Saturday, October 18, 2003

Three boats boast authentic calliopes

Only three of the 17 paddle-wheelers at Tall Stacks have authentic steam calliopes.

•  The Delta Queen's calliope has survived a watery grave, carnivals and a stint with the circus. It predates the 1927 paddle wheeler by about 30 years.

Thomas J. Nichol of Cincinnati built the calliope in 1897 for the Water Queen, which sank in the Kanawha River in 1936.

Calliopist "Crazy" Ray Choisser rescued the instrument from its river grave, and played it for carnivals. After he died, it was used in the King Brothers' Circus. In 1960, E.J. Quinby, commodore of the Greene Line, had its 32 copper whistles installed on the Delta Queen.

Quinby added an ivory keyboard, placed away from the whistles' steam bath. He also introduced the steam "aurora" effect - colored lights to illuminate the steam clouds at night.

•  The Mississippi Queen has the world's largest and loudest steam calliope, designed and built by Arthur E. Davis, a computer programmer at the University of Washington, Seattle. It has 44 keys (half the size of a piano keyboard) and has been in service on the Mississippi Queen since 1976.

• The Belle of Louisville has a 1966 calliope. Its keyboard has authentic brass keys with copper "black notes," made by Cincinnatian Ernest J. Wilde. David Morecraft of Peru, Ind., and Travis Vasconcelos of Louisville installed new whistles in 1988.

There's also a steam calliope on the "whistle barge," where volunteers perform during Tall Stacks.

Janelle Gelfand

Photo gallery
On the Delta Queen, history takes its time
Calliopes blast out that shrill, sweet song
Three boats boast authentic calliopes
Timeline of the early calliope
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