It is all too rarely that we can offer our readers truly good news about the progress of historic preservation, but some has recently come our way that we are delighted to pass on. Those who read “The Fight for the Queen” in our April, 1971, issue will recall that the majestic old stern-wheeler Delta Queen , last of the Mississippi River packets, was in danger of being forced into premature retirement largely through the opposition of one man. The man was Edward A. Garmatz, a representative from Maryland, who presided over the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. This committee had decided that under the stipulations of the 1966 Safety at Sea Act, the Queen was a deathtrap. Never mind the million-dollar improvements that made the ship as safe as any vessel afloat; her superstructure was made of wood, and she had to go. Congressman Garmatz, apparently feeling that his prestige was being challenged, quietly pigeonholed every one of the twenty-five bills to spare the Queen . Finally, through some elaborate congressional sidestepping, the Queen was given a three-year extension, which is due to expire this November.
Does this mean that the same wearing fight will have to be waged all over again? Probably not. Garmatz has left the House, and his committee is now presided over by a true friend of the Delta Queen , Missouri Democrat Leonor K. Sullivan, senior woman in the House and the first of her sex to head a House committee in the past twenty years. On March 16 she introduced a bill to give the Delta Queen a five-year reprieve. Though the salvation of the Queen is still not certain, there should be far less opposition than in 1970.
Concomitant good news is that while the Queen is sliding up and down the Mississippi during the next two years, an elegant sister riverboat will be under construction for Greene Line Steamers, the operators of the Delta Queen . The 379-foot vessel will be built of modern materials—no wood—and is designed to look like the old riverboats (see picture of model, opposite page). For a while it was thought that she would be propelled by gas-turbine jet engines; but in the end tradition prevailed, and the moving force will be a steam-powered stern paddle wheel. Accommodations and décor will be as de luxe as anything ever seen by Mark Twain, and the cost of the vessel—fifteen and a half million dollars—probably would stun him into total silence.