The Great Race on the Mississippi
Currier and Ives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sponsored by the East Baton Rouge Parish Library
According to Mark Twain, his career as a river pilot was the result of an unexpected turn of events. On his way down the Mississippi on a riverboat, headed eventually to find great wealth in South America, he became so fascinated with the work of the captain that he paid him $500 to teach him how to pilot the river, leaving all those South American riches for others. He spent four years as a cub and then licensed pilot, gaining the inspiration for some of his best-loved works. In conjunction with the East Baton Rouge Parish Library's One Book, One Community programming and in honor of Twain’s life on and around these indigenous American boats, the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge is preparing an all-ages, hands-on exhibit titled A Pilot's Life for Me: Piloting on the Mississippi River.
Partly because of Twain's famous works and partly because of its sheer size and importance, the Mississippi River has always been a popular subject of interest for visitors from both near and far, so this exhibit presents an especially welcome chance to learn more about the country's greatest waterway. According to Curator Lauren Davis, the exhibit will feature a lot about Twain and his life and times, but will go beyond it; while the tools of the trade have changed, there are still river pilots working the Mississippi today, and visitors will learn how the profession has adapted to new economic realities while still remaining recognizably the same job Twain so memorably described.
The job of a river pilot, as Twain would attest and Davis now understands, is not easy. Davis was impressed by the extent to which pilots had to know the river: They had to be able to steer the "home stretch" in the dark with a perfect mental image of where every bend and obstacle was. Their knowledge was often tested, and they’d be made to draw charts of a given length of the river from memory.
This, among other facts of this fabled profession, will be on display from June 13—September 16 at the Old State Capitol. This exhibit is one of many activities planned to celebrate Baton Rouge’s two hundredth birthday. For more information about the bicentennial, visit BatonRouge200.com. For more about the exhibit and other OBOC events, visit louisianaoldstatecapitol.org or ebrpl.libguides.com/twain.