The Floating Palace, 1888

The Floating Palace consisted of a museum of oddities, a menagerie, an aquarium, and a showboat. The “Great Moral Show” slogan on the side of the boat reflected the role of showboats as family destinations. Advertisements emphasized “clean” shows and a refined atmosphere. It inspired the musical Show Boat which follows a family of performers who travel up and down the river on the Cotton Blossom Floating Theater. 

Cotton Aboard, 1878

Cotton was processed through a cotton gin, pressed, and baled at the plantation. For the trip to the “factors” or merchants in New Orleans, the bales were stacked into every available space aboard a river steamer. A staggering 7,818 bales of cotton were carried aboard the sternwheel steamer Chas. P. Chouteau, shown here in Natchez, Mississippi, in December 1878.

The Cholera Epidemic of 1873, 1875, John M. Woodworth

Deck passengers usually outnumbered cabin passengers three or four to one. The fares were cheap but the comforts few: without beds or shelter, they found room among the cargo crates. Diseases spread in such close quarters and were carried to unsuspecting communities along the steamers’ routes. The deck passengers in this image are suffering from cholera, an epidemic that spread along the Mississippi in 1873.

On the Levee, 1875

A steamship carrying 6,000 bales of cotton and 4,000 sacks of cottonseed could have its entire cargo unloaded and reloaded in as few as eleven hours. Gangs of African American dockworkers performed most of this work both before and after the end of slavery.

The Hunting of the Snark1874, Lewis Carroll (Illustration Henry Holiday) 

A map showing where to find the deadly snark, hidden amidst bandersnatch, beamish, frumious, galumphing, jubjub, mimsiest, outgrabe and uffish. Held by a bellman, this map is considered equally useful wherever one is. It has been used to successfully find the creature once, although the discoverer, a baker, vanished without a trace. He left behind friends such as a beaver, butcher, and boots.’