapers and on web sites showing a clamshell and scoop removing huge pieces of the superstructure and dumping them on shore. The Becky had finally come to the end of a long and illustrious career spanning nearly 85 years.

Photos from old PC 974

Photos from old PC 618

Photos from old PC 972

Photos from old PC 622

Photos from old PC 617

22 Replies to “The Sad Story of Becky Thatcher Riverboat Steamer”

  1. Sad story for such a lovely boat, thanks for the history. I think you put in an incorrect year somewhere. If she went down for the last time in 2010, you would have had trouble getting these pictures in 2014. 😉

    1. It was 2004 🙂 I am having trouble with the internet at the moment and couldn’t change it quick enough, I think I have now. It was such a shame about the boat, but I glad I was able to visit 🙂

    1. Yes she did, and three America Presidents sailed on her, I forgot to mention that 🙂 I just thought that I needed to do a post on her…..gone but not forgotten 🙂

  2. Thanks so much for your story. I spent two summers aboard The Becky Thatcher, tripping across the boards of her stage, and blowing off steam in her bar with my castmates upstairs in her bar. So many wonderful memories aboard her! Very sad to hear she is no more. We often stood on the small deck outside the dressing room to watch other boats go by, including the Delta Queen. Or looked aft to see the Mississippi Queen moored downriver (too large to travel up where we were).

    1. Thank you for your comment, it has been lovely to hear from someone who has actually played on the little stage. I got quite a thrill when we visited her and was so sad to hear that she had sunk, I only wished I had taken better photos at the time, but some are better than none and I am really pleased that I posted about her and it brought back happy memories for you 🙂

  3. There is a part of the Becky Thatcher’s history no closely covered here that make her history a bit brighter, given her abrupt parting at her final mooring in Pittsburgh. In the summer of 1977, Ron Loreman and Kent Nelson, two professors at Marietta College, began producing and directing series of old showboat style melodramas, performed on the former engine deck of the Becky Thatcher. It has been carefully renovated into a theatre to seat about 200 people, with a small stage at one end. I had the privilege of standing behind the curtain on opening night. The show was ’10 Nights in a Barroom’ and I played the character of “Joe Morgan”, the drunkard. As it turned out, the sort of sappy, moralistic tone of the old melodramas lent itself to being able to derive humor while trying to perform them as authentically as possible (i.e. using the melodramatic acting style). Opening night the summer of 1977 was a full house, and patrons had paid $200 a seat as a benefit performance. The performances became quite a draw in Marietta for several years, with busloads of patrons coming in to attend. Becky had quite a few full houses during the age of the reborn “Showboat Becky Thatcher”. Students from all over the southeast US came to audition, for most, if not all, it was a first experience in a professionally run operation. That first year, I myself was paid $120 a week and a free room. Loreman and Nelson made it clear, from the beginning, that participation on the Becky was going be different than the usual fall and spring semester college theatre productions. And it was. In August, it was not ususual to be rehearsing one play in the morning, doing a dress rehearsal of a 2nd play in the afternoon, while putting on a performance of a 3rd play in the evening. There were 8 performances a week, in repertoire. And there were musical, dance acts, joke telling during intermissions between the 3 acts. We were expected to write about the experience at the end of the season, and I recall remaking how transforming, and remarkable, the first season was. I came back for a 2nd year and it felt like the showboat would have a long history in front of it. I suppose the cost of maintenance eventually made it impractical to keep her operating as as a performance restaurant venue. But when on board there really was nothing like her atmosphere. It’s not surprising she was registered as a historical place in the early 80’s. I wish that could have somehow remained in Marietta, as such, indefinitely. Your last b&w photo above, shows the spot where we sat, outside the tiny dressing room, in the evenings to cool off between acts.

  4. When Becky ‘sank’ in 1984, it was a matter of her setting her hull down on a pile of debris left over from the removal of Lock and Dam Number 1 along that west wall. Becky was moved from the east bank after a barge sank between her and the river bank. In a short period of time, almost overnight, the river dropped. Becky holed herself and sat there over time while the river reached flood stage. When it became necessary to go with the third salvage company, I never thought she would be raised. When she ‘sank’ again in 2010, it wasn’t because of a winter storm or several inches of snow on her roof that lead to her demise. Some time during the night of February 20-21, while she sat in seclusion behind the abandoned shipyard at Neville Island, she was impacted by a barge or another boat that drove her into the concrete filled caissons ahead of her, crushing her hull and knocking her superstructure off center, healing her over to port and taking on water. It wouldn’t have taken long before she was on the bottom.

  5. In the late ’90’s, i stood at my easil across the Muskingham River in Marietta Ohio and painted the Becky Thatcher sternwheel steamboat which was across the bank. As i stood there for a few hours, a piece of board floated up to me and i pulled it from the waters. By the look of the wear on the 14″ board, it looked as though it had made many a mile on its voyage. After the board dried, i began a little oil study on the board as I continued painting on the panel at my easel.
    A few years later i mailed the painting to Musical genius and Riverboat pilot John Hartford. He called me not long befoer he died of non hodgekins lymphoma in 2001. Recently i contacted his daughter inquiring of the painting to which she lead me to the Archieves at Missouri State university. I still have the little riverboard with the Becky Thatcher on it hanging from fishing line and looks like it floats in the breeze. Thanks for your photos and other folks’ recollections.

    1. Hi Kevin,
      Thank you so much for your recollections, which add to the story of Beckey Thatcher. I have always been so pleased that we visited her when we did and it’s lovely to hear other people stories about her. I hope other stories will follow.
      Thank you
      Lynne 🙂
      I would love to see your painting of her.

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