Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Disney's Mark Twain Riverboat and the Rivers of America

The Mississippi River is one of the great rivers of the world. Counting in its entire drainage basin, the Mississippi and its tributaries drain 31 states and the southernmost part of two Canadian provinces. It straddles the Rocky Mountains to the West and Appalachian Mountains to the East. It is the fourth longest and ninth largest river in the world. The Mississippi is the central artery of American industry, controlling it meant victory for the Union and defeat for the Confederates, it demarcates Country music from Western music, and the settlements along its ever advancing delta gave birth to Jazz. Sooner rather than later, the living river might bypass New Orleans and Baton Rouge altogether, rerouting its primary outflow to the Atchafalaya River. It already would be, if not for the engineering marvels placed by the US government attempting to bend nature to its will. Great industrial barges ply the urbanized riverscape today, but in Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and wherever Imagineers have transplanted the American frontier, the romance of the river's old steamboat days are perpetually rekindled.

A tributary of the Mississippi or Disneyland?

Walt Disney once said that "I hope we never lose sight of one thing: that it was all started by a mouse." It could also be said, though, that it was also all started by a steamboat. Released on November 18, 1928, Steamboat Willie was the first official Mickey Mouse cartoon, as well as the first cartoon to fully utilize synchronized sound. The combination of engaging character and cutting-edge technology - a Walt Disney hallmark - set the new animation studio apart from its competitors and laid the groundwork for everything that was to come. But without the steamboat, it would have just been "Willie", and that doesn't have nearly the same ring.

Steamboat Willie (1928)

When Disney first began drafting up ideas and plans for a nostalgic heritage village across the freeway from his Burbank Studios, one of its very first features was an expansive river traversed by a steamboat. As the plans grew and changed, the riverboat was always included. Eventually, this nostalgic remembrance of Walt's own boyhood included a fantasy kingdom populated by the characters of his fairytale films, an exotic jungle teeming over with creatures from his True Life Adventure epics, a living "Wild West" landscape, and a "World of Tomorrow" showcasing the advances in human science and ingenuity. The ambitious plan outgrew the space adjacent to the Burbank studio and an orange grove in Anaheim was purchased. Still, the riverboat remained.

The Wild West lives on in Frontierland.

What came of that "Mickey Mouse Park" idea was Disneyland. The inspiration for various parts of the park was not limited to Disney's own films or childhood remembrances. The Jungle Cruise, while based ostensibly on Disney's True Life Adventures films, was equally inspired by the 1951 Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn film African Queen. When giving him the assignment to design the Golden Horseshoe Saloon, Walt told designer Harper Goff to give him something "right out of Calamity Jane." Unbeknownst to Walt, Goff was a designer for that 1953 film, and gave him a 5/8th scale version of the exact set.

The Golden Horseshoe Saloon inside and out.

It is easy to see where the Kern and Hammerstein musical Show Boat, made into a film in 1936 and 1951, in turn inspired the presence of a riverboat in Disney's park. The former, a musical classic of Hollywood's Golden Age featuring Paul Robeson's immortal rendition of "Ol' Man River," fixed the romantic ideal of the steamboat in the minds of the public for generations. The 1951 remake further rejuvenated it. To cement the relationship, Irene Dunne, co-star of the 1936 film, christened the Mark Twain Riverboat on Disneyland's opening day, July 17, 1955, with a champagne bottle filled with waters collected from the major rivers of America.

Paul Robeson sings "Old Man River" from Show Boat (1936)

The ship was named in honour of America's bard, the great humourist Mark Twain. Born and raised Samuel Langhorn Clemens in Hannibal, Missouri, Twain grew up to the whistle of the paddlewheeler. He served as a pilot aboard one before he stopped working and became a writer. Never quite prepared to leave that life behind, he penned a nostalgic tome entitled Life on the Mississippi, capturing the spirit of those halcyon days...
When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. We had transient ambitions of other sorts, but they were only transient. When a circus came and went, it left us all burning to become clowns; the first negro minstrel show that came to our section left us all suffering to try that kind of life; now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained.

The Mark Twain Riverboat comin' 'round the bend.

