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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Jan 8, 2024

The River Queen had a storied history even before she arrived in St. Louis in 1964, including having been featured in several movies, most famously in Gone With The Wind. She was built in 1923 and named The Cape Girardeau, and after several name changes over the years, she was brought to St. Louis as a tourist attraction. It was a glowing success, but one that would not last, as under mysterious circumstances, the River Queen would soon find itself on the bottom of the Mississippi. Press play to hear the whole story. ------

Click on search links to explore episodes with related content: Adam Kloppe, Mississippi River, Business, Disaster, Riverboats, Transportation, ------


Podcast Transcript: I’m Adam Kloppe, public historian with the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on eighty-eight one, KDHX. ------

When the steamboat River Queen arrived in St. Louis in June of 1964, her owners, John Groffel and Arthur Krato, had big dreams. Ever since they had first purchased the stern wheel steamer at auction in 1961, they had hoped that the boat would bring them big dollars as a nostalgic tourist attraction. But in just three short years, those dreams would end up at the bottom of the river. ------

But before we get to the sinking, a little history. The River Queen was built in 1923, but when she was constructed she had a different name—the Cape Girardeau, and she operated mostly carrying passengers and freight on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Then, in 1935, she was sold, and got a different name—the Gordon C. Greene and she became a tourist boat—and movie star, appearing in three films, most notably, 1939’s Gone With the Wind. ------

But by 1951, the Gordon C. Greene was sold again, and over the next decade she’d undergo several name changes. In 1961, now going by the name the River Queen, the steamer was sold to John Groffel and Arthur Krato, who had plans to fix her up and turn her into a nostalgia-themed restaurant, museum, and gift shop. At first, they moored the River Queen in Hannibal, hoping to draw tourist crowds. ------

They found early success, but they also knew an even bigger tourist market was just 100 miles downriver. So, in June of 1964, they had the River Queen towed to St. Louis. They moored her near the Eads Bridge, and advertisements called out to tourists by promising that the River Queen would give them a nostalgic taste of nineteenth century steamboat life. Tourists could get lunch or dinner in her 185-seat dining room, and her kitchen offered everything from shrimp to catfish to steak. -------

For the next few years, everything seemed to be going well. The River Queen was bringing in money and the restaurant was well-regarded. But disaster struck in the early morning hours of December 2, 1967. That morning, the restaurant manager noticed the boat listing in the water. Groffel and Krato arrived shortly thereafter and could only watch as the waters rose over the second deck. The River Queen was sunk. To this day, no one knows why. The ship was scrapped, but parts of her steel hull can still be seen on the riverfront when the water is low. Instead of nostalgia for the past, her rusted hull offers us a reminder of how dangerous and powerful the river remains. ------

Here’s History is a joint production of KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Adam Kloppe, and this is eighty-eight one, KDHX St. Louis. ------