• Image about Mississippi River
The American Queen docks near the Houmas House Plantation in Darrow, La.
Courtesy American Queen

Come along on a Twain-inspired, period-written journey on the mighty Mississippi River.

By the dawn’s early light, we moor our mighty steamboat at the foot of the original sand-and-clay levee. The flat-bottom ship absorbs the ebbing current, and the muddy water’s siren song echoes off the hull of the American Queen, and then off the banks of the Mississippi River — just as it has since the first boats of the same frame and form made their way down the crooked canal. And just as then, the river can lull you into a false sense of security. Many men have challenged her

One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver — not aloud, but to himself — that ten thousand River Commissions, with the mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it, Go here, or Go there, and make it obey; cannot save a shore for which it has sentenced; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at. But a discreet man will not put these things into spoken words.

— Mark Twain
Life on the Mississippi, 1883

current and dared to dance with her undertow. And many men have had their curtain call upon her tide. Yet on this morning, as I carefully draw the drapes of our stateroom and gaze out at daybreak’s prospective panorama, I have no reason not to believe that something magical happened while we slept. The mighty steamboat on which I booked passage and boarded a day ago in New ?Orleans as a sort of nostalgic trip into the literary world of Mark Twain has actually delivered me into the literal world of the famed author. As if divined, the American Queen has brought me up the Mississippi River and deposited me in the 1880s.

For there, in the middle of a grand plantation avenue, looking like they were delicately painted by the long bristles of time, stand two ladies in hoop dresses and speaking such proper English that their mere words command as much attention as their attire. I nudge my wife and daughters and encourage them to ready themselves in great haste, lest this mirage of a bygone era fades into history before we have the chance to experience it for ourselves.

I gather my girls and escort them down the grand staircase — a beautiful replica of what my ancestors may have descended more than 130 years ago. Then we walk the gangplank to the shore and step back in time to an era that predates even our ?antique vessel. By and by, the yesterday-sights and sounds and smells of New Orleans seem as though they were forever ago, as we are now walking down a quarter-mile alley of 300-year-old oak trees that have withstood acts of God and man and have yet another 300 years of life left in them. The sprawling lawn of the aptly named Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, La., hugs us from all sides, and after a 15-minute stroll through the past — and even after we step over the threshold of the antebellum mansion — we have but scratched the surface of a boat ride through time: a ride in which the “getting there” is as much a part of the holiday as the being here.