Speaking of the Boomers, today marks the 59th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, an event as traumatic to that generation as 9/11 was to a later. The oldest of us was just 17, seniors in high school and only beginning to become politically aware. But everybody loved John F. Kennedy. He was young and handsome, a war hero with a great smile. He had a classy wife and cute kids. If Eisenhower was everybody’s grandfather, JFK was their dad.
He was an Irish Catholic and so was almost everybody I knew. Today, when we’re as likely to elect a Mormon as a Muslim, it’s hard to believe that a Catholic President was a big deal. But most of all, he had big ideas, and we were ready for big ideas. We were going to the moon!
“We choose to go to the Moon… We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too. “
It was a New Frontier! And we, who had spent the last decade watching Westerns on TV and at the Saturday movies, were going to be part of that. Even today, more than 60 years later, reading a sampling of his rhetoric stirs the blood.
And then some nutjob with a cheap rifle shot him in the head.
I posted Kipling’s Recessional a few days ago because I was thinking about the passing of the Boomers, which seems to me as significant a generational transition. While Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrated her reign over a global empire of 450 million people, Kipling recognized that the vigorous, self-confident generation that had built that empire was fading away. The coming generation would be caretakers, not empire builders, and the Pax Brittanica could not endure. He lived to see the truths of the Victorians collapse in the horror of the First World War.
As Churchill put it in My Early Life, “Scarcely anything material or established which I was brought up to believe was permanent and vital, has lasted. Everything I was sure or taught to be sure was impossible, has happened.”
It remains to be seen whether the Boomers leave behind a worse mess than the Edwardians.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.
The biggest wreck on the Colorado isn’t a riverboat at all, but a six-deck, 40,000 square foot casino. Once the pride of Laughin, the $80 million Colorado Belle was launched July 1, 1987, and shut down by order of the State of Nevada on St. Patrick’s Day, 2020, “to prevent the spread of the virus.” I’ve heard secondhand that the foundations are sinking into the riverbed by several inches a year, and the old Belle is now down by the stern.
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!
There were no Colorado River Queens to match the Mississippi riverboats in elegance and size. The Colorado was a very different river back before we converted it into one of the planet’s greatest civil engineering projects. A shallow draft was needed to navigate the constantly shifting sandbars, with an engine and boiler strong enough to breast the current in the canyons. (This photo is the “Cochan” on the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona. This picture was taken in 1900.)
Considering how few Colorado steamboats there were compared to Eastern rivers, it’s a pleasurable surprise to discover at least one ghost boat buried down in the delta. The Explorer, one of the first boats on the river, broke free of its moorings at Pilot Knob and was swept 60 miles down stream in the spring flood. A survey party found the remains in 1929, , according to this excellent history.
There were steamboats on the Colorado as well. Thanks to early gold discoveries north of Fort Mohave, by the 1860s steamboats were running from Port Isabel at the mouth of the river as far north as what is today Las Vegas cove.
A friend in Mississippi advises the Drought is affecting Old Man River, too, and folks are out combing the newly exposed sandbars, finding an “old paddlewheeler or 2, civil war stuff, aincient bones… ” I don’t know how well the river bottom would preserve them, but there were a lot of steam packets on the rivers in the 19th Century, and a great many accidents. Twain’s Life on the Mississippi is all I know about it.
Over the last century, the story of the Spanish treasure ship stranded somewhere in the desert far from the sea grew barnacles of variations, as campfire tales will. Old parchments in some Spanish library documented a voyage north into the Colorado in 1540. That seaborn ressupply for the overland Coronado expedition returned, but had there been others that dissappeared over the horizon? Two prospectors found the timbers of what must have been a vessel of some kind; hikers saw the prow of a Viking long ship sticking out of the side of a wash someplace in the Mojave, the local tribe allegedly had legends of a strange hulk that appeared and disappeared in the dunes. And so the Lost Ship joined the rich folk lore of the Southwest.
The Chicago Daily News (Mike Royko‘s paper, God Bless Him) ran a kind of ghost story feature on the backpage of the Saturday edition. Missing persons, haunted houses, and unsolved mysteries. From there I discovered that Uncle Scrooge’s find was based on a much older story.