The Legacy of the African Queen
Will Forever Be Linked to Key Largo
Cruise down US 1 in Key Largo around Mile Marker 100 and you'll see it--the African Queen, right next to the Holiday Inn. It's the old 30-foot river
steamboat used in one of the most famous Humphrey Bogart movies ever.
The African Queen
The African Queen -- The Movie
This 1951 John Huston film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn is about the adventures of two opposite-type
characters thrown together in the heart of Africa during World War I.
Bogart (who won an Oscar for his performance) plays
Charlie Allnut, a hard-drinking, slovenly but decent, free-spirit of a small-boat captain who delivers mail and supplies to the jungle interior
along the Ulanga River. Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, a somewhat prim but gutsy and courageous missionary intent on blowing
up a menacing German gunboat, the Luise, to aid in Britain's war effort.
During their time together on the African Queen, they encounter hair-raising river rapids, get shot at countless times,
and almost die while lost and grounded in a dense thicket of river weeds.
Is That the Same Prop Bogey Fixed?
Finally, after being captured by the Germans, a quirky turn of events works to their favor.
If you haven't seen this movie, you have a great evening of popcorn and past pop culture to look forward to.
Yes, some of the film's aspects are now hopelessly outdated, but some things--romance and adventure, for instance--never
go out of date. At least, I hope that's true.
Also, you might like to know The African Queen has been called the 65th best movie of all times.
The African Queen -- The Grand Old Steamboat
There she sits, the aging but ever-noble star of Hollywood's glory days, cradled in her wooden stand, covered by a broad canvas awning.
She appears somewhat neglected, with rust here and there, and rotting bits of wood hanging off her gunwales. But her bow still plainly bears
her regal name, reminding anyone who sees it of her famous and splendid history.
The African Queen Needs Fixing Up
As I look her over, I find myself wishing to see this proud old monarch that once carried Bogart and Hepburn fully restored and underway again--her old steam engine chugging away once more. I'll bet lots of people
would delight to see her boiler fired up, her piston pounding, her gears turning, and certainly--most certainly--they
would delight at the sound of her shrill and triumphant whistle.
You Can Almost See Bogey Kicking the Boiler
Most of us, I suspect, have a bit of Huck Finn spirit. (Mark Twain, I'm sure, suspected that too.) Well, my Huck Finn
side goes to day dreaming about taking that regal old vessel down the Mississippi--or maybe up the Intracoastal--stopping here
and there for firewood or coal, and eagerly anticipating whatever adventure that may lie around the next bend.
The Story of the African Queen
In case you're not familiar with the African Queen's story, here are the highpoints that I've been able to piece together.
Mr. Jimmy Hendricks of Key Largo and who runs cruises on the Key Largo Princess probably knows more about the Queen's history than any man alive. He was kind enough to talk
to me by telephone on this sunny November morning in 2010 when I called him in Key Largo from my home in Melrose, Florida.
Jimmy's father, the late Mr. Jim Hendricks, a retired Louisville, Kentucky lawyer rescued in 1982 the aging
Queen "mired in mud and rusting away" on an Ocala, Florida horse farm, where she was used as a judging stand for horse shows.
Jimmy said his father read about the Queen's situation in the Miami Herald, went up and bought her for $65,000, and brought her
back to Key Largo where he lived.
It was, apparently, a simple twist of fate that Jim lived in Key Largo, the setting of another famous old Humphrey Bogart movie, called, well,
"Key Largo." As far as I know, that fortuitous link--aside from the obvious Humphrey Bogart thing--is the only Key Largo connection with the African Queen.
But what a fitting connection.
From here, let's jump back to 1912 to England where this 30-foot, steam-powered vessel was built.
From England she was sent to Africa where she served as a riverboat near Stanley Falls hauling hunters and light cargo on the Ruiki River,
a branch of the Congo.
In 1950, John Huston needed just such a boat for his film, found this one in Africa, and that was the beginning of her fame. Actually, it was
the film's art director, John Hoesli, who found the boat--the Steam Launch (S/L) Livingstone--in Butiaba, Uganda, a town on the east
shore of Lake Albert.
Renamed the African Queen, after the film's production she went back to work as a river boat.
