Many Greenwich residents remember the Showboat Inn and the iconic paddle boat that floated in its shadow.
Long before the hotel became the Delamar, the Showboat was a fixture in Greenwich Harbor.
But the boat’s history dates back to 1960 when it was commissioned as an attraction at “Freedomland,” a theme park in The Bronx that operated from 1960 to 1964 on the site currently occupied by Coop City.
Greenwich Harbormaster Ian MacMillan said the area was unspoiled swampland that was later filled in with dredge material from the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge project so that Coop City could be built.
During its run at the 200-acre theme park, the 110 ft Mississippi river-style boat was called “The Canadian,” and along with sister ship, “The American,” the paddle boats took tourists on rides through American History. Other attractions included reenactments of the 1871 Chicago Fire and stage coach rides through the frontier. The paddle boats were one the most popular attractions at the park.
Freedomland, which today has its own Facebook page, was shaped in the form of the contiguous 48 states.
Harbormaster MacMillan said that what many people don’t know is Showboat’s paddle wheel never did supply power to the boat.
“The paddle wheel was for show,” the harbormaster said, adding that he once had the boat towed to Bridgeport to be serviced. “I was inside the boat – that’s how I found out.”
MacMillan said on Friday that Joe Keating purchased the Showboat from the defunct amusement park, and rechristened it The Mark Twain.
On Friday, as crane operators on the massive cargo ship tried unsuccessfully for hours to lift the Showboat out of the water for its journey to Korea via Antwerp to its new owner who hopes to use it for a restaurant, MacMillan explained the significance of the name Mark Twain.
“In pilot language, when you drop the depth sounder off the edge of the boat and pull the string up you see how deep the water is, six feet is a fathom or a mark.
“Six feet is the length of a line with your arms outstretched,” he said. “That’s called a fathom, and in riverboat language a fathom is called a mark. Six feet or just ‘a mark’ is dangerous water. Twelve feet, two fathoms, or Mark Twain is safe water.”
MacMillan said when Joe Keating liquidated his hotel, Billy Frenz bought the paddle wheeler and used it to host parties and events at the Highland Marina in Port Chester harbor, where it was until Wednesday.
The Showboat was auctioned this summer. The winning bid was $1,020. The description on the auction website read as follows: “The Showboat is nearly 100 ft long and can hold 149 people. Tours available upon request. MUST BE REMOVED 7 DAYS AFTER SALE. BOAT HAS NO ENGINE. Cannot move under its power – must have a tug boat or crane to remove.”
“It was towed from Port Chester to the heavy lift ship three days ago,” said MacMillan who got a lift from Hans Isbrandtsen in a rigid inflatable rig to the ship, where Coast Guard and Greenwich Marine Police were already watching the effort unfold.
MacMillan said he was still stinging that he didn’t have access to the harbormaster’s boat this week.
He said the harbor management commission had removed the boat from the water on November 1.
“The Harbor Management Plan says the harbor master will have access to the boat until Nov 30,” MacMillan said. “It’s in chapter 7.”
After some time, the crane operators began to lift the Showboat from the water.
“It got knocked around in the wind this week,” MacMillan observed.
“I thought for sure this thing is going to bust up,” Isbrandtsen said as the badly damaged boat crackled and popped under its own weight, its paddle wheels damaged, one of its steam chimneys broken.
“They waited three days for it to calm down,” MacMillan said.
On Wednesday the water’s surface was smooth as glass, following three windy days.
“For three days it was tied up bashing itself to pieces. I had wanted them to go westerly closer to Playland by the hockey rink where it was calm,” MacMillan said, shaking his head.
MacMillan said the weight of the boat had been underestimated and that the bow of the boat, which had been full of cement, had broken up in the wind this week.
“This is a screw up,” MacMillan said, as the crane lifted the boat a few inches from the water. Popping noises could be heard as the bottom of the boat began to buckle.
On Friday afternoon, MacMillan said the fate of the Showboat did not look good.
Update: As of Sunday, the cargo ship and Showboat have not budged.