The Belle of Louisville is the oldest Mississippi-style steamboat still in operation. She has gone through a few name changes over the years. Originally, she was called the Idlewild. Built in Pittsburgh, PA in 1914, the Idlewild was initially designed to be a ferry. The ferry has had a grand and sometimes notorious past, this has led many to claim the Belle of Louisville haunted.
Idlewild spent her first few years between West Memphis, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee. Some time later, she was outfitted as an excursion boat. In those days, she was completely paddlewheel-driven with a steel hull, and could travel on just about every navigable inland waterway.
The ferry kept the name Idlewild until 1948, when she was renamed Avalon. Until that time, she spent time all over the waterways of North America. In 1931, she was used to run trips from Louisville to Rose Island. Over the next few years, she traveled US waterways from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1934, the Idlewild finally returned to Louisville, where she stayed during World War II. She occasionally served as a USO nightspot on the Mississippi River. After the war, moonlight cruises were offered to travelers during the Big Band era.
It was Captain Ben Winters’ death-bed wish in 1948 that the Idlewild be renamed Avalon. Within a year, the Avalon was sold to investors in Cincinnati. She would go on to be the most widely traveled steamboat in US history.
In the 1960′s, she was rebuilt, and Judge Executive Marlow Cook from Jefferson City, OH became her new owner. She finally received her infamous name, Belle of Louisville. During the first Great Steamboat Race, in 1963, she raced against the Delta Queen.
The Belle’s next big moment came in 1988, when she was highlighted as the country’s oldest authentic steamboat. After 74 years of operation, she received this title during a steamboat era celebration in Cincinnati.
In August of 2005, the Waterfront Development Corporation took over the operation of Belle on behalf of Louisville Metro.
The life of the Belle of Louisville isn’t over yet. In 2014, she will be officially one century old. The one century anniversary celebration will be held from October 15 – 19 on Louisville Waterfront.
Is the Belle of Louisville haunted? Officials from the historic steamer disclaims reports of paranormal activity but there have been many reports from the crew and guests over the years to believe otherwise. In the engine room, the crew hears a very distinct whistle. They believe it is from a deckhand that was tragically crush to death by a pittman arm.
The pilot house as also been a spot claimed to have a lot of paranormal activity. One crew member reports he was push down the steps from the pilot house one evening. The main wheel in the pilot house as been observed moving even when it has been confirmed to be locked down
The apparition of Captain Ben Winters has also been reportedly seen my a crewman in the captains quarters one evening while he was filling out reports. The crewman claims the room turned cold and he felt like he was being watched. He turned around and saw a man dressed in a Captains uniform. He remembers seeing an old picture of Captain Winters and recognized him instantly.
So is the Belle of Louisville haunted? Talk to some crew members and the would tell you a fast yes. Don’t take their word for it though, book a ride and see for yourself.