CHILO – Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
“The history of this river is the history of America,” said Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, overlooking the Ohio River at Chilo Lock 34 Park. “These very waters transformed a few benign colonies into the greatest power that this planet has ever seen.”
Full disclosure. That was actually Eric Rotsinger, a living historian who portrayed Twain during the Clermont County Park District’s inaugural Steamboat Days celebration Aug. 11.
Easy to get caught up in the act. From the time he set foot on the property, Rotsinger inhabited the famed steamboat pilot, journalist, author, playwright, lecturer and curmudgeon, talking about the importance of preserving river history.
“I think it’s valuable in as much as how can a person know where they’re going when they don’t know where they’ve been,” he said. “This was the life’s blood; it’s what made the difference.
“Did you realize Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark out and he figured it would be 70 generations before this country would make it from shore to shore? But what he didn’t realize was that not far from where he was back in Virginia, was the Ohio River.
“The Ohio River joined the mighty Mississippi, the Missouri. This country came with a built-in interstate transportation system that helped settle the continent much faster than Jefferson ever imagined and created the economy that made it powerful.”
When addressing the crowd, Rotsinger spoke of Clemens’ friendship with the nation’s eventual 17th President, U.S. Grant.
“To be here, just up the river from where he was born in Point Pleasant, is quite an honor,” he said. “In our day, we were the two most famous men in America. It’s nice one of us his still here to tell you about it.”
The Steamboat Days celebration continues from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25 at Chilo Lock 34 Park.
Featured entertainment for round two will be a recreation of the old television game show, the Liar’s Club. In the spirit of Twain, panelists will display and discuss items commonly found on a steamboat while the audience guesses the item’s true use.
“It’s a good fit after hearing from Mark Twain,” said Mark D. Motz, Park District Community Relations Manager. “Twain may have stretched the truth a little in his writing and in his speaking. There’s a long history of tall tales on the river.”
Also, award-winning model boat builder John Fryant will be back with some of his steamboat creations. The River Men – some of the Park District’s expert volunteers – return as well, sharing insights about life on the boats, dams and river.
“Chilo Lock 34 is unique in that it’s the only one of the original 56 wicket dam sites built over the 981-mile length of the Ohio River in the 1920s that’s still open to the public,” Motz said. “We have a deep connection to the river and the boats who travel it. We look forward to sharing that with the community.”
Steamboat Days is free and open to the public.