The pen name "Mark Twain" was chosen by the author, Samuel Langhorne Clemens by birth, as a monument to those days. Mark Twain is a depth marking that signals off two fathoms or 12 feet of water. As a boy, Twain ran from home and took up an apprenticeship on a paddlewheeler. At the time he thought it was one of the finest ships on the river and did his best to make a show of his passage to the boys in each of the towns it stopped in at. Eventually he got a chance to see just how mean and small his ship was.
My chief was presently hired to go on a big New Orleans boat, and I packed my satchel and went with him. She was a grand affair. When I stood in her pilot-house I was so far above the water that I seemed perched on a mountain; and her decks stretched so far away, fore and aft, below me, that I wondered how I could ever have considered the little 'Paul Jones' a large craft. There were other differences, too. The 'Paul Jones's' pilot-house was a cheap, dingy, battered rattle-trap, cramped for room: but here was a sumptuous glass temple; room enough to have a dance in; showy red and gold window-curtains; an imposing sofa; leather cushions and a back to the high bench where visiting pilots sit, to spin yarns and 'look at the river;' bright, fanciful 'cuspadores' instead of a broad wooden box filled with sawdust; nice new oil-cloth on the floor; a hospitable big stove for winter; a wheel as high as my head, costly with inlaid work; a wire tiller-rope; bright brass knobs for the bells; and a tidy, white-aproned, black 'texas-tender,' to bring up tarts and ices and coffee during mid-watch, day and night. Now this was 'something like,' and so I began to take heart once more to believe that piloting was a romantic sort of occupation after all. The moment we were under way I began to prowl about the great steamer and fill myself with joy. She was as clean and as dainty as a drawing-room; when I looked down her long, gilded saloon, it was like gazing through a splendid tunnel; she had an oil-picture, by some gifted sign-painter, on every stateroom door; she glittered with no end of prism-fringed chandeliers; the clerk's office was elegant, the bar was marvelous, and the bar-keeper had been barbered and upholstered at incredible cost. The boiler deck (i.e. the second story of the boat, so to speak) was as spacious as a church, it seemed to me; so with the forecastle; and there was no pitiful handful of deckhands, firemen, and roustabouts down there, but a whole battalion of men. The fires were fiercely glaring from a long row of furnaces, and over them were eight huge boilers! This was unutterable pomp. The mighty engines—but enough of this. I had never felt so fine before. And when I found that the regiment of natty servants respectfully 'sir'd' me, my satisfaction was complete.

The Mark Twain Riverboat at dock.
Getting ready to ascend to the pilot house.

Atop the Mark Twain's Texas (top) deck. This is not
ordinarily accessible to the public but one can ask
politely to ride in the pilot house.

The pilot's cabin, or the 'Texas", if this were an actual riverboat.

Ashley and I taking the wheel.

A closer look at the front of the pilot house.

The big New Orleans boat... The big boat from the Big Easy. On Disneyland's opening day, the Mark Twain Riverboat was christened and sent on her maiden voyage following the dedication of Frontierland and a musical number by Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen in their famous roles of Davy Crockett and Georgie Russell. As a new riverboat turned the bend in the Rivers of America, the first of its kind built in 50 years, guest host Ronald Reagan had this to say:
The Mark Twain, a proud symbol of that romantic era when whole cities grew out of river ports. Churning paddlewheels brought new people, new customs and new industries to those fabulous ports of call: Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Natchez. And the riverboat even brought a new kind of music up the river from the city where the blues were born, where the Dixieland style was king, New Orleans.
The Civil War ended much of the riverboat traffic and Twain's career as a pilot. Years later, after his literary career had become established, he decided to retrace his steps from St. Louis down to N'awlins (a journey that became Life on the Mississippi). "The finest thing we saw on our whole Mississippi trip," Twain said, "we saw as we approached New Orleans in the steam-tug. This was the curving frontage of the crescent city lit up with the white glare of five miles of electric lights. It was a wonderful sight, and very beautiful."

