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Intersection Column | Showboat Time on the River

by Ann H. Gabhart

Write what you know. Most writers hear this advice when they decide to undertake the challenge of writing a book or story. I certainly did and have been happy to follow that advice with many of my stories, especially when it comes to the settings of my books. I like writing about small town and rural settings, because that’s where I live and what I know.

But with In the Shadow of the River, I abandoned those small towns and country settings and stepped out onto the river. I have to confess, I’ve rarely been on a boat of any kind, but when I started reading about showboats taking entertainment to those living along rivers, I was fascinated.

People in the small villages, coal mining towns or on farms out in the country had little access to any kind of stage entertainment in the 1800s. A British-born actor, William Chapman, built the first showboat in 1831. He and his family found success offering Shakespearean dramas and songs and dances as they floated from landing to landing along the rivers to New Orleans. Others followed his success with some being circus-oriented with equestrian features. These showboats disappeared when the War Between the States broke out.

After the war, some intrepid actors revived the showboats. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, a number of showboats were ready to entertain all comers whenever they tied up at a river landing. The showboats often began their season in March along the rivers in West Virginia and ended in October or November in Louisiana. They aimed to please their crowds with vaudeville acts, dramas, music, acrobatics and more.

The early showboats drifted down the river to New Orleans, scrapped their rafts and took steamboats back to their beginning point in the east to build another showboat for the next season. Eventually the showboat owners began using a steamboat to tow them instead of simply depending on the river currents to carry them downriver. This let the boats move quickly from one landing to the next and upriver as well.

In the 1890s, the showboats became so ornate that people along the rivers called them floating palaces. My fictional showboat, the Kingston Floating Palace, the setting for many of the scenes for In the Shadow of the River, had an ornate and large theater space for their dramatic plays and vaudeville type acts. They presented the same show every night, except on Sundays, at different stops along the river.

Many of the showboats were family affairs with parents and children part of the acts. Sometimes even babies appeared in the dramas. Additional actors were hired for the season. Some actors came back to the same showboat every year.

As I started writing my showboat story, I soon realized that I hadn’t totally deserted my small town type settings after all. True, my showboat was up and down the rivers, stopping in different places each night, but the cast of actors and performers became a community with water roots. I had my small town right on a showboat.

Not only that, those who heeded the sound of the showboat’s calliope—a type of steam organ— and headed for the river were farmers and small town people. The calliope music drifted for miles across the countryside to call in men, women and children eager for some entertainment.

Once the stage lit up in my story, I happily stepped into the shoes of my riverboat actresses and actors as they presented their show every night with plenty of drama, songs and laughs. But when the shows were over, the drama continued on my showboat as my character, Jacci, is shadowed by secrets from her past. As Jacci peels back the layers of those secrets, she finds danger and love. She doesn’t know if her real life play will have a happy ending or turn out to be a Shakespearean tragedy.

I hope readers will be as eager to come aboard to enjoy the story as those folks along the river were back when showboats brought a little magic and fun to their lives.


About the Author

Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of many novels, including When the Meadow Blooms, Along a Storied Trail, An Appalachian Summer, River to Redemption, These Healing Hills and Angel Sister. She and her husband live on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Ann enjoys discovering the everyday wonders of nature while hiking in her farm’s fields and woods with her grandchildren and her dogs, Frankie and Marley. Learn more at


About the Book

In 1881, Jacci Reed is only five years old when a man attempts to kidnap her from the steamboat her mother works on. Jacci’s mom takes her aboard the Kingston Floating Palace, a showboat where her grandfather gives her a taste of the life she will come to lead. Years later, Jacci is an actress aboard the Kingston Floating Palace, but the memory of the past is always lurking in the back of her mind. When someone on the showboat tries to kill Jacci, it's clear her questions demand answers.


Did You Know?

Today's technology has made sinful experiences and deadly choices accessible to our teenagers and young adults with just a click. With fentanyl poisonings, depression, suicides and the lure of the evil world at an all-time high, parents are left with the disappointments—and devastating fallout—of their children's choices. You are not alone—there is hope and healing for every hurting heart. Here are the top three revelations parents are healing their family’s with:

  • We are not at war with our wayward children. We are at war with the dark world and lure of the enemy. God has already given us the victory in the battle for and with our prodigal child through the armor of God!

  • If we aren’t praying for our kids, then who is? Prayer is our most effective weapon in the war over our children. The key is to plead the blood of Jesus over our children for God’s protection and for His wisdom to overflow to help them make correct decisions.

  • We can’t be our children’s best friends as culture tells us to be and then try to be their parent. We must take full authority in our homes and make sure we always have the last say when raising children in the home. This healthy balance minimizes the defiance and self-destructive behaviors many struggle with today.

You can win the war of darkness over your children—even when you don't get the miracle you asked for.

-Laine Lawson Craft, The Parent’s Battle Plan


Why I LOVE My Local Christian Bookstore

“There is nothing like wandering in a bookstore to check out the latest releases, getting to hold them in my hands while skimming the content. It is pure joy for readers of all stripes!”

-Joan C. Benson, God's ABCs


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