Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Overshadowed' History For Sale Along Cincinnati Riverfront

Bill Rinehart
The Showboat Majestic sits in fog in September 2018.

The Showboat Majestic has a long history of entertaining people along the Ohio River. The floating theater now sits along Cincinnati's riverfront, but it might not be at the Public Landing for long. Cincinnati Parks Department is trying to sell the local landmark.

In a December 7 memo to the mayor and council, the city's administrator wrote of plans to put the Majestic up for auction online.

A Majestic History

The Majestic once nearly sank with a house full of people.

Tim Swallow of Cincinnati World Cinema says the story comes from a man who was directing a show at the time. During the show, the director noticed the barge was taking on water.

"He's got a house full of people on the vessel. There's one primary ramp at the bow of the vessel which is where the audience comes and goes. It's also where the boat is going down. So having the audience come and get off is going to accelerate the process." 

Swallow says the director told the stage manager to skip intermission and keep the show going, and in the meantime called the fire department, which came and quietly pumped the water out. "When the show was over, the audience was a little miffed at missing their intermission," Swallow says. "They had no idea how close they had come."

Swallow was then looking at its future. Cincinnati World Cinema considered buying the Showboat in 2015. Instead, the film society found a home earlier this year on Race Street, in the former Cincinnati Shakespeare Theater. 

Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU
The Showboat hosted screenings for the Cincinnati World Cinema, in this 2015 photo.

The Showboat Majestic first started cruising in 1923, and for the next 32 years it hosted bands, vaudevillians, movies and plays. In 1965, the Coast Guard said the Majestic wasn't safe for river travel, and it was moored in Jeffersonville, Ind. Two years later, it was sold to the city of Cincinnati. 

For a while, the University of Cincinnati put on shows, as did the Cincinnati Recreation Commission along with what is now Landmark Productions.

Tim Perrino is now the executive artistic director of Landmark Productions, and was with the theater company when it started.

"I've got lots of terrible stories about what it takes to keep a septic system on a boat operating," he told WVXU in a 2015 interview. "Being trapped one time in the hull with a septic system that was pumping itself into the hull instead of into the sewer line. Crazy. You had to learn to be a boat person, a river person and obviously a theater person."

The Showboat's Wavering Future

Perrino says historically, showboats were the biggest thing to happen in some of the river towns, and he'd like the Showboat to be a big fish in a little pond again.

"One of the problems now is obviously there's great things on the riverfront, but they have overshadowed this little tiny wooden vessel from 1923," he says. "It's made it hard to operate, between the crush of things around it and some of the noise level and the events that make it impossible to even operate the Majestic."

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.