The end of the line for steamboats was New Orleans herself, the Crescent City. From there it was only to turn tail and head back up into the continent, as the Mark Twain Riverboat does passing New Orleans Square before launching itself into the wilderness. The jewel of New Orleans is the French Quarter, of which Twain said:
The old French part of New Orleans—anciently the Spanish part—bears no resemblance to the American end of the city: the American end which lies beyond the intervening brick business-center. The houses are massed in blocks; are austerely plain and dignified; uniform of pattern, with here and there a departure from it with pleasant effect; all are plastered on the outside, and nearly all have long, iron-railed verandas running along the several stories. Their chief beauty is the deep, warm, varicolored stain with which time and the weather have enriched the plaster. It harmonizes with all the surroundings, and has as natural a look of belonging there as has the flush upon sunset clouds. This charming decoration cannot be successfully imitated; neither is it to be found elsewhere in America... The iron railings are a specialty, also. The pattern is often exceedingly light and dainty, and airy and graceful—with a large cipher or monogram in the center, a delicate cobweb of baffling, intricate forms, wrought in steel. The ancient railings are hand-made, and are now comparatively rare and proportionately valuable. They are become bric-a-brac.
New Orleans Square and its sights.

The French Quarter may not be successfully imitated except for Disneyland, perhaps. When Disneyland first opened, there was nothing to the south end of the Rivers of America except Swift's Chicken Plantation and a bandstand where played the likes of The Strawhatters and the Firehouse Five Plus Two, a Dixieland band comprised of Disney animators Ward Kimball, Harper Goff, Danny Alguire, Clarke Mallery, Monte Mountjoy, Ed Penner, and Frank Thomas. But over time, Walt Disney wanted to replicate one of his favourite cities on the waterfront. It was also designed to hold Disney's two most ambitious attractions to date. Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion are still widely regarded as two of the best theme park attractions ever built, though the latter was improved upon in Walt Disney World and the former has steadily declined in quality with successive vandalisms in the name of movie franchising and political correctness. Mark Twain's description of the Garden District residences of New Orleans also ably describe the great manor house looming over Disneyland's river:
All the dwellings are of wood—in the American part of the town, I mean—and all have a comfortable look. Those in the wealthy quarter are spacious; painted snow-white usually, and generally have wide verandas, or double-verandas, supported by ornamental columns. These mansions stand in the center of large grounds, and rise, garlanded with roses, out of the midst of swelling masses of shining green foliage and many-colored blossoms. No houses could well be in better harmony with their surroundings, or more pleasing to the eye, or more home-like and comfortable-looking.

The Haunted Mansion, by day and night.

Detail of the Haunted Mansion's ironwork.

New Orleans Square opened in July of 1966, as one of the last projects overseen by Walt Disney before his untimely passing of lung cancer in December of that year. Pirates of the Caribbean did not open until 1967, and the Haunted Mansion until 1969. Victor Schiro, then mayor of New Orleans was invited to the opening ceremonies and made Walt an honorary citizen of the city. Walt, in turn, joked that his New Orleans cost more than the entire Louisiana Purchase and was a lot cleaner than the real thing. Schiro replied that Walt's New Orleans hadn't been around for 300 years either.

