Editor's note: This is the 203rd in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.
HUNTINGTON - For many years, colorful showboats traveled the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and their tributaries, bringing entertainment to eager audiences in communities large and small.
Huntington was, of course, a regular stop for the showboats, which made their arrival known by the musical strains of a powerful steam calliope, audible for miles around. Hearing the music, people would make a beeline for the 10th Street river landing to have a look at the boat and see what time the show would start.
Some of the boats were lavish floating palaces, while others were far from grand. Some traveled only for a summer season or two, others for years. One of the most successful was "Bryant's New Showboat," which debuted in 1918 and toured until 1942.
Capt. Billy Bryant hired the showboat's actors, directed the productions and played a part in every one. He carefully planned each season's route, bought the supplies and handled the boat's advertising and publicity.
He even piloted the towboat that pushed the showboat (actually a non-powered barge). When people called him "Captain Billy," the title wasn't honorary. He had studied the river and earned his pilot's license.
When radio and movies brought down the curtain on the showboat era, Bryant took his troupe into theaters, even performing on Broadway. He died in 1968 in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where he had settled when his river days were over.
The Bryant showboat came to an ignominious end in 1949, when it sank at the Huntington landing where it had been sold for use as a wharf boat.
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