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The Becky will be missed

October 16, 2009 - Art Smith
Hundreds lined the riverbanks of Marietta earlier this week to say goodbye to an old friend. The sternwheeler Becky Thatcher, known to her friends simply as "The Becky" packed up and left town.

As a 14-year-old kid I stood on the riverbank and watch the boat come to Marietta in 1975. The boat held a lot of promise then, and was a nice draw to downtown and Front Street. Front Street at that time was not the street it is today. There were few trendy loft apartments, cute shops or winding bike paths. The old boat added a little class to the area.

The melodrama shows did well in the first deck theater of the boat, drawing busloads of people from out of town to watch the shows on the boat and dine in the second deck restaurant.

As a member of the Marietta High School crew team I saw the boat daily for years on our trips up and down the river.

In 1984 the boat was moved to dredge the mud from under the craft. Tied to the opposite bank of the river, the craft sank when the river dropped and boat landed on top of what was probably pieces of the old Muskingum River dam number 1.

A photojournalist at the time, the sunken sternwheeler was a big story. There is however a limited number of ways to photograph a sunken boat. Spring rains brought higher water and the river reached well into the second deck of the boat. People began to doubt if it could ever be brought up in one piece.

When the boat was finally pulled from the muck the entire boat and bow about it that it retains today. The craft is noticeably higher in the middle.

The craft was taken to a boat yard downriver and put in a dry dock for repairs. A reporter and I went down to take a look at it for our selves.

The hull, a worker showed us, was paper thin, a point he illustrated by sticking his finger through it. A new hull was welded in place, one that they said would last 20 or so years, a time frame that puts it past due now for an inspection and possible replacement of the steel.

When the sternwheeler returned to Marietta it resumed the dinner-and-a-show schedule. The restaurant always seemed to struggle, going through several operators that thought they could make a go of it with their own unique twist on riverfront dining.

Finally the boat was sold, work was done on it, and yet another business idea failed to work on the boat. It was later listed on eBay for several hundred thousand dollars. In the end though it sat empty along the riverbank.

The city sent the owner an eviction notice, who thought he could do better if he took the boat elsewhere. This week the boat was moved from it's mooring and pushed down into the Ohio River where it had not been since the 1980s.

It paused for a few minutes to allow a coal barge to pass and then began its slow trip up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh.

I paused too, like many others, to take some photos of an old friend who was leaving town for the last time.


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