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The Log of the Morning Star

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

To C. M. Junkins and his wife from Fairfield, Iowa, keeping a log of the maiden voyage of the steamboat “Morning Star” and then publishing it for posterity, must have seemed like a good idea at first. The Morning Star had been launched early in May of 1911, almost a hundred years to the day that the first steamboat ever had reached the Mississippi River. Yet, in all that hundred years, no steamboat had ever made the entire round-trip on the Mississippi between St. Paul at the head of navigation and New Orleans at the Gulf of Mexico. Now, the Morning Star was going for the record. And C. M. Junkins was going to keep a log of the attempt.

Everything promised adventure. The Morning Star was a large boat of 495 tons, 250 feet long and 68 feet wide, with room for 675 passengers, 120 of them in 60 first class state rooms. Its captain on this voyage was the legendary Walter Blair, who had trained many of the great steamboat pilots on the Mississippi. The most distinguished passenger was Samuel R. Van Sant, a famous Rock Island boat builder, former governor of Minnesota, and now president of the Northern Packet Line, owner of the Morning Star. Captain van Sant himself had trained Walter Blair to become a pilot in 1878.

Add to this the romance that steamboating had created in its hundred years—the races, the gamblers, the dangers of snags and boiler explosions. C. M. Junkins prepared to document page after page of adventure. Alas, one could devote only so many words to the trees along the shore, or the miles of cotton plantations followed by other miles and still other miles. Junkins had plenty of time to document life aboard the boat—the dancing, the card games, the making of fudge. He found time to describe the home talent concerts organized by passengers, and the storytelling, with time left over to list the names of every passenger, the entire crew, and all the steamboats met. And he did document the high point of the trip, t he May 11th celebration of Governor Van Sant’s birthday.

Meanwhile, the Morning Star set its world record—a trip of almost 4,000 miles, without a single exciting accident or adventure. As for C. M. Junkins, he did follow through with his plan to publish the log he had written, thereby setting his own world record for the least interesting book on the Mississippi River ever printed.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.