Salem is getting an entertaining history lesson this summer as local organizations come together to bring the showboat experience to Wallace Marine Park and give youth some real-life experience in the process.
The Oregon SenateAires has joined forces with the Willamette Queen sternwheeler, City of Salem Tourism, Rivers of Life Center’s Youth in Tourism program and others to create a concert dinner cruise that hearkens back to the steamboat era every other Thursday July 20-Sept. 7.
Complete with a Native American salmon bake on the shoreline, a guided walk, a two-hour cruise and entertainment by the nationally recognized barbershop chorus and historic reenactors, it’s an experience packed with the culture from the 1800s.
“Tourism is when you bring together unusual assets, and that is what we should be doing,” said the man behind the event, Jerry Herrmann. “That’s how you benefit the community, bring people from the outside to hotels, restaurants. That’s the intent here.”
And you don’t have to fork over the $65 fee to experience the fun. Herrmann, a member of the SenateAires and president of Rivers of Life, said the public is welcome to stop by and get free samples from the salmon bake, see the stone tools and artifacts Native Americans used for the process, hear Native American drumming and join one of the free, 30-minute walking tours that explain the history of Salem.
“The real intention here is to get people to understand the Native American and settlement history,” Herrmann said.
It’s also about giving youth a chance to lead and learn new skills, from singing to planning to food service and theater.
Rivers of Life Center Youth Corp offers young people education training in tourism through guided tours and events like salmon bakes throughout the Willamette Valley from Portland to Albany.
The walking tours, which will take place on the hour from 4 to 6 p.m. and tell the history of Salem, were researched and will be led by youth from Rivers of Life dressed in period costume. The young guides also will serve the salmon bake and give talks on board.
Joshua Beckham of Salem is among the those who will be presenting. The 21-year-old got involved with Rivers of Life’s programs at 18 when he met Herrmann in a Canby church. In the Salem cruises, he will be giving a 10- to 15-minute talk on the railroad and steamboat eras in Oregon and how they contributed to the success of the state.
“I’ve been able to learn a lot and become comfortable with speaking skills in public and researching the history of the upper mid-Willamette Valley area,” Beckham said, adding that he could see himself going into tourism in the future.
Those who pay for the cruise can enjoy Willamette Queen’s full menu supplemented with salmon from the salmon bake. Entertainment will include a message from Jason Lee or his wife, courtesy of guest dignitary reenactors including State Senator Brian Boquist of Dallas and representative Jodi Hack of Salem, and songs about America and its people by the Oregon SenateAires Chorus, which has been ranked fifth best chorus in the world by International Barbershop Harmony Society.
“We’ve had SenateAires on board before, but this is the first time with a full chorus,” Willamette Queen Captain Richard Chesbrough said.
Though the Willamette Queen has hosted entertainment such as comedy, music or murder-mystery dinners in the past, Chesbrough said this is the biggest collective event they’ve done.
And he seems to appreciate the history lessons the group will bring.
“There’s a lot of riverboat history in Salem,” Willamette Queen Captain Richard Chesbrough said. “Salem had its beginnings as a riverboat landing.”
He said Riverfront’s current dock is where boats would come in to drop off goods.
“Riverboats were primarily used as trucks are today to deliver goods such as wheat down river to Portland,” he said.
Both Chesbrough and Herrmann said they are excited to re-create the steamboat era. And the fact they are exposing young people to tourism and the passion for history is a bonus.
“Everything we seem to do, when the kids are done with it, they have a real sense of ownership,” he said. “Older and younger people working together, that is what counts, whether it’s people working on the land or in outdoor performance.”