This year’s drought is driving the Mississippi River’s water level to a record low in Saint Louis. Forecasts have the river hitting that record low in just a few weeks. These low river levels are playing havoc with river barge traffic. Hundreds of barges line the river’s edges, with no way to move. The low water is also uncovering ghosts from the past.
Low levels have revealed the wreck of the USS Inaugural. It sits on a sandbar just south of the MacArthur Bridge. The USS Inaugural (AM-242) was an Admirable-class fleet minesweeper during World War II. This sweeper was launched in October 1944, and was commissioned in December. The ship was decommissioned in 1946 and turned into a museum ship on the Arch riverfront in 1968. During the Great Flood of 1993, the boat was ripped from her mooring and grounded about a mile downstream, where she remains today.
Since breaching, it has been noticed that the 3″ gun (the one forward near the bow) was stolen from its mount sometime after mid-August. It weighs approximately 1,700 pounds, so it was not exactly a two-person job to walk away with it. Smaller 40mm anti-aircraft guns had previously disappeared. One is rumored to be found in Cementland, the Bob Cassilly art project, in north Saint Louis.
I bicycled downtown to see the Inaugural. I ended up wandering around for a while in the industrial expanse that is the Saint Louis riverfront south of the Arch. Eventually, I found the wreck. There was a crowd there, but on the way back I was passing alone through a rather sketchy area of abandoned warehouses, which is crisscrossed with both highway overpasses and railroad trestles. Even on large group rides, I’ve felt nervous riding through this area. Today, a car with two men in it pulled along side me and matched pace with me, even as I slowed to just a few miles an hour. More than a few long seconds later, another cyclist rounded the corner ahead and the car took off.
Last summer, I was invited to accompany several of my co-workers on a photographic expedition to this dilapidated warehouse district. Only, this time it would have been at two in the morning, instead of two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. My colleagues felt safe though, because they were carrying handguns. I didn’t go and nothing happened to them, but if you ask me that was like looking for trouble with a flash attachment.