It was announced this week that the S.S. Admiral (a.k.a. President Casino) will close early. This was a sad announcement as far as I’m concerned. I have very fond memories of the Admiral from the mid to late 70s when she still made excursions.
The reason I have those fond memories is because my grandpa Paul wanted all of his granddaughters to take dance lessons. He passed away when I was just about two years old, but when I was old enough, I started lessons just like my cousins before me. I wasn’t much on dancing – I wasn’t very good at it and wasn’t crazy about practicing. The few home movies that I have of recitals show me mostly looking at my friend Jamie (Edgar) Butcher’s feet next to me and trying to keep up. We had recitals at the elementary school in Desloge each year. It was always hideously hot and a chore to get everyone’s tights with that darn seam plumb straight down the back of our legs. The studio owner and teacher was Jerri O’Dell, and I still remember most of the words to It’s A Small World and Oh You Beautiful Doll…two of my class’ big numbers.
Now, my cousins all had a knack for dancing, especially Deb. For me, the highlight of taking lessons, though, was that we danced on the Admiral. It was worth all of the lessons, practice, and hot recital to be able to make that trip to St Louis and dance on the Admiral. It is a boat like no other and has been a part of the St Louis skyline for decades. For me, it will not be the same without it. I remember getting excited when we got to the cobblestone, because we were nearly there (St Louis was always a special trip when I was a kid…it was sooooo far away, at least in my mind). I remember the narrow stairs along the side of the wall that took you up to the top deck or down to the bottom where the games were. One of my favorite things to do was always to go to the top deck and sit and listen to the calliope play. There was usually a nice breeze, the view was great, and the calliope was mesmerizing. It also made me just a little nervous every time we went under the bridge as if it was always touch-and-go whether we’d make it. Another favorite thing was to go down to the bottom deck and hang out. My knees would tremble and I would get butterflies in my stomach when I stood close to the big open windows. I wanted to see the Mississippi roll by, but the closer I got to those windows it also gave me a little adrenaline rush and panic at the same time. On that deck, they had a fortune teller machine – kind of like the one in the movie “Big.” It was a must during each trip to drop my money in, watch her move her arms and head like she was conjuring up something really cool, and then spit out my fortune.
The S.S. Admiral was a one of a kind when she was built. The original hull was from the Albatross, built in 1907. The boat was stripped down and redesigned in 1940 with that cool spaceship exterior and art deco interior. It was impossible to confuse with any other steam boat. Then in 1974, the steam engines were replaced with diesel engines. She was decertified for excursions and converted to a night club in 1979; then converted to the President Casino in the 1990s. Now that she is closed permanently, she’ll probably be soon be scrap.
It is going to be hard not seeing the Admiral (in whatever configuration) sitting next to the Arch in future pictures of the St Louis skyline. But, I am really happy to have these memories and to have been able to take a couple of those excursions. If anyone has photos from the Admiral or any excursions, please post them; or email them to me at email@example.com and I’ll post them here.
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