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c. 1829 - December 10, 1866

George Ealer was the steamboat pilot of the ill-fated PENNSYLVANIA at the time it exploded in June 1958. Clemens wrote about George Ealer who was fond of chess, playing the flute and reading Shakespeare. Ealer appears in several chapters of Life on the Mississippi as well as Twain's 1906 essay "Is Shakespeare Dead?"

Ealer is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery, Saint Louis, MO in
Block 67, Lot 484.

George Ealer and his flute

Illustration of George Ealer
from first edition of

Clemens' comments: I steered for him a good many months - as was the humble duty of the pilot-apprentice: stood a daylight watch and spun the wheel under the severe superintendence and correction of the master. He was a prime chess-player and an idolater of Shakespeare. He would play chess with anybody; even with me, and it cost his official dignity something to do that. Also - quite uninvited - he would read Shakespeare to me; not just casually, but by the hour, when it was his watch and I was steering. He read well, but not profitably for me, because he constantly injected commands into the text. That broke it all up, mixed it all up, tangled it all up - to that degree, in fact, that if we were in a risky and difficult piece of river an ignorant person couldn't have told, sometimes, which observations were Shakespeare's and which were Ealer's.
- "Is Shakespeare Dead?"

When a man has a passion for Shakespeare, it goes without saying that he keeps company with other standard authors. Ealer always had several high-class books in the pilot-house, and he read the same ones over and over again, and did not care to change to newer and fresher ones. He played well on the flute, and greatly enjoyed hearing himself play. So did I. He had a notion that a flute would keep its health better if you took it apart when it was not standing a watch; and so, when it was not on duty it took its rest, disjointed, on the compass-shelf under the breastboard. When the Pennsylvania blew up and became a drifting rack-heap freighted with wounded and dying poor souls (my young brother Henry among them), pilot Brown had the watch below, and was probably asleep and never knew what killed him; but Ealer escaped unhurt. He and his pilot-house were shot up into the air; then they fell, and Ealer sank through the ragged cavern where the hurricane-deck and the boiler-deck had been, and landed in a nest of ruins on the main deck, on top of one of the unexploded boilers, where he lay prone in a fog of scald and deadly steam. But not for long. He did not lose his head - long familiarity with danger had taught him to keep it, in any and all emergencies. He held his coat-lapels to his nose with one hand, to keep out the steam, and scrabbled around with the other till he found the joints of his flute, then he took measures to save himself alive, and was successful.
- "Is Shakespeare Dead?"

Index | Intro | Cub Pilot | Licensed Pilot | River Tour 1882 | 1902 Farewell | Steamboat Men | Glossary

George Ealer is featured in:

reference book
Mark Twain A to Z, The Essential Guide to His Life and Writings
edited by R. Kent Rasmussen
available from amazon.com

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