The Admiral: Five Decks of Fun
Missouri History Museum – St. Louis, MO
The story of what was the St. Louis waterfront’s most iconic attraction is a half decade long and touched the lives of many a St. Louisan. The Admiral was a ship whose Mississippi River excursions included dining, dancing and a floating carnival. The Missouri Historical Society tells the tale of this futuristic vessel.
The Admiral began life in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1907 as the Albatross, a railcar transfer boat. When Vicksburg opened a railroad bridge in 1930 the Albatross was out of a job. Joe Streckfus, the owner of St. Louis’s biggest excursion boat company, had it towed up to St. Louis and stripped down to its hull. The only parts of the Albatross that remained were the steel hull and the steam-powered boilers. The Streckfus Company kept the details of its new boat under wraps. A Streckfus family legend tells of Roy Streckfus hanging different letters over the boat’s side each day just to tease the reporters watching from the levee and eager to learn the new boat’s name.
When the Admiral was revealed it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. No wooden paddlewheel or gingerbread railings. Instead there was art deco brushed steel, white leather trimmings, and air conditioning. The Admiral set off on its maiden voyage on June 12, 1940. At that time it was the world’s largest river cruise ship and the first Mississippi riverboat to be fully air-conditioned. Setting out at least twice daily from 1940 to 1979, the boat was the setting for thousands of first dates, birthday outings, Sunday cruises, and last dances.
~Fun on the Mississippi~
The boat’s lowest deck was like a floating carnival, complete with popcorn stands, pinball machines, and skill-testers, while the second and third decks housed the Blue Salon Ballroom and its mezzanine, known as the Club Admiral. The excursion band played from the ship’s starboard side to thousands of passengers dancing the days and nights away. The fourth deck offered dining and music, while on the top deck, known as the Lido, passengers sat beneath bright umbrellas, watching St. Louis pass by as a narrator pointed out sights on the shore. In 1962 the Admiral became racially integrated, and African Americans were finally allowed to join in the festivities.
~A Slow Goodbye~
But the good days on the Admiral couldn’t last forever. In 1979 a hammer-wielding US Coast Guard inspector checking for weak spots knocked through the boat’s hull, and excursions ground to a halt. The Admiral was converted into a permanently-docked entertainment night club, and eventually became host to the President Casino in 1994.When the President Casino closed in 2010, the historic boat’s future looked bleak. With no interested buyers stepping forward to keep the Admiral afloat, the boat’s owners resorted to selling it for scrap. In July 2011 a small crowd gathered to watch the Admiral—its top deck already ripped away—make its final voyage from the St. Louis riverfront.