Showboat

Opened: 25 Apr 1959
Closed: 1971
Manufactured By: Alan Hawes Manufacturing & Display Company – Acworth, Georgia
Ride Model: Little Show Boat
Motor: Gray Marine Seascout 91, 35-hp, water-cooled
Fuel Tank Capacity: 10 gal
Max Speed: 15 mph
Boat Dimensions: 24 ft long x 10 ft wide x 12 ft tallĀ¹
Turning Radius: 20 ft
Ride Capacity: 30 adults or 45 children

Detail from a May 1959 Lagoon ad.

Showboats were floating theaters that were popular in the American Midwest in the 1800s. They traveled the Mississippi and other major rivers, providing entertainment along the way for communities that were hard to reach by land. Unlike the typical steamboat commonly associated with that time and place, showboats looked more like barges. They weren’t self-propelled like steamboats, so there were no smokestacks or big paddle wheels, and they were pushed to each location by a small “towboat”.

In 1927, a famous musical named Showboat began its run in New York City. Years later in 1951, a screen adaptation of the play inaccurately depicted the showboat as a steam-powered riverboat. The movie was one of the top-grossing films of the year and the idea of showboats looking like steamboats has been perpetuated ever since.

This explains why the Georgia-based ride manufacturer, Alan Hawes, named their miniature steamboats the “Little Show Boat” when they went into production in the mid-1950s.

Dean Smith, maintenance foreman, attaches a smokestack while Bill Porter and Billie Johnson polish the new Showboat before the ride’s opening in 1959. Photo courtesy of Deseret News

Lagoon purchased a used Little Show Boat and shortened the name to “Showboat”. The lake had been reconditioned during the 1958-59 off-season and on 20 April 1959, the vessel arrived on a truck from California. It was then fixed up and repainted in preparation for opening weekend that year. Fittingly, it was the same weekend as the annual boat show featuring boats and other watercraft on display across the park by area dealerships.

15 May 1959 Lagoon ad.

The loading dock for the ride was decorated with bales of cotton and things that may have been found at the ports of the Mississippi. Blue lights were installed around the edge of the lake for added ambience after dark.

There was no show on the Showboat, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t things to see on the ride. It sailed past a miniature farm somewhere along the banks.

Lagoon Lake was also home to “an elusive dragon” that shot up out of the water as the Showboat went by. Pictures of the dragon are very hard to come by – probably since it appeared only briefly – but a frequent guest of the park back then remembers that the orange dragon “came up out of the lake on a schedule. Every 30 minutes maybe.” He also recalls it being about 25-feet tall and that it resided in the northeast corner of the lake. Coincidentally, that’s the same area where a large burst of water blasts up from the lake during Frightmares, when activated by the Wild Kingdom Train.

In 1971, the Water Skeeters began operating on the southwest corner of the lake while the Showboat continued traveling the rest of the lake for one more season. After the Showboat closed, the Water Skeeters began using the Showboat’s loading dock and the course of the ride expanded. Tidal Wave opened in 1980, causing the Water Skeeters dock to be moved. Until the ’90s, a large metal gate stood at the entrance of Tidal Wave, which probably originated from the days of the Showboat.

Photo showing a different Little Show Boat at a different park, provided by the Alan Hawes company for promotional purposes. Photo courtesy of Deseret News
NOTES

1. These dimensions are from a Deseret News article written soon after the boat arrived at Lagoon. Ads for the ride list the dimensions as 26 feet long and 8 feet wide. The dimensions may have varied through different production periods.

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SOURCES

Coinmen You Know. The Billboard, 10 Sep 1955.

Alan Hawes ad. The Billboard, 2 Feb 1957.

Alan Hawes ad. The Billboard, 13 Apr 1957.

Showboat Joins Lagoon Rides. Deseret News, 22 Apr 1959.

Barber, Clinton S. Lagoon Adds Water Skeeters, Deseret News, 9 Apr 1971.

Lagoon’s History. LagoonPark.com, archived from 16 Jun 2005.

McMahon, Mary. What is a Showboat? WiseGeek.com, 27 Dec 2019.

Showboat. Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed 5 Jan 2020.

Showboat – Goofs. IMDB.com, accessed 5 Jan 2020.

Messages to author from Sean S. via Facebook, Jan 2018.

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