November 26, 2014

Places I’ve Played

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By Bill Skiff

I rode the Ti

 

As the world remembers the Titanic, I remember the Ti.

The steamer Ticonderoga was built in 1906 and sailed the waters of Lake Champlain until its retirement — when it was pulled across land to the Shelburne Museum in November of 1954. The Ti is 220 feet in length and 59 feet in her beam. She had a steam-powered engine that ran her side paddle wheel.

The postcard (shown at right) is of the Ti in her glory years.

The postmark on the back reads: Rutland Vermont, August 12, 1928. It was sent to “Masters Everal and Fayette Wilson” at R.F.D. 2, Chester, Vt.”

The message reads, “Would you dear little boys like to be on this pretty boat with Alice and Helene?”

The postage stamp shows Ben Franklin and cost one cent. I don’t know if those “dear little boys” ever got to ride the Ti — but I did.

My last ride on the Ti was in the spring of 1954, just before she was retired — and what a ride it was. I was a senior at Middlebury College and my fraternity, Kappa Delta Rho, scheduled a formal dinner dance cruise to celebrate our upcoming graduation.

As we sailed out of Burlington harbor, the sun began to set and the stars magically appeared.

I was not used to being in a tuxedo and was a little uncomfortable: I felt if I bent the wrong way it might break apart. My new shoes had leather soles and were so slippery I was sure I could ice skate. Those shoes did, however, make jitterbugging easier.

We enjoyed a beautiful buffet dinner, after which a dance band played on the bow of the Ti and a Dixieland band jazzed it up on her stern. These wonderful sounds flowed over the ship’s decks and into the night. The sounds of the music mingled with the sounds from the Ti’s engine room. The brass workings added their own rhythmic beat to the dance music. Added to this was the constant splash of the water being lifted and dropped by the Ti’s paddle wheel.

The grand staircase was the scene of the evening’s funniest event. The staircase takes you up to the second deck. The large number of stairs end in front of a majestic golden mirror. Then you turn and take two more stairs to the top deck. It was in front of the mirror where the drama began.

My fraternity brother Herbie and his date had been enjoying the punch bowl most of the evening. As they started their descent at the top of the staircase, they were a little unstable. They made it down the first two stairs, stopped to admire themselves in the mirror, then turned to continue down the longer staircase. Both misjudged the first step and tumbled down the stairs, landing in a heap at the bottom. Herbie stood, helped his date up, dusted them both off and cocked his arm: she took it and they walked off down the deck as if nothing had happened. The Marx Brothers couldn’t have pulled it off any better.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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