here to download this installment as a PDF file
Dean has supplied pictures of this part of the trip.
Click on the links in the story to see the photos.)
For Governor Jimmy Davis
Remember how much each of us
wanted to steer, or pilot in the beginning? By now the novelty had completely
worn off. It was a constant battle to get some of the guys to take their
watch. If they did not sell their watch they would just plain let go of
the wheel and let us run aground or hit something. This was the most serious
of infractions and these boys were dealt with harshly, not only by the
staff, but the crew. Many fistfights broke out. Those who did volunteer
to take the helm were rewarded by being excused from other duties. This
did not go over well with those who were sloughing off.
During the night two boys decided to head for home. They sneaked out of
camp and started to hitchhike home. Jack was furious, we all watched him
to see how he would handle this matter. There was an immediate group meeting
and we were warned that this was unacceptable behavior. Not to mention
how dangerous it could be this far from home and alone.
The boys were picked up the very next day and held in the Helena, Arkansas
jail. Jack went there to straighten things out as we continued. You should
have seen him when he returned the next day. He was all smiles and alone.
We had another meeting and Jack announced that he had made arrangements
with the local sheriff to keep those clowns in jail until we finished
the trip, no matter how long it took. That was just great. The punishment
fit the crime and if there were any ideas of jumping ship they were put
to rest then and there.
After the trip I spoke with these boys and to hear of their troubles after
they left us was as hilarious as any comedy. Apparently the sheriff picked
them up and when he asked them who they were and where they were going,
they tried to tell him in a phony southern accent that they were from
a little plantation just down the road. I'll bet it was difficult for
that man to keep a straight face. Not only was the accent terrible but
he knew that the boys were on the run. They spent the next twelve days
in the Helena jail and were fed grits and gravy and given Bull Durham
to smoke. They said raft food seemed mighty good after all.
After their ordeal they were shipped home on a bus. Somewhere during the
next day most of us picked up a virus and it was impossible to move on.
We pulled into Greenville, Mississippi and docked at the Greenville Yacht
Club and were treated by a local doctor. We recovered and stayed long
enough to pick up provisions and have our motors checked over. The newspaper
people came down to river and took our picture and we hit the front page
of the Delta Democrat-Times. That
was July 16, 1961.
We set sail for Lake Providence and attended church. The Catholic boys
went to Mass and The rest of us went to a Protestant church. In a small
town we ran into a flagpole sitter. How odd I remember thinking, to spend
your summer, or any time sitting on top of a pole in a box. He said he
could see us coming down the river and he thought we were just as odd
do to such a thing as we were doing. I hope he broke the record for his
deed. I'll never know.
Now for Vicksburg, Mississippi. The largest stern-wheeler ever made was
docked there. The Sprague. It could push 64 loaded barges up the river.
I was impressed. We were given a tour of this great boat and I could have
stayed for another week and poke my nose into every corner of it. We had
a tour of Vicksburg and ate a big meal in town. Then we were off to Baton
Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The state capitol. A large crowd was on the banks
to greet us and we were given a first class tour of the capitol building.
We met the mayor of the city and the governor Jimmy Davis. This is the
man who wrote and recorded one of my favorite songs, "You are my sunshine".
What an honor to get to spend the day and have lunch with him in the capitol.
While we were in his office I jumped into his chair and declared myself
to be the gov. He laughed and said that his Lt. Gov was out of town so
I could take his place. So there I was the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana
for 45 minutes. We were given the keys to the city. We presented Mr. Davis
with our state flag and he gave us a Louisiana State flag. This flag is
still in Jacks family and I hope that as it is passed to the next generations
this story will accompany it.
There will be no extra charge for this bit of info. In 1993 I went to
Mogilev, Belarus to do some missionary work in the schools. I taught the
kids to sing, "You are my sunshine" in English. That was a great thrill
for me and I wish that Mr. Davis could have been there.
large amount of food was donated by local merchants and as
we loaded it onboard the news media was there taking pictures and interviewing
us. Not far from our destination now and the best is yet to come.
Richard Meinertzagen, C.B.E., D.S.O.
We backed into the current
and passed under the Huey P. Long Bridge. We headed off to what became
my favorite town on the river, White Castle, Louisiana. Yes, there really
is a town called White Castle. We were treated like royalty there. We
were taken on tours way back into bayou country and experienced the culture
and the food, what great food. We had turtle soup, southern fried chicken,
crayfish, and much more. We visited John James Audubon's house and a plantation.
It was here that we played with the Spanish moss. I have a neat picture
of myself with a mass of moss covering my head. When I took it off and
tossed it on the ground a very poisonous cottonmouth snake crawled out
of the heap that was on my head just seconds before. How many times do
you think I played with Spanish moss after that experience? Another claim
to fame that White Castle boasted about was that they had the world's
It was in this town that a young man asked me if we were freedom riders.
In the early 60's people with too much time on their hands from the north
would travel to the south and cause trouble. They usually rode the bus
and that is how they got the name freedom riders. I didn't know what a
freedom rider was then and I told that man so. He believed me and we became
friends. He followed us around town and was very interested in our actives.
Little did I know he was with the K.K.K. and was watching us to make sure
that we didn't cause any trouble.
This was my first experience with a bigot and I didn't like it one bit.
We had a group meeting later and discussed the way things were in the
south back then. It bothered me. How could people who treated us to kindly
treat black people so different? This has always bugged me and I have
tried to judge people on their actions rather on the color of their skin.
No matter as I said White Castle was still my favorite place and we, at
least I, wasn't finished with it yet.
We left town and went a little ways down stream and set up camp. Just
after bedtime I felt a terrible pain in my gut. I thought that the virus
had finally caught up with me but the pain was so great that the staff
figured they better get me to a doctor. Two staff and one crewmember,
for look out took me back to White Castle. I was taken to the local hospital
in the city ambulance. I remember looking out the window and seeing the
lettering on the side advertising that it was not only the city ambulance,
but also the hearse and laundry truck to boot.
When we arrived at the hospital I was still in my sleeping bag. When the
doctor asked me to get out I wouldn't and when asked why by my staff member
I had to tell him that I didn't have any clothes on. They had to run back
to get my pants. How embarrassing. It was decided that I had had an appendix
attack. The doctor said I should stay overnight. Merle stayed with me
in a small hotel and we relaxed for that day and one more night.
The doctors' name was Dr. Percy LaBlanc and several years after the trip
I saw his wife on a TV game show, "I've Got a Secret". I don't remember
what her secret was but it was fun to see some one I knew on TV
Merle and I took the bus to Donaldsonville, La. and rejoined the crew.
It was now that Merle left us and headed home for a wedding, his own.
He and Mavis will celebrate their 40th anniversary next year. Three cheers
for them. That night we camped near Donaldsonville. Not far downstream
from our campsite was a ferry crossing. The ferryboat ran 24 hours and
my buddy, Eddie, and I decided to check it out.
We went through the woods and went aboard the boat. It was not very big;
it only had room for about eight cars. We introduced ourselves to the
captain and he said he had heard of us and was honored to have us aboard.
The ride was free and as we rode across the river Eddie and I hatched
a plan to get out of pitching our mosquito netting for the night. We talked
to the captain again and filled him in on our idea and he gave us the
go ahead. Eddie and I went back to the raft and got our sleeping bags
and rode the ferryboat back and forth across the river all night long.
Not many people can say they have ever done that. What fun. Next stop
Dean Felsing Crew member of the Unsinkable.
Copyright Jan.31, 2000: Dean Edward Felsing
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