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Almost Yesterday is a glimpse into the rich history of our region. Dr. Frank Nickell takes listeners on a journey to specific moments in time, such as the first radio broadcast on KFVS, the history of Farmington’s Carleton College, and the short-lived safari on a Mississippi River island. A gifted storyteller and local historian, Dr. Nickell’s wit and love for the past are combined with sounds and music that augment his narrative.On Saturday, June 7, 2008, Almost Yesterday received First Place in the "Special Programs" category at the Missouri Broadcasters Association Awards Banquet in Kansas City, Missouri.Almost Yesterday airs every Wednesday at 5:42 and 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Almost Yesterday: What May Have Been the Last River Boat Race on the Mississippi

The Bald Eagle

It seems like Almost Yesterday that the last of the unplanned and unscheduled steamboat races occurred on the Mississippi.

On the evening of September 5, 1923, the steam boat, The Capitol, went out of Cape on a moonlight excursion.

The Bald Eagle, one of the oldest river boats, was preparing for a late night departure for St. Louis.  At approximately 10:00 P.M., the Bald Eagle pulled out of Cape and headed north.  About a mile up river the two ships passed – passengers shouting, and the captains laying heavy on the whistles.

Near midnight the Bald Eagle encountered thick fog and tied up for the night on the Illinois shore.
By Sunday morning, September 6, the fog lifted, a bright sun shone, and the Capitol moved past the Bald Eagle.  Someone shouted, “Get up, we’re having a race,” and soon crew and passengers were on deck.  The captain screamed “More power!  More steam!” And smoke poured, bells rang, steam hissed, people yelled, some cried, and everyone was covered with soot.

The destination of both boats was Chester, Illinois, and the Bald Eagle moved slightly ahead, but spirits sank when a flag signaled animals to be picked up – in perhaps one of the fastest landings in river history, the crew ran down the gangplank, leaped to the shore and grabbed pigs and cows and carried or drug them aboard, and the Bald Eagle was back in the race.

It took miles, but the Bald Eagle crept by the Capitol, and, as the steam from the engines heaved a sigh of relief, the Bald Eagle eased up to the wharf in Chester – The Winner!

It may have been the last unplanned, unscheduled, river boat race on the Mississippi.

Frank Nickell is a retired history professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
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