Then, in 1968 the Kampala Lion's Club auctioned her off (how they got it, I don't know) for $400
to one Frederick Wilson, a plantation owner who wanted to use her as a tourist fishing boat.
A few days later, a Mr. Fred Reeves from San Francisco bought the Queen from Wilson in exchange for
$730 plus another boat, and had her shipped to San Francisco, where, as Jimmy said "he didn't know
what to do with it."
Then, in 1970 a Mr. Hal Bailey bought the Queen from Reeves for "around $6,500," fixed her up and ran her a while on the
Deschutes River in Oregon.
From Oregon, Bailey trailered the African Queen to Florida's mild climate so he could run her year round.
Once in Florida, however, the U.S. Coast Guard informed him that the African Queen was prohibited under the Jones Act
from certain commerce on waters within the Coast Guard's jurisdiction. The problem was the Queen was a foreign-built vessel,
and the Jones Act prohibits foreign-made vessels from, among other things, carrying passengers for hire on federal waters.
Plus, the Coast Guard raised other issues involving the boat's machinery and crew requirements.
Bailey's "frustration and disbelief" apparently led him to give up on his dreams for the Queen.
But when Jim Hendricks became's the Queen's caretaker, and brought her to Key Largo, he had dreams of his own.
Jim Hendricks has probably done more than anyone else to maintain the Queen's legacy. During his lifetime, he proudly displayed her
around the world for all to see.
In 1987, Jim took the African Queen to the British Isles to take part in a variety of boat shows--first to Dublin, then on to London.
No, she didn't cross the ocean on her own, but was hauled over by freighter.
From London, she was sent to Australia, where she participated
in boat shows in Melbourne and Sidney. From Australia, she was shipped back to Key Largo via the Panama Canal.
Then, in 1989 the Queen went to Hollywood as part of a documentary about the life of John Huston, who directed, among other famous
films, "The African Queen," and "Key Largo."
On the way she made a couple of side trips--to Cincinnati and to Seattle where she was
in both places again displayed on the water. In Cincinnati, her boiler froze when the overnight temperature dipped to 13 below
zero--that's Fahrenheit, not Celsius--and her crew failed to protect her from the cold.
Over her lifetime, this vessel has had at least two different boilers, and at least one new engine. But the new equipment has
been built to reflect authentically what would have been used in her hey-day.
In 1989, after much legal wrangling, President George H. W. Bush signed into effect on August 16 of that year a federal law exempting
the African Queen from the Jones Act. This law was the result of bills introduced by then Florida Congressman Dante Fascell and
then Florida Senator Bob Graham.
In 1990, Jim Hendricks once again took the African Queen back to Britain, where she participated in the 50th anniversary
re-enactment of the Battle of Dunkirk. That day saw 25-knot winds and 5-foot seas on the English Channel, no
place for a 30-foot, open launch. Half way across the channel on her way to Calais, the Queen developed engine problems,
and the crew decided it made good sense to head back for Dover, their departure point. Before the day was out,
the Queen graciously accepted a tow back to port from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
An especially important historical note is that on February 18, 1992 the African Queen was
added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
In 1996, the African Queen was in Connecticut at the Saybrook Yacht Basin, apparently making excursions
in the Connecticut River and Long Island sound.
In 2007, Jimmy Hendricks gave a complete account in The Coconut Telgraph of his family's time with the African Queen.
That series of articles led me to
him in my search for information to give to you.
As a side note, I was not able to access on line, all articles in that series.
After such a grand and glorious past, the African Queen now sits run down in dry dock in Key Largo. The big question is "What will become
of her now?"
Two African Queens: My wife, Sue, also hails from Africa by way of England
To restore her fully will cost maybe as much as $60,000, says Jimmy, who does plan in good time to do just
that. He dreams of seeing her carrying passengers once again in Key Largo.
I can envision peaceful sunset cruises, elegant
weddings aboard, and all sorts of other good tasks befitting a Queen.
Regardless of the Sign, There Are Currently No Cruises
I'm sure history lovers, movie buffs, Key Largo fans, and lots of others join with me in wishing Jimmy Hendricks
great success in carrying on the Queen's legacy.