Monday, August 13, 2001

Donated paddle wheel not used for monument

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Greater Cincinnati Tall Stacks Commission isn't certain what will happen to the American Queen's huge paddle wheel, which sits in the weeds at the Maxim/Carlisle construction yards in Wilder. But it will not grace the entrance to the National Steamboat Monument on the Cincinnati riverfront in 2002, as was originally planned when it was donated by the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. in 1995.

        A 33-foot-long, 30-foot-wide replica of the American Queen paddle wheel now sits on a pair of upright supports between Cinergy Field and Firstar Center near the Great American Ball Park construction site.

        It is made of fiberglass and other materials, making it much lighter than the original wheel's approximately 60 tons.

        “When we accepted the donation of the American Queen wheel, we did not know the extent of deterioration and damage,” said Pete Gomsak, Tall Stacks executive committee member.

        “When we had engineering people involved — and determined the height and weight of the wheel — we realized it would be extremely costly to try to use it.”

        The wheel was damaged in 1995 on the maiden voyage of the American Queen, the largest overnight passenger vessel built by a U.S. shipyard since the 1950s. Builders determined that the wheel was actually the wrong size for the boat.

        It was donated to Cincinnati and brought here by barge, where it was displayed at the 1999 Tall Stacks event before being moved to the Wilder location just above the banks of the Licking River.

        “We're not certain at this point what will happen to the American Queen wheel,” Mr. Gomsak said. “The groups involved in the monument, including Tall Stacks and the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, will have to sit down and discuss it.”

        Mr. Gomsak said there was never an intention by museum developers to deceive anyone regarding use of the wheel or replicating it.

        “We've heard that some people are upset, and we want to assure them that this was something that had to be done,” he said.

        “The focus of our fund-raising efforts was for the park, not to repair the original wheel. We would love to use the original wheel, but it's not feasible.”

        The $2.8 million monument is a joint project of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission and the Greater Cincinnati Tall Stacks Commission. It is funded with $2.4 million in state money, with the remainder raised by the Tall Stacks Commission.

        The National Steamboat Monument will include:

        • Whistle Grove, described as a “multisensory, interactive instrument” by its creator, Christopher Janney of Lexington, Mass. Two dozen 10-foot, stainless steel columns, or torchiers, will surround the paddle wheel. As visitors walk past the columns that resemble smokestacks, photo sensors will trigger sounds such as a calliope, voices of river men or steamboat whistles.

        The photo sensors also will set off steam jets at the top of each torchier. Like the sounds, the steam can be programmed to go off at certain intervals, such as on the hour.

        • The Riddle. A plaque somewhere in the grove will be inscribed with text and images based on steamboat lore. A visitor who deciphers the riddle will be rewarded with a brief performance by the columns. The grove will include plaques that explain riverboat history and the Queen City's role.


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