Friday, January 29, 2010

The Showboat

Tucked behind a storage warehouse on the Byram River, separating New York and Connecticut, is a replica paddlewheeler known as the Showboat. It is a replica only in the loosest of terms since there is no engine aboard, and the boat is actually a barge with a riverboat style structure built atop it. Despite it's fictional purpose, the Showboat has a long history.
The Freedomland Amusement Park was built in the early 1960's where Co-op City and Bay Plaza in the Bronx now stand. In Disneyesque fashion, the history of America was cleaned up and presented  as entertainment with  attractions such as the Great Chicago Fire and the San Francisco Earthquake. The Showboat (then known as the Canadian) was one of two boats that carried passengers through the Great Lakes and Mississippi River region of the park. Visitors ( apparently with extremely short memories after arriving via the Cross Bronx Expressway) could also view a futuristic city  highlighting all the glory and wonder that modern highways promised.
Freedomland closed after the 1964 season and the fake paddlewheeler eventually ended up moored off the Showboat Hotel and Restaurant in Greenwich. In a very un-Greenwich-like atmosphere, complete with fake celebrity photos on the walls,  patrons enjoyed their cocktails and cigarettes while looking out at the make-believe riverboat from an ersatz Bourbon Street.
The Showboat Hotel closed in the 1980's, and is now the more blue-blood appropriate Delamar Hotel. The riverboat of the same name however, lives on as a dockside party barge on the Byram River. A half-century old, the Showboat has outlived many boats from her era which were built to perform real-life seaworthy tasks, but met their demise years ago. The Showboat is a reminder that fate is much more random than we want to believe.  Longevity and third acts do not always go to the worthy.

YouTube: Freedomland (boat is shown at 2:54)
FLICKR: 2002 photos
Showboat: Website
Bowery Boys: Freedomland USA

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