Ghost Boats at West Memphis by ProQuest


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									       Ghost Boats at West Memphis
                     LESLIE C. “SKIP” STEWART-ABERNATHY

IN THE EARLY TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, nearly every item Americans buy
comes from overseas packed in huge standardized metal containers that are
stacked by the thousands in ships, from near their keels to ten to fifteen lay-
ers above the deck.1 The technology may be new, but the importance of
shipping by water is not. For millennia, water has provided the easiest way
to transport goods and people over long distances. It has only been in about
the last 150 years that there has been any real alternative—first in the form
of railroads, then trucks and aircraft.
      In the center of North America, the archetypical watercraft was the
glistening, magnificent white steamboats memorialized by such works as
Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi.2 But as vital as such vessels were to
the nation’s commerce, we know little about them. Not one of the thou-
sands of nineteenth-century wooden-hulled steamboats is still floating to-
day. We know some historic vessels through photographs and old
newspapers and other archival sources, but few are precisely described.
Little actual literature from the nineteenth century, and few specifications
or plans, survive.

      Brian J. Cudahy, Box Boats: The Story of Container Ships (New York: Fordham
University Press, 2006); Marc Levinson, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the
World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
      Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1884; New York: Signet Classics, 1961).

Leslie C. “Skip” Stewart Abernathy is an archaeologist with the Arkansas Archeology Survey at
the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, Petit Jean Mountain. A project of this scale of data recovery
and analysis depends on the integrated efforts of many people, many of whom have been credited
in the project report. The author wants to especially note the work of Allen Saltus, the Arkansas
Archeological Society members, his colleagues in the Arkansas Archeological Survey, Mary Kwas
for her work on this special issue, and, finally, Deborah Sabo, editor of the project report, who
transformed archaeological gibberish into readable prose.

                   GHOST BOATS AT WEST MEMPHIS                                    399

     This is where archaeology can make an immediate and 
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