Two Nuns, A Gambler, and an Heiress walk onto a boat… (updated)

We’ve been the talk of the town to some degree. Dozens of people have made their way to the docks at the National Mississippi River Museum to check out our shantyboat. Many of them were clutching the article that came out in the Telegraph Herald last Friday. A lot of places we go, people ask us, “Are you the folks who are going downriver in that shack boat thing?”

I’ve also been taking the opportunity to make forays into town to pick up needed supplies and materials. Monica Haller and Sebastian Muellauer joined me as ships mates a week ago in Guttenberg. Now they are being replaced by Danny Irish and her daughters who are 9 and 7. So I’ve been getting supplies in preparation for their visit.

While I was out yesterday I missed a visit by two nuns who were from a local convent. They had a book and stories of a Jesuit missionary to helped settle the area. Hopefully I can talk to them before I leave Dubuque.


George Frye told stories of his nearly 90 years in Dubuque

I also got a chance to talk to George Frye who has spent his whole 89 years in Dubuque. He was born in a boathouse. He remembered talking to hobos and squatters in the jungle camps and Hoovervilles down by the railroad yard near the river south of town when he’d go out fishing. He did a lot of things in his years, but when I asked what he did now, he told me gleefully that he was a gambler and made a pretty penny on blackjack at the local casinos.

FInally, I was getting ice at the marina store when someone greeted me enthusiastically, “Mr. Modes!” And I though, oh no, someone who knows me and I can’t remember who they are or how I know them. Carrie Stier owns the exquisite riverboat Twilight which plies the waters between the Quad Cities and Dubuque. (Carrie’s not really an heiress, but it made a good title.) She had read about our journey in the paper and wanted to track me down and offer us gifts like an old-fashioned welcoming wagon. She had stories about working on the Julia Belle where she met her husband Kevin Stier who pilots and co-owns the Twilight. The Twilight carried away Monica and Sebastian this morning for part of a cruise.


Feral summer school children demand, “Bring out the dog! Bring out the dog!”

A whole bevy of children came down to check out the shantyboat. These were kids in various themed summer camps, the Mississippi River Rats and the Eco-Explorers. They were interested in the shantyboat more or less, but universally they were interested in Hazel.

These are just some of the folks who have wandered into our lives over the last few days. Who should we talk to downriver? As always, I’m interested in those who have a very different perspective on river life.

Did you know if you tag photos on social media with #shantyboat, they show up on our website? Here are some found photos.

UPDATE: As noted below in the comments, Father Mazzuchelli was not a Jesuit but a Dominican. I had the pleasure of interviewing Sister Antonetta Martinka and Sister Betty Kugi who told me the history of their founder, about the continuing educational mission of the women’s seminary, and about the social justice work of their community. They were charming and amiable and I hugely enjoyed our interview (and the famous cinnamon bread they brought me from the Sinsinawa community bakery.


Sister Antonetta Martinka from the Sinsinawa Dominican Community


Sister Betty Kugi from the Sinsinawa Dominican Community

And just to reiterate, to the best of our knowledge Twilight co-owner Carrie Stier is not an heiress, but it made a great punchy title for our post. We didn’t get to interview Captain Kevin Stier, but we did get to talk with him via our new VHS radios (thanks to a friend in the Canadian Coast Guard) when the shantyboat passed the Twilight going up river. We had a nice little radio convo and agreed that we’d try to get together at some point downriver.


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