National Geographic : 1950 Feb
So Much Happens Along the Ohio River BY FREDERICK SIMPICH With Illustrations by National Geographic Photographer Justin Locke I'VE been on the Amur, the Amazon, and the Rio de la Plata; on the Tigris, Thames, Nile, Rhine, Euphrates, and Ganges; on the Yangtze, the Yellow, the Pasig; on all America's great streams; even on the River Jordan, from Galilee down to the Dead Sea. But I've never had a river trip before like cameraman Justin Locke and I have just made down the singularly fascinating Ohio. It's full of surprise and the unexpected! From where the Ohio forms, at the conflu ence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers at Pittsburgh (page 189), it flows south and west for 981 miles, to where it joins the Missis sippi at Cairo, Illinois (map, pages 180-181). This noble stream's rich basin covers some 200,000 square miles, is home to some 20 mil lion people, and includes 150 cities of more than 10,000 population. Up and down this historic Ohio, Locke and I flew in planes. Along its winding course we drove in cars, and crossed it on old-fash ioned ferries. We rode its powerful towboats that push gigantic barges of coal, new auto mobiles, oil, sulphur, steel, and other bulk cargo. We rode its excursion steamers (page 210) and visited with theatrical folk who sing, dance, and play melodramas on its glittering showboats. We spent days in pilothouses with veteran skippers and ate many meals with deck hands, harking to their Munchausen river tales. We talked with folks who live along its kaleidoscopic banks, from soap kings and steel barons to bankers and shanty-boat idlers who act as if any garden truck growing near the river's edge, or any foolish frying chicken that ventures too close to the water belongs to them. A Mysterious Inscription Always, the unexpected. If Robinson Crusoe was upset when he found Friday's foot prints in the sand, think how astonished that young Beale boy was at a mysterious in scribed lead plate he found in the mud while swimming near the Kanawha River. It was one of a half-dozen buried along this river in 1749 by the French explorer, Celoron de Blain ville (Bienville). Blainville planted them to prove he'd been here, and claimed this land for his king-just as the sons of Frenchman Pierre La Verendrye planted a similar plate near Pierre, South Dakota, in 1743. That plate lay on the wind swept Dakota hills for more than a century and a half, till schoolgirl Hattie Foster found it. This whole valley is dotted with oddly formed earthworks left by the Mound Builders, American Indians who built mounds for burial, defensive, and domiciliary purposes.* At Turpin site, near Cincinnati, Locke made pic tures of scholarly grave robbers, busy with picks and whisk brooms, juggling the bones of men long dead in the name of science. In centuries to come, maybe others will investigate the tombs at Arlington National Cemetery, or dig in that old Boston graveyard to learn the shape of the skull of Mother Goose! From Stone Age Tools to Steel Farmers hereabouts sometimes plow up smoothly polished stone tools made by these Mound Builders. By odd coincidence, men still make polished tools here; but they're machine tools now, made of steel, and in Cin cinnati has grown up the greatest machine tool-making trade in the history of civiliza tion. And this river, where the Mound Builders launched their canoes, has become the busiest cargo-hauling stream in all our 28,000 miles of navigable inland waterways (page 188). For smoky leagues below Pittsburgh, fac tory chimneys now punch the dirty sky where once grew tall forest trees.t "Smoke!" snorted a coed from Hiram Col lege, Hiram, Ohio, one of a troupe with whom I had dinner on the showboat Majestic (page 179), then playing at Wheeling. "Besides sweeping up after every show, we girls do our own laundry. In one sudden squall the clothesline on our top deck broke and all our clean clothes blew away. We make our own beds, too, but every night that smoke settles down like fog. We get black!" Her class in dramatics chartered this boat for the summer. In the company were 29 boys and girls, directed and chaperoned by * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Indians of the Southeastern United States," by Mat thew W. Stirling, January, 1946; and "Indian Village of Baum (Ohio)," by H. C. Brown, July, 1901. t See "Pittsburgh: Workshop of the Titans," by Albert W. Atwood, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July, 1949.