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Life on the Mississippi in the heyday of the steamboat lives in our imaginations through the artistry of Mark Twain, Edna Ferber, and Hollywood films, or perhaps a glimpse of a salvaged riverboat living out its last years as a theme restaurant. Surely the Mississippi steamboat era is among the most colorful and romantic in our history. But what was it really like, beyond our secondhand notions of stalwart river pilots, wayward boys and runaway slaves, of gamblers in tall hats and ladies in hoopskirts, of cotton, cakewalks, and carpetbaggers.
This extraordinary book of recently discovered photographs, taken by a father and son who were professional photographers in Natchez, Mississippi, brings us for the first time a stunning array of images of steamboat life as it really was — from its glory days in the post-Civil War era to its demise in the years immediately following World War I.
The photographers are Henry Norman and his son Earl. With boundless enthusiasm and curiosity, and the consummate skills of pictorial artists, they captured the beauties and rigors of a half-century of life on the Mississippi. Their priceless legacy has been preserved by Joan and Thomas Gandy, who recently acquired the extremely rare and valuable negatives and here present a collection of 170 of the most spectacular and arresting photographs of steamboat life.
Together with an extremely informative text, replete with detailed information and fascinating anecdotes, the photographs make up a splendid account of the major steamboats that plied the great waterway and their essential social and economic role in river life. Vivid, beautifully composed images of stately ships, luxurious interiors, shipboard life, picturesque river towns, busy landings, paddle wheelers laden with cotton and other cargoes, and the disasters that claimed so many of these proud craft, comprise a stunning firsthand account of a long-lost — but now accurately, lovingly recaptured — way of American life.