“Boarding a cruise boat from the Historic Gulfport Casino... I saw her!”
While walking through the historic waterfront district of Gulfport during the last ArtWalk I found myself drifting backward through time. Passing the Penninsula Inn I felt myself staring at the clock tower pretending to reach for and check my pocket watch tucked smartly in my wool vest under a highwayman's jacket of a fancier time. In just a few minutes I'll be departing from the now historic Gulfport Pier on a boat which has been successfully reviving the sunset cruises long dormant here.
In the late 1800's the rough dirt road leading to the candlelit Casino was bustling with people from everywhere! A clang from the trolley and a toot from the streetcar would echo over napping cats and dogs laying about in the shade. Vendors touted wares of both quality and not, selling them briskly to the visitors to help pay their price for living in a coastal paradise.
A visiting lady wearing fitted bodice and extravagantly puffy sleeves, the picture made complete by feathered hat perched on hair piled up high for the mob cap effect, commented on the charm of the town to her husband who sported a black bow tie and Capezio black Jazz oxfords. “Everybody is so friendly. They all say hello!” she said. He pulled a pipe from his bearded mouth and agreed.
I tend to agree to this day.
Shadows, viewed through thick cigar smoke, loomed in the alleys as fishermen tossed dice against the wall to wager their daily catch. Two rough-n-tumble boys in knickers and cap smacked a can with a stick.
High heels and laced boots clicked and clattered up the old planks of the dock which led to the
boat. A timeless summer breeze carried heavy smoke over the roof of the Casino and across the small restaurants and passersby. It wafted through the thick oaks and pines of the waterfront district and swirled upwards over the remains of the original steamboat, the Mary Disston. There she lay, mournfully, settled on the sandbar.
Fishermen, mostly shoeless and penniless in rowboats which carried the day’s catch tied up to the dock and showed off the modest fruits of their labor: clams, oysters, mullet and even citrus picked from a not too far away island. Their cries of “Cockles and mussels…fresh fish” echoed in the air of the darkening evening.
Down the beach, mothers with their children hiked up their skirts and removed their boots to walk in the sand. Girls dressed in high yoked dresses, boys dressed in knickers with white shirts, all eager to pick up shells and play. “How's the water?”
This night, Captain Dan welcomed the visitors and checked their name on the clipboard with care and dignity. Stepping onto the vessel was like a vacation moment. Fellow cruisers contemplated the demise of a sunken sailboat and imaginations soared! With lines tossed to the dock, a blender whirring in the background, there were smiles all around. And why not, we're cruising with the ghost of Mary.
Kurt Zuelsdorf. Writer, Urban Tracker, Outdoor Enthusiast at Kayak Nature Adventures kayak and sup rentals