Monday, September 27, 2010

Local Tourist: Queen of Seattle

After a summer of hearing the mighty whistle of the Queen of Seattle from her office, Rosemarie insisted that we go aboard. The Queen is the largest steam-powered paddlewheel boat west of the Mississippi. It offers a two-hour cruise of Lake Union and the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Berthed next door is the Arthur Foss, featured in the 1933 film Tugboat Annie. Rosemarie, a Marie Dressler fan, was pleased by this no end.

Seattle history is covered throughout the cruise, with special emphasis on the Klondike gold rush era. My two favorite stories: then-mayor William F. Wood resigned as soon as he heard about the strike and went north to Alaska. Then there’s the one about the unscrupulous outfitters who’d sell sled dogs to a would-be prospector, only to blow a high-pitched whistle as the sap’s ship left the pier. The animals would jump overboard and swim home to be foisted off on the next poor sucker.

As we tooled around the lakefront, a piano player plinked out period tunes. On the return leg he climbed to the top deck and went to work on one of the world’s few remaining steam-powered calliopes. Then came the Klondike Cabaret, which really ought to be spelled with a K. Our tour guide, kitted out in appropriate attire, sang a few turn of the last century songs and followed up with a stirring rendition of Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee. Rosemarie, whose father would recite the poem regularly, was ready to step in if the need arose.

It’s all a little hokey, yes, but exactly the right kind of hokey. Rosemarie bought our tickets through a deal-of-the-day website, and kept reminding me about the voucher for what she called “the awesome boat ride.” The thing about Rosemarie is that she meant this. She genuinely believed that this boat ride was going to be awesome. And she was right. The cruise was a splendid way to spend an afternoon. It was nice to be the reason why the Fremont and Ballard drawbridges were going up for a change.

More photos at my Flickr page.