American Queen Voyages: Ghostly stories haunt mighty Mississippi River on American Queen cruise

Preparing for American Queen cruise

An early morning fog shrouds the river as the American Queen makes her way along the Mississippi River. Superstition, far-fetched tales and ghosts haunt the river. And even such a frequent occurrence as fog can have a story behind it.

The legend goes that fog on a river is caused by Old Man River smoking his pipe. In the old days, deckhands would deliberately dribble little bits of tobacco into the river as they stood on the deck enjoying a brief smoke.

When Old Man River had collected enough tobacco for his pipe, then he’d light up and the river would be filled with fog from his smoke. The boat would have to tie up ashore and deckhands would get an unexpected rest.

Every river town has its share of tales, former riverboat captain Mickey Karr told me long ago. “Whether you believe them or not is up to you.”

Mickey then proceeded to recount a story of old Natchez-Under-the-Hill in Mississippi. “Back in those days, that was a pretty rough place to be. Seems there was a card game going on one day and a big fellow who was losing jumped up and began accusing a little fellow of cheating.”

What followed, Mickey said, “wasn’t a fair fight. Then a guy from the back of the room comes forward and cuts off the big fellow’s ear with his knife. The guy with the knife was Jim Bowie and that was the end of that fight.”

The story goes on to say the knife used by famous knife creator Jim Bowie was so sharp it whacked off the ear without shedding a drop of blood. “Some of these stories get added on so much over the years,” Mickey said, “that it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not.”

Tale of three beautiful sisters                                             

This is a sad but true story. Once upon a time, there were three beautiful sisters. The Delta Queen. The American Queen. And the Mississippi Queen. The trio of riverboats cruised America’s waterways, introducing delighted passengers to big cities and small towns along the nation’s rivers.

Unfortunately, two of the beloved boats are no longer cruising. Launched in 1927, the Delta Queen was a favorite with cruise passengers until in 2008 she lost her congressional exemption from the 1966 Safety at Sea Act.

Built of wood, the Delta Queen was considered unsafe for overnight cruising. After serving as a docked restaurant and floating overnight hotel in Chattanooga from 2009 to 2014, the Delta Queen was towed to Houma, Louisiana, in March 2015 to be renovated for cruising.

After much support and signed petitions, a law was signed a few years ago for an exemption that would allow the wooden steamboat to operate again, despite the 1966 safety regulation that required such vessels to be constructed of noncombustible materials.

Last I heard, the legendary ship listed as a National Historic Landmark was in limbo.

As for the magnificent Mississippi Queen, the glorious riverboat met an inglorious end. Launched in 1976, the Mississippi Queen had many devoted followers, including me. I was on her inaugural cruise and hoped to journey with her for many years to come. But Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 put an end to all that.

Left improperly protected, the magnificent riverboat did not fare well during or after the hurricane. Laid up at the Perry Street Wharf in New Orleans, the Mississippi Queen was finally gutted and sold for scrap in 2009. She was towed for the last time to Morgan City, Louisiana, to be demolished. May her soul rest in peace.

8 Night – Memphis to St. Louis – American Queen

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

  • The American Queen was launched in 1995.
  • The American Queen cruises through a moonlit night.
  • A Paducah floodwall mural commemorates the day on July 2, 1996, when the Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen and American Queen visited the city simultaneously.
  • A towboat follows in the paddlewheel wake of the American Queen.
  • Itinerary for my American Queen cruise from Memphis to St. Louis.
  • Oak Alley features a canopy of beautiful 300-year-old oaks.

American Queen the ‘belle of the rivers’

As for the American Queen, she is alive and well. Built in 1995, the paddle wheeler is a six-deck recreation of a classic Mississippi riverboat. Owned by American Queen Voyages, the steamboat with her bright red paddlewheel, fluted stacks and gorgeous fretwork looks as though she just sailed out of the Victorian era.

The American Queen will be my weeklong home for a cruise from Memphis to St. Louis with stops in New Madrid, Missouri; Paducah, Kentucky; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Kimmswick, Missouri; and Alton, Illinois.

Perhaps I will hear some more superstitions and myths. I definitely will be writing about the glorious American Queen and what I discover on my cruise. Hope you will come along to see what we find.

Werewolves and such

As for river tales, another legend along the Mississippi coast concerns Oak Alley in Vacherie, Louisiana, one of the South’s most picturesque mansions. The story goes that a wealthy planter who once lived there imported a thousand spiders, turned them loose in the oak trees and contrived to have them spin webs as decorations for his daughter’s garden wedding, then had gardeners sprinkle the webs with gold dust to turn the estate into a glittering wonderland.

Believe that, river folks say, and they’ll tell you one of the most far-fetched tales ever to haunt the river.

It goes like this: According to old-timers, once a year a certain embankment along the river plays host to a huge gathering of “loups-garoux” – the Cajun-French expression for werewolves. Supposedly, the wolfmen gather to frolic and dance under the light of a brilliant full moon.

It is exceedingly dangerous to gaze upon this unearthly spectacle, river folks warn, unless you are armed with a bag of salt or a bag of live frogs. No one ventures to explain what salt or frogs have to do with werewolves.

Maybe they believe that if your imagination allows you to conjure up the sight of these hairy creatures in the first place, then you won’t have any trouble believing you’ll be protected by a little salt or a couple of toads.

Ed. Notes: See cruises here:

American Queen Voyages Cruises

American Queen Cruises

8 Night – Memphis to St. Louis – American Queen (

Day 1 Memphis, TN
Day 2 Memphis, TN
Day 3 River Cruising
Day 4 New Madrid, MO
Day 5 Paducah, KY
Day 6 Cape Girardeau, MO
Day 7 Chester, IL
Day 8 St. Louis, MO
Day 9 St. Louis, MO (Alton)

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