The Great River Road, Part 9: Dubuque, IA

Adversity does not build character, it reveals it. – James Lane Allen

 September 1, 2015 – Day 11 – Dubuque, Iowa

We left Dyersville and the Field of Dreams movie site and headed east to spend the rest of the day in 182-year-old Dubuque. Our first stop was the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, which offers a little something for everyone. For wildlife lovers, there are over a dozen aquariums with everything from giant catfish to river otters. For Mississippi River lovers, there are all sorts of interactive displays on how the Great River and rivers in general operate. They even have a display on the Great River Road, which gave us a nice visual on our progress to date. For steamboat lovers, there are not only displays but also the dredge William M. Black, a steamboat and National Historic Landmark that we toured. After walking for most of the day, it was nice to sit back and watch James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge 3D which chronicles his underwater expedition to the deepest part of the ocean.

Two tickets to paradise...not so much
Two tickets to paradise…not so much

Our most memorable part of the museum, though, was the 5,000 square foot Titanic exhibit, the largest in the museum’s history and Dubuque’s history. The exhibit, which unfortunately didn’t allow photos, took us on a timeline from the ship’s construction to its final plunge to the ocean floor. It was that rare exhibit where you actually want to stop at each display and read every word. Upon entering the exhibit, we were each given a Titanic ticket with the name of an actual passenger on the ship and their story. We were told that upon exiting the exhibit, we could check a display board to see whether our person lived or died. After looking down at our tickets and noticing that we were both third-class passengers, I looked at Lil Jan and asked, “Do you think we’ll survive?” “Not likely, honey,” she replied. A few minutes later we were staring at the very ornate replica of a first-class cabin, to include an elegant sofa. I got caught up in the moment and without thinking, looked over at Lil Jan and said, “I really want to draw you.” Once again, she replied, “Not likely, honey.”

We are here!
We are here!

We learned that a first-class ticket could be purchased for $2500, approximately $57,200 in today’s dollars. The most expensive rooms were more than $103,000 in today’s dollars. Right across from this elegant 1st class room replica was a third-class room setup. Up to 10 people resided in 3rd class rooms, each paying $40, which is equivalent to $900 in today’s dollars. Mostly strangers shared these rooms and families were often split up and assigned to rooms based on gender.

Other exhibit highlights included the dinner menu on that fateful night, dishes, jewelry and ship pieces retrieved from the ocean floor, and an actual chunk of iceberg to give a sense of how cold it was that night. The final room was the memorial room, where we read the stories of survivors and saw the names of those who made it and those who weren’t so fortunate. We pulled out our tickets and checked for our names on the board. As feared, the people we represented both died. I conjectured that we probably sank next to Jack, all because Rose wouldn’t scoot over and make room on that piece of wood for the three of us.

Annie Funk...courage under fire
Annie Funk saved a woman and child

As we scanned the stories of the survivors, two of them really stood out to us. It’s interesting how one’s character is best revealed during times of crisis, and that was certainly the case for these two individuals. At one end of the character and integrity spectrum is Annie Funk, an American Christian born into a Mennonite family in Pennsylvania. Annie spent her adult years serving immigrants in the slums of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Paterson, New Jersey. While fulfilling her dream as a missionary in India, she received a telegram that her mother was ill back in Pennsylvania. Traveling by train and boat, she made it to Liverpool, where she learned that the ship she had been booked on to take her to America had been delayed due to a strike. She opted for Plan B, buying a second-class ticket on the Titanic, making its maiden voyage. Titanic set sail on April 10, 1912, and all was well. Annie even celebrated her 38th birthday while on the ship. However, at midnight four days after setting sail, stewards awoke Annie and told her to get dressed and head toward the lifeboats, because the ship had struck an iceberg. She made it to one of the last lifeboats on deck, which had one seat remaining. At the last moment, she stepped back and gave her seat to a mother and child, saving two lives. Annie ultimately sunk to the bottom of the ocean along with 1500 others, and her body was never identified. She’s honored at a memorial in Pennsylvania at the Hereford Mennonite Church Cemetery. The memorial reads, “She was coming home on her first furlough, when death overtook her in the wreck of the steamship Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland. Her life was one of service in the spirit of the Master—‘Not to be ministered unto but to minister.’” In a moment of incredible heartache and adversity, Annie’s character was once again revealed, and so we, too, honor her today.

Bruce Ismay, who saved himself
Bruce Ismay saved himself

At the other end of the character and integrity spectrum is Bruce Ismay, who goes down in history as a villain and coward. In fairness, there are conflicting accounts of his actions during the fateful Titanic voyage. We know for sure that he was an English businessman and the chairman and managing director for Titanic’s parent company, White Star Line. He was the highest-ranking White Star official on board, and was among the 705 survivors. Prior to the voyage, Ismay ordered that the number of lifeboats be reduced from 48 to 16 to accommodate some of Titanic’s luxurious features. While 16 lifeboats met legal requirements, they were insufficient to save all the passengers on board. There are other reports that Ismay encouraged Captain Smith to attempt a speed test during the voyage, perhaps valuing White Star Line’s reputation over a concern for passenger safety. Later, as the ship was sinking, Ismay boarded a lifeboat and abandoned ship, despite the long-held principle of women and children first. Both the British and American press criticized him and labeled him a coward for abandoning ship while passengers were still on board. He claimed he was the only one near the lifeboat at the time, so he wasn’t taking the seat of any women or children. We will never know exactly what went down in those final moments as the ship sank, or whether Mr. Ismay could have made a greater effort to seek out and save others on board.

View from inside 4th Street Elevator
View from inside 4th Street Elevator

After leaving the Titanic exhibit and museum, we headed up a steep hill in order to get on the Fourth Street Elevator, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Place. It claims to be the steepest and shortest railroad in the world. In 1882, local banker and former state senator J.K. Graves built the railroad because he lived on the bluffs but worked down in the town. Although the bank where he worked was only two and a half blocks away, it was a two hour round trip journey by horse and buggy. This prevented him from eating a half hour lunch and taking a half hour nap each day. So he built this railway, known as a funicular, to solve that problem. It has burned down several times in history, a fact that would have been convenient to know before boarding. A later owner, C.B. Trewin, added a second floor apartment at the top of the incline, where he and his buddies smoked and played cards without their wives interfering. It has been said (just now, by me) that they put the fun in funicular.

So you're saying in the original manuscript, Huck was a cross-dresser?
So you’re saying in the original manuscript, Huck was a cross-dresser?

Our final stop of the day was the lobby of the 176-year-old Hotel Julien, which has hosted guests to include Abraham Lincoln, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Mark Twain, and the notorious Chicago gangster, Al Capone. Legend has it that Mr. Capone would hide out at the hotel when things got too hot to handle in Chicago. He would hide his cars at a nearby underground garage, and take over the entire 8th floor, using guards as lookouts. We thought about running into the lobby and going all gangster on the place, but thought better of it. Sorry, Al.

"So I've brought together all the readers of our blog to get your feedback..."
“So I’ve brought together all the readers of our blog to get your feedback…”

Today was a very full day…enough for two blogs. We began the day with a reminder to dream big dreams and then pursue them, like Ray in the Field of Dreams. We ended the day with a lesson on character, thanks to the courageous Annie Funk and her morally more questionable fellow passenger, Bruce Ismay.

Big Steve

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