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Swan boat and the Machinery Building, Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha, Neb. Stereograph by Strohmeyer & Wyman, 1898.

Swanning About in a Boat

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At the 1898 Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition held in Omaha, Nebraska, visitors could take a ride on a lagoon on a swan boat. I included a stereograph showing the swan boat in my latest Flickr album Stereographs of Fairs and Expositions:

Swan Boat and the Machinery Building, Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha, Neb. Stereograph by Strohmeyer & Wyman, 1898.

I’ve found more swan boats from other places and times in the varied holdings of the Prints & Photographs Division. Two years before the Trans-Mississippi Expo., in 1896, a photographer captured a group in Central Park in New York City. They are riding in (please forgive me) what appears to be a swan-toon boat. Get it? I’ve combined swan with pontoon!

Swan Boats, Central Park, N.Y. Stereograph by Alfred S. Campbell, 1896.

From the Detroit Publishing Company Collection comes this early 20th-century view of two swan boats in the Public Garden in Boston, Massachusetts:

Swan Boats, Public Gardens, Boston, Mass. Photo by Detroit Publishing Company, between 1900 and 1906.

A motor-powered swan boat crosses the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., in this 1941 photo from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection. If you look closely above the Jefferson Memorial, which is under construction, you will see a blimp. This may be one of the airships that took tourists for a ride above the nation’s capital.

Around the Tidal Basin for a look at the cherry blossoms. Washington, D.C. Photo by Martha McMillan Roberts, 1941.

The great tradition of swan boats continues to the present day! This more personal-sized boat was photographed in 2018 in Providence, Rhode Island:

In a scene reminiscent of 19th Century postcards, visitors guide a swan-shaped pontoon pleasure boat across Polo Lake at the 435-acre Roger Williams Park in Providence, the capital of, and largest city in, Rhode Island. The park is named for Williams, a theologian and Puritan minister who founded Britain’s Rhode Island Colony. Perhaps ironically, actual swans that look a lot like this boat glide across this very lake, but at a safe distance. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2018-07-27.

If you’ve been a passenger in a swan boat, let us know in the comments.

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  1. The Swan Boats in Boston were a favorite childhood pilgrimage with my grandmother. I loved returning to them with my own children. One of my first gifts to my new great-nephew was a copy of Make Way for Ducklings (which prominently features the Swan Boats) and matching shirt.

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