When the steamboats came and went in New Orleans, it was to great commotion...
It was always the custom for the boats to leave New Orleans between four and five o'clock in the afternoon. From three o'clock onward they would be burning rosin and pitch pine (the sign of preparation), and so one had the picturesque spectacle of a rank, some two or three miles long, of tall, ascending columns of coal-black smoke; a colonnade which supported a sable roof of the same smoke blended together and spreading abroad over the city. Every outward-bound boat had its flag flying at the jack-staff, and sometimes a duplicate on the verge staff astern. Two or three miles of mates were commanding and swearing with more than usual emphasis; countless processions of freight barrels and boxes were spinning athwart the levee and flying aboard the stage-planks, belated passengers were dodging and skipping among these frantic things, hoping to reach the forecastle companion way alive, but having their doubts about it; women with reticules and bandboxes were trying to keep up with husbands freighted with carpet-sacks and crying babies, and making a failure of it by losing their heads in the whirl and roar and general distraction; drays and baggage-vans were clattering hither and thither in a wild hurry, every now and then getting blocked and jammed together, and then during ten seconds one could not see them for the profanity, except vaguely and dimly...
By this time the hurricane and boiler decks of the steamers would be packed and black with passengers. The 'last bells' would begin to clang, all down the line, and then the powwow seemed to double; in a moment or two the final warning came,—a simultaneous din of Chinese gongs, with the cry, 'All dat ain't goin', please to git asho'!'—and behold, the powwow quadrupled! People came swarming ashore, overturning excited stragglers that were trying to swarm aboard. One more moment later a long array of stage-planks was being hauled in, each with its customary latest passenger clinging to the end of it with teeth, nails, and everything else, and the customary latest procrastinator making a wild spring shoreward over his head.  
Now a number of the boats slide backward into the stream, leaving wide gaps in the serried rank of steamers. Citizens crowd the decks of boats that are not to go, in order to see the sight. Steamer after steamer straightens herself up, gathers all her strength, and presently comes swinging by, under a tremendous head of steam, with flag flying, black smoke rolling, and her entire crew of firemen and deck-hands (usually swarthy negroes) massed together on the forecastle, the best 'voice' in the lot towering from the midst (being mounted on the capstan), waving his hat or a flag, and all roaring a mighty chorus, while the parting cannons boom and the multitudinous spectators swing their hats and huzza! Steamer after steamer falls into line, and the stately procession goes winging its flight up the river.
The Haunted Mansion from the deck of the Mark Twain Riverboat.

The Mark Twain Riverboat heads off upriver.

The central feature of the Rivers of America, what actually makes it a "river" rather than merely an artificial lake, is Tom Sawyer Island. The island opened a year after Disneyland itself, in 1956. Up to that point, there was considerable debate about what exactly the island would be. Early drafts of the park included "Mickey Mouse Club Island", from which the Mickey Mouse Club TV series would be filmed live. Eventually the theme of Tom Sawyer was settled on, connecting the island thematically to the river and the Mark Twain Riverboat. It also connected nostalgically to an age when children were allowed to simply run off and play in the wild fringes of their hometowns, while those wooded fringes still existed and before adult onset paranoia. The story goes that Walt Disney himself designed the island's shoreline, which remained until the entire Rivers of America were altered and shortened to make room for a land themed to Star Wars in 2018.

The rafts that ferry guests to Tom Sawyer Island.

The original Fort Wilderness on Tom Sawyer Island, which was demolished in 2007.
Inside the closed Fort Wilderness circa 2006.

The original view from Smuggler's Cover on Tom Sawyer Island.

Direct references to Mark Twain's works were always somewhat slight on the island, but even those were effaced in 2007 when Tom Sawyer Island was transformed into "Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island". The success of the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise inspired Imagineers to plunk Jack Sparrow and company in the middle of the Rivers of America. It was thematically muddled and sought to justify itself however possible. The connection of pirates to New Orleans was invoked, as was a particular chapter from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer which was the only real literary reference point for Tom Sawyer Island to begin with.

In chapter 13, Tom has decided to run away from his Aunt Polly's and take to a life of crime, on account of the neglect he suffered from Becky Thatcher. Along the way he met up with Joe Harper, who was also on a pilgrimage into the world and intent on adopting the life of a hermit, "living on crusts in a remote cave, and dying, some time, of cold and want and grief." However, "after listening to Tom, he conceded that there were some conspicuous advantages about a life of crime, and so he consented to be a pirate." All that they were in need of was a lair...
Three miles below St. Petersburg, at a point where the Mississippi River was a trifle over a mile wide, there was a long, narrow, wooded island, with a shallow bar at the head of it, and this offered well as a rendezvous. It was not inhabited; it lay far over toward the further shore, abreast a dense and almost wholly unpeopled forest. So Jackson's Island was chosen. Who were to be the subjects of their piracies was a matter that did not occur to them. Then they hunted up Huckleberry Finn, and he joined them promptly, for all careers were one to him; he was indifferent. They presently separated to meet at a lonely spot on the river-bank two miles above the village at the favorite hour—which was midnight. There was a small log raft there which they meant to capture. Each would bring hooks and lines, and such provision as he could steal in the most dark and mysterious way—as became outlaws. And before the afternoon was done, they had all managed to enjoy the sweet glory of spreading the fact that pretty soon the town would "hear something." All who got this vague hint were cautioned to "be mum and wait."
About midnight Tom arrived with a boiled ham and a few trifles, and stopped in a dense undergrowth on a small bluff overlooking the meeting-place. It was starlight, and very still. The mighty river lay like an ocean at rest. Tom listened a moment, but no sound disturbed the quiet. Then he gave a low, distinct whistle. It was answered from under the bluff. Tom whistled twice more; these signals were answered in the same way. Then a guarded voice said:
"Who goes there?"
"Tom Sawyer, the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main. Name your names."
"Huck Finn the Red-Handed, and Joe Harper the Terror of the Seas." Tom had furnished these titles, from his favorite literature.
"'Tis well. Give the countersign."
Two hoarse whispers delivered the same awful word simultaneously to the brooding night:
Then Tom tumbled his ham over the bluff and let himself down after it, tearing both skin and clothes to some extent in the effort. There was an easy, comfortable path along the shore under the bluff, but it lacked the advantages of difficulty and danger so valued by a pirate.
The Terror of the Seas had brought a side of bacon, and had about worn himself out with getting it there. Finn the Red-Handed had stolen a skillet and a quantity of half-cured leaf tobacco, and had also brought a few corn-cobs to make pipes with. But none of the pirates smoked or "chewed" but himself. The Black Avenger of the Spanish Main said it would never do to start without some fire. That was a wise thought; matches were hardly known there in that day. They saw a fire smouldering upon a great raft a hundred yards above, and they went stealthily thither and helped themselves to a chunk. They made an imposing adventure of it, saying, "Hist!" every now and then, and suddenly halting with finger on lip; moving with hands on imaginary dagger-hilts; and giving orders in dismal whispers that if "the foe" stirred, to "let him have it to the hilt," because "dead men tell no tales." They knew well enough that the raftsmen were all down at the village laying in stores or having a spree, but still that was no excuse for their conducting this thing in an unpiratical way.
They shoved off, presently, Tom in command, Huck at the after oar and Joe at the forward. Tom stood amidships, gloomy-browed, and with folded arms, and gave his orders in a low, stern whisper:
"Luff, and bring her to the wind!"
"Aye-aye, sir!"
"Steady, steady-y-y-y!"
"Steady it is, sir!"
"Let her go off a point!"
"Point it is, sir!"
As the boys steadily and monotonously drove the raft toward mid-stream it was no doubt understood that these orders were given only for "style," and were not intended to mean anything in particular.
"What sail's she carrying?"
"Courses, tops'ls, and flying-jib, sir."
"Send the r'yals up! Lay out aloft, there, half a dozen of ye—foretopmaststuns'l! Lively, now!"
"Aye-aye, sir!"
"Shake out that maintogalans'l! Sheets and braces! now my hearties!"
"Aye-aye, sir!"
"Hellum-a-lee—hard a port! Stand by to meet her when she comes! Port, port! Now, men! With a will! Stead-y-y-y!"
"Steady it is, sir!"
The raft drew beyond the middle of the river; the boys pointed her head right, and then lay on their oars. The river was not high, so there was not more than a two or three mile current. Hardly a word was said during the next three-quarters of an hour. Now the raft was passing before the distant town. Two or three glimmering lights showed where it lay, peacefully sleeping, beyond the vague vast sweep of star-gemmed water, unconscious of the tremendous event that was happening. The Black Avenger stood still with folded arms, "looking his last" upon the scene of his former joys and his later sufferings, and wishing "she" could see him now, abroad on the wild sea, facing peril and death with dauntless heart, going to his doom with a grim smile on his lips. It was but a small strain on his imagination to remove Jackson's Island beyond eye-shot of the village, and so he "looked his last" with a broken and satisfied heart. The other pirates were looking their last, too; and they all looked so long that they came near letting the current drift them out of the range of the island. But they discovered the danger in time, and made shift to avert it. About two o'clock in the morning the raft grounded on the bar two hundred yards above the head of the island, and they waded back and forth until they had landed their freight. Part of the little raft's belongings consisted of an old sail, and this they spread over a nook in the bushes for a tent to shelter their provisions; but they themselves would sleep in the open air in good weather, as became outlaws.

After partaking of a dinner of corn pone around a romantic campfire...
"Ain't it gay?" said Joe.
"It's nuts!" said Tom. "What would the boys say if they could see us?"
"Say? Well, they'd just die to be here—hey, Hucky!"
"I reckon so," said Huckleberry; "anyways, I'm suited. I don't want nothing better'n this. I don't ever get enough to eat, gen'ally—and here they can't come and pick at a feller and bullyrag him so."
"It's just the life for me," said Tom. "You don't have to get up, mornings, and you don't have to go to school, and wash, and all that blame foolishness. You see a pirate don't have to do anything, Joe, when he's ashore, but a hermit he has to be praying considerable, and then he don't have any fun, anyway, all by himself that way."
"Oh yes, that's so," said Joe, "but I hadn't thought much about it, you know. I'd a good deal rather be a pirate, now that I've tried it."
"You see," said Tom, "people don't go much on hermits, nowadays, like they used to in old times, but a pirate's always respected. And a hermit's got to sleep on the hardest place he can find, and put sackcloth and ashes on his head, and stand out in the rain, and—"
"What does he put sackcloth and ashes on his head for?" inquired Huck.
"I dono. But they've got to do it. Hermits always do. You'd have to do that if you was a hermit."
"Dern'd if I would," said Huck.
"Well, what would you do?"
"I dono. But I wouldn't do that."
"Why, Huck, you'd have to. How'd you get around it?"
"Why, I just wouldn't stand it. I'd run away."
"Run away! Well, you would be a nice old slouch of a hermit. You'd be a disgrace."
The Red-Handed made no response, being better employed. He had finished gouging out a cob, and now he fitted a weed stem to it, loaded it with tobacco, and was pressing a coal to the charge and blowing a cloud of fragrant smoke—he was in the full bloom of luxurious contentment. The other pirates envied him this majestic vice, and secretly resolved to acquire it shortly. Presently Huck said:
"What does pirates have to do?"
Tom said:
"Oh, they have just a bully time—take ships and burn them, and get the money and bury it in awful places in their island where there's ghosts and things to watch it, and kill everybody in the ships—make 'em walk a plank."
"And they carry the women to the island," said Joe; "they don't kill the women."
"No," assented Tom, "they don't kill the women—they're too noble. And the women's always beautiful, too.
"And don't they wear the bulliest clothes! Oh no! All gold and silver and di'monds," said Joe, with enthusiasm.
"Who?" said Huck.
"Why, the pirates."
Huck scanned his own clothing forlornly.
"I reckon I ain't dressed fitten for a pirate," said he, with a regretful pathos in his voice; "but I ain't got none but these."
But the other boys told him the fine clothes would come fast enough, after they should have begun their adventures. They made him understand that his poor rags would do to begin with, though it was customary for wealthy pirates to start with a proper wardrobe.
Gradually their talk died out and drowsiness began to steal upon the eyelids of the little waifs. The pipe dropped from the fingers of the Red-Handed, and he slept the sleep of the conscience-free and the weary. The Terror of the Seas and the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main had more difficulty in getting to sleep. They said their prayers inwardly, and lying down, since there was nobody there with authority to make them kneel and recite aloud; in truth, they had a mind not to say them at all, but they were afraid to proceed to such lengths as that, lest they might call down a sudden and special thunderbolt from heaven. Then at once they reached and hovered upon the imminent verge of sleep—but an intruder came, now, that would not "down." It was conscience. They began to feel a vague fear that they had been doing wrong to run away; and next they thought of the stolen meat, and then the real torture came. They tried to argue it away by reminding conscience that they had purloined sweetmeats and apples scores of times; but conscience was not to be appeased by such thin plausibilities; it seemed to them, in the end, that there was no getting around the stubborn fact that taking sweetmeats was only "hooking," while taking bacon and hams and such valuables was plain simple stealing—and there was a command against that in the Bible. So they inwardly resolved that so long as they remained in the business, their piracies should not again be sullied with the crime of stealing. Then conscience granted a truce, and these curiously inconsistent pirates fell peacefully to sleep.
The saga of the pirate's lair on Tom Sawyer's island continues for the next few chapters, such idylls only coming to an end when they get the bright idea to attend their own funerals in chapter 18.

Pirate shipwrecks now fill Smuggler's Cove on Tom Sawyer Island,
among other swashbuckling and buckaneering features.

Upriver of New Orleans Square and across from Tom Sawyer Island is Splash Mountain, one of the great classic Disney rides whose source film nobody in the United States is allowed to watch. During his journeys up and down the river as an adult, Twain succeeded in making the acquaintance of Joel Chandler Harris, author of the "Uncle Remus" stories on which Song of the South and Splash Mountain are based.
Mr. Joel Chandler Harris ('Uncle Remus') was to arrive from Atlanta at seven o'clock Sunday morning; so we got up and received him. We were able to detect him among the crowd of arrivals at the hotel-counter by his correspondence with a description of him which had been furnished us from a trustworthy source. He was said to be undersized, red-haired, and somewhat freckled. He was the only man in the party whose outside tallied with this bill of particulars. He was said to be very shy. He is a shy man. Of this there is no doubt. It may not show on the surface, but the shyness is there. After days of intimacy one wonders to see that it is still in about as strong force as ever. There is a fine and beautiful nature hidden behind it, as all know who have read the Uncle Remus book; and a fine genius, too, as all know by the same sign...  
He deeply disappointed a number of children who had flocked eagerly to Mr. Cable's house to get a glimpse of the illustrious sage and oracle of the nation's nurseries. They said— 
'Why, he 's white!' 
They were grieved about it. So, to console them, the book was brought, that they might hear Uncle Remus's Tar-Baby story from the lips of Uncle Remus himself—or what, in their outraged eyes, was left of him. But it turned out that he had never read aloud to people, and was too shy to venture the attempt now. Mr. Cable and I read from books of ours, to show him what an easy trick it was; but his immortal shyness was proof against even this sagacious strategy, so we had to read about Brer Rabbit ourselves.
Splashdown at Splash Mountain.

In the wake of the Rivers of America's truncation, there is now a stretch along which the Disneyland Railroad and the Mark Twain Riverboat run alongside each other. In history, this was a very brief period, as the efficiency of the railway quickly ended the dominance of the steamboat. 
The majestic bluffs that overlook the river, along through this region, charm one with the grace and variety of their forms, and the soft beauty of their adornment. The steep verdant slope, whose base is at the water’s edge is topped by a lofty rampart of broken, turreted rocks, which are exquisitely rich and mellow in color—mainly dark browns and dull greens, but splashed with other tints. And then you have the shining river, winding here and there and yonder, its sweep interrupted at intervals by clusters of wooded islands threaded by silver channels; and you have glimpses of distant villages, asleep upon capes; and of stealthy rafts slipping along in the shade of the forest walls; and of white steamers vanishing around remote points. And it is all as tranquil and reposeful as dreamland, and has nothing this-worldly about it—nothing to hang a fret or a worry upon. 
Until the unholy train comes tearing along—which it presently does, ripping the sacred solitude to rags and tatters with its devil’s warwhoop and the roar and thunder of its rushing wheels... 
First, the new railroad stretching up through Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky, to Northern railway centers, began to divert the passenger travel from the steamers; next the war came and almost entirely annihilated the steamboating industry during several years, leaving most of the pilots idle, and the cost of living advancing all the time... and finally, the railroads intruding everywhere, there was little for steamers to do, when the war was over, but carry freights; so straightway some genius from the Atlantic coast introduced the plan of towing a dozen steamer cargoes down to New Orleans at the tail of a vulgar little tug-boat; and behold, in the twinkling of an eye, as it were, the association and the noble science of piloting were things of the dead and pathetic past!...
Mississippi steamboating was born about 1812; at the end of thirty years, it had grown to mighty proportions; and in less than thirty more, it was dead! A strangely short life for so majestic a creature... It killed the old-fashioned keel-boating, by reducing the freight-trip to New Orleans to less than a week. The railroads have killed the steamboat passenger traffic by doing in two or three days what the steamboats consumed a week in doing; and the towing-fleets have killed the through-freight traffic by dragging six or seven steamer-loads of stuff down the river at a time, at an expense so trivial that steamboat competition was out of the question.
The Disneyland Railroad pulling into New Orleans Square station.

But for Twain, the romance of a riverboat pilot's life was without compare, for as he said, "a pilot, in those days, was the only unfettered and entirely independent human being that lived in the earth."
Kings are but the hampered servants of parliament and people; parliaments sit in chains forged by their constituency; the editor of a newspaper cannot be independent, but must work with one hand tied behind him by party and patrons, and be content to utter only half or two-thirds of his mind; no clergyman is a free man and may speak the whole truth, regardless of his parish's opinions; writers of all kinds are manacled servants of the public. We write frankly and fearlessly, but then we 'modify' before we print. In truth, every man and woman and child has a master, and worries and frets in servitude; but in the day I write of, the Mississippi pilot had none. The captain could stand upon the hurricane deck, in the pomp of a very brief authority, and give him five or six orders while the vessel backed into the stream, and then that skipper's reign was over.
The moment that the boat was under way in the river, she was under the sole and unquestioned control of the pilot. He could do with her exactly as he pleased, run her when and whither he chose, and tie her up to the bank whenever his judgment said that that course was best. His movements were entirely free; he consulted no one, he received commands from nobody, he promptly resented even the merest suggestions. Indeed, the law of the United States forbade him to listen to commands or suggestions, rightly considering that the pilot necessarily knew better how to handle the boat than anybody could tell him. So here was the novelty of a king without a keeper, an absolute monarch who was absolute in sober truth and not by a fiction of words. I have seen a boy of eighteen taking a great steamer serenely into what seemed almost certain destruction, and the aged captain standing mutely by, filled with apprehension but powerless to interfere. His interference, in that particular instance, might have been an excellent thing, but to permit it would have been to establish a most pernicious precedent. It will easily be guessed, considering the pilot's boundless authority, that he was a great personage in the old steamboating days. He was treated with marked courtesy by the captain and with marked deference by all the officers and servants; and this deferential spirit was quickly communicated to the passengers, too. I think pilots were about the only people I ever knew who failed to show, in some degree, embarrassment in the presence of traveling foreign princes. But then, people in one's own grade of life are not usually embarrassing objects.
Earning my pilot's licence!

A plaque on the Mark Twain Riverboat describes her place in Disneyland and America:
The stately paddlewheel steamboat was once America's most important means of water transportation... The "Queen of the River," while plying the muddy waters of the Mississippi between New Orleans and St. Louis more than a century ago.

In those days, the Mississippi was the focal point of trade activity. Paddlewheelers, rafts and smaller craft traversed the huge waterway, carrying passengers, cotton bales and other important cargo. Today, this era of bustling river activity is recreated along Frontierland's "Rivers of America."

Authentic to the last detail, this 5/8 scale "sternwheeler" was the first of its kind to be built in the United States since the turn of the century. The "Mark Twain's" hull was constructed at the Todd Shipyards in Long Beach, California. At the Walt Disney Studios, the 108 foot superstructure was fabricated within a giant sound stage, then dismantled and transported to Disneyland by truck, where it was reassembled piece-by-piece.

Displacing 125 tons, the riverboat stands 28 feet high and sports a nine-ton paddlewheel powered by 2 single cylinder long-stroke steam engines, producing a combined output of up to 80 horsepower.

In the true spirit of her forerunners, the "Mark Twain" takes her place as Frontierland's "Queen of the River."

The Mark Twain is joined by namesakes in Paris and Tokyo. The former enjoys the company of the Molly Brown paddlewheeler. In Walt Disney World, the riverboat is named Liberty Belle in reference to the Liberty Square section of the park where it docks. At the original park, however, one can easily race from the Mint Julep stand to the dock in order to enjoy a soothing cruise around the river sipping one of the nicest drinks there is, on a very fine ship, reliving the golden age of the Mississippi riverboat.

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