Schoen’s love strong for the Queen
Jo Ann Schoen is in love.
She has been for a few years, and even though the relationship isn’t exclusive (she shares this love with many people, in fact), she hopes to continue on for many years.
Unfortunately, that may not be possible.
See, Schoen is in love with the Delta Queen, the historic riverboat that travels up and down the Mississippi River and its many tributaries, available for overnight stays and cruises.
She says the seeds were planted when she was little, growing up hearing the Queen dock in New Boston, down in southern Harrison County. She said she begged her parents to take her to see the boat every time she heard the signature whistles blow.
In 2001, she turned 50, and Schoen said she had a ‘now or never’ attitude about the Delta Queen, which was granted status as a National Historical Landmark in 1989.
‘I thought if I’m ever going to do it, I just have to do it,’ she said.
And since that inaugural trip, Schoen has traveled on the Queen 13 times, with a plan for her 14th trip last Saturday.
‘I’ve definitely fallen in love with her,’ she said.
Unfortunately, due to strict legislation, it seems the Queen’s days may be numbered.
Congress passed the Safety of Life at Sea Act in 1965, due mainly to the fire aboard the SS Yarmouth Castle that took the lives of 90 people. The law states that any vessel that is constructed primarily of wood is forbidden from leaving port carrying more than 50 overnight guests. The Queen, with her wooden superstructure, has enough room for more than 150 overnight passengers.
‘When they enacted that law, they forgot about the Delta Queen,’ Schoen said.
However, despite the passage of this law, Congress has always given the Delta Queen a reprieve from her seemingly inevitable fate. Even though the Queen has a wooden superstructure, she also has two complete steel hulls beneath her and is never more than a mile off shore. Besides that, the structure has been coated with fire-resistant paint, sprinklers and electronic monitoring systems have been installed and there is a guard on-duty who patrols the ship during the night.
‘You’re safer on this boat than in your own home,’ Schoen said.
But the latest exemption is due to expire Nov. 1, 2008, and it could be the first time in nearly 40 years the Delta Queen won’t get her permission to sail. There are two Congressmen, Reps. James Oberstar of Minnesota and Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, actively pushing to dock the Queen forever, due to recommendations by the Coast Guard that the ship isn’t meeting safety standards.
Schoen said both of these men come from places with a strong and active seafarers unions, and, incidentally, the Delta Queen no longer employs members of that union on the ship. Those workers were let go when the Queen was taken over by Majestic America Line in 2006.
The Delta Queen issue has even hit home locally. Schoen said there is support from local districts, including Reps. Brad Ellsworth in Indiana, Geoff Davis, Ed Whitfield and John Yarmuth in Kentucky, and Steve Chabot in Ohio ‘ all supporters of keeping the Queen afloat. Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., however, remains unconvinced.
In an effort to convince Hill, and anyone else who might be wary, Schoen and many other people across the world have banded together in a grassroots organization to lobby Congress to save the Delta Queen, fortified by the boat’s spotless safety record and a log of the updates and precautions taken to prevent catastrophe aboard the Queen. The private initiative began with a fan in Germany and spread rapidly, sparking international interest. More can be found about the initiative and its goals at www.save-the-delta-queen.org or www.steamboats.org. It’s a letter-writing campaign, both to local and national representatives, but also to newspapers, to inform the media about, in Schoen’s opinion, a worthy cause.
‘We’ve got to,’ Schoen said. ‘We’ve got to keep her alive.’
For those who wish to help Schoen and other riverboat enthusiasts, Schoen recommends writing letters and signing an online petition found at www.save-the-delta-queen.com.