A special post from guest blogger and cruise specialist Kathy Witt takes us aboard for a most unique cruise experience.
An embalmer’s technical reference handbook—and the machine that accompanies it. The exquisitely sculpted ballerina from “Black Swan” standing en pointe. And a mythical harbinger of doom that evolved into the centerpiece of an annual festival attended by 20,000 people from around the world.
One of the biggest draws of a river excursion with American Queen Voyages (besides the luxury-level experience, genuinely friendly crew and outstanding cuisine) are all the unexpected surprises on the itinerary. As the vessel calls at one charming river town after another, a mix of highlights—museums, bustling markets, scenic parks, historic homes, Main Street shopping—offer variety and allure. The specific attractions of a given destination are detailed during a daily port review, and all are included as part of the line’s guided hop-on hop-off tours.
Especially intriguing are discoveries aboard the American Countess’ Ohio River voyage between Louisville, KY, and Pittsburg, PA, that include a taboo topic, a creature from the paranormal realm and one of the world’s finest collections of miniatures.
IT’S A SMALL WORLD
No matter your age, your inner child will be hooked upon seeing the world-class fine art collection, numbering more than 15,000 pieces and in 1/12-scale, in Maysville, KY, a picture-postcard river town whose downtown is lined with yesteryear architecture punctuated by church steeples. The Kathleen Savage Browning Miniatures Collection at the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center is an extraordinary sight to behold.
Wander through the Palladian-style gallery filled with miniature houses, room boxes and vignettes—each showcasing exquisite and historically accurate re-creations right down to the tiny accessories, like a pair of vintage roller skates and a key to tighten them; building materials such as bricks on the Russell Theater’s exterior; and authentic carpets made on real looms.
In the “Lincoln Herndon Law Office,” the artisan room box replicates the office Abraham Lincoln shared with his partner, right down to the miniscule handwritten documents scattered across the desktop. The necklaces, bracelets and baubles in the “Savage & Sons Jewelers” room box are made with authentic gold, gems and crystals. Tiny copper pots and pans hang from the wall in the kitchen of “Le Plaisir De Venice” and itty-bitty puppets dance at the end of strings held by the toymaker in “McTavish Toys & Fairy Garden.”
The collection’s pièce de résistance is the re-creation of Spencer House, the magnificent eighteenth-century aristocratic palace and ancestral home of Princess Diana. Three floors showcase the fine furnishings and decorative arts objects that are true to the mid-1700s era and the exterior replicates the home’s neo-classical architecture.
RUN, DON’T WALK: IT’S MOTHMAN!
“What stands six feet tall, has wings, two big red eyes six inches apart and glides along behind an auto at 100 miles an hour?” asked reporter Mary Hyre in a November 1966 newspaper article. Hyre was covering the spectral sighting of a creature that became known as the Mothman, first seen hovering over an abandoned government WWII ammunition manufacturing facility—dubbed the TNT area—north of Point Pleasant, WVA, and later dubbed a harbinger of doom.
Coverage of Mothman sightings held the nation in its grip for more than a year. Every time the winged creature was spotted, tragedy seemed to follow in its wake, including the Silver Bridge collapse 10 days before Christmas in 1967, which resulted in the deaths of 46 people. The sightings spawned dozens of newspaper articles; a New York Times bestselling book, The Mothman Prophecies, written by journalist and UFOlogist John A. Keel; the 2002 movie of the same name, starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney; and a 2017 documentary, “The Mothman of Point Pleasant.”
The legend of the Mothman is recounted at the world’s only Mothman Museum. Memorabilia includes a recreation of Harris Steakhouse—considered a time capsule of 1960s Point Pleasant—which would eventually become known as the Mothman Diner. The museum’s small theater runs the documentary on a loop.
Outside, a 12-foot-tall, polished steel sculpture of Mothman standing atop a landscaped pedestal shows off his claws and glowing red eyes. And every third week in September, 20,000-plus visitors from around the world converge on Point Pleasant for the Mothman Festival (www.mothmanfestival.com).
‘KEEP EXERCISING. WE CAN WAIT.’
A little gallows humor framed and hanging on the wall of the garage greets those arriving at the Peoples Mortuary Museum. Tucked in a residential neighborhood in Marietta, Ohio, it was one of the most unexpected stops on American Countess’ itinerary—and a real eye-opener for those who braved a visit.
The museum began as a place for William Peoples, current owner of and a funeral director at Cawley & Peoples Funeral Home, to store his antique car collection. Peoples had a particular interest in hearses and several of them are parked in the museum among the caskets, funeral equipment and clothing, mourning jewelry and other artifacts.
The collection dates back to the late 1800s, when funerals were typically held in private homes and the collection’s ice box coffin would have been the casket of choice. (Embalming wasn’t yet the customary practice.) An infant’s coffin illustrates the design—narrow at the feet and wider at the shoulders—that got it dubbed the “toe pincher.” It is fitted with a small removable cover for viewing and fancy hardware, including ornamental screws and handles, to allow a more personal touch to the coffin.
Also in the collection are a Sayers & Scovill Horse-Drawn Hearse from 1895, a 1934 Studebaker Presidential Hearse and a 1927 Henney Hearse called “Miss Henney” that has appeared in several Hollywood movies, including Woody Allen’s “Radio Days,” Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Get Low,” a 2009 movie with Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray.
SEE THE TREASURES OF SMALL-TOWN AMERICA
American Queen Voyages’ 245-passenger American Countess is a paddlewheel boat with contemporary design. Photo: Karan Kiser
Book an American Queen Voyage (AQV) to find the unexpected in America’s river towns. Besides including unlimited guided tours/shore excursions, AQV cruise fares include unlimited beverages, including wine, spirits, local craft beers and specialty coffees; open bars and lounges, including a morning juice bar; locally sourced and regionally inspired cuisine; and live, daily onboard entertainment—which is among the very best on any body of water anywhere—plus enrichment programming
AQV also now includes pre-paid gratuities and port taxes and fees in its fares. Additionally, a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay with free transfers between hotel and vessel is part of the cruise package.
Voyages are on authentic paddlewheel riverboats, boutique exploration vessels and expedition ships on America’s inland waterways and Great Lakes and shores from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to the Yucatán Peninsula and Alaska.
Award-winning writer Kathy Witt is a monthly cruise, travel columnist and the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger: The Ultimate Guide to Cincinnati’s Hidden Treasures and Secret Cincinnati: Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure.