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A confluence of comments on vessels that plied the Potomac

Marshall Hall Amusement Park, in Charles County directly across from Mount Vernon, closed in 1980.
Marshall Hall Amusement Park, in Charles County directly across from Mount Vernon, closed in 1980. (Clinton Addison)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 5:35 PM

Answer Man is not embarrassed to say that one of his favorite songs is "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by the Looking Glass. It still moves him every time he hears the lyric, "Brandy, you're a fine girl (you're a fine girl!), what a good wife you would be (such a fine girl!), but my life, my love and my lady is the sea."

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The sea can do that to people.

So apparently can the river, if that river is the Potomac. This is all a long way of saying that Answer Man has additional reader comments, corrections and questions about his recent series of riverine columns.

Alexandria's Jim Churchill said he used to enjoy the view from the SS Mount Vernon - not looking out, but looking in: "I was so fascinated watching the engine room through the open bay, I rarely saw the shore until either Mount Vernon or Marshall Hall."

Jim pointed out that many ships plied the waters 50 years ago, including the SS District of Columbia, which made overnight trips to Norfolk, and an ex-Hudson River sidewheeler named the SS Bear Mountain.

Mike Toth remembers Wilson Line owner Joseph Goldstein landing his helicopter on the roof of the ticket office. After Goldstein turned his attention to smaller catamarans, another Wilson Line vessel, the SS George Washington, was mothballed nearby for years. "I see she is still afloat in good condition, now for sale as a sailing vessel in Hawaii," wrote Mike.

Yes. The George Washington was bought, tricked out with fake masts and a bowsprit, renamed the Kulamanu (the Golden Bird) and used to take tourists around Hawaii.

Several readers wondered whether the ship beached near the Wilson Bridge was Harry S. Truman's former presidential yacht, the USS Williamsburg, not the Mount Vernon. For most of the 1980s, the Williamsburg did sit idle in the Potomac, but on the other side of the bridge, docked at Blue Plains. The 243-foot vessel is now rusting at a shipyard in Italy, awaiting a very brave buyer.

Rockville's Dee Metz wrote, "Could you please tell those of us who can't remember exactly where Marshall Hall was located and what is there now? Also, could you even get there by car? Half the fun to me was in the boat ride to reach the amusement park."

The amusement park was directly across from Mount Vernon, in Charles County. And yes, you could drive down Indian Head Highway to it, though most people took the boat. The park took its name from the old Marshall family plantation house, which burned down in 1981, a year after the park closed. There's no trace of the amusement park, though the frame of the old house is still visible.

Jim Trimble of Alexandria pointed out that the key to Marshall Hall's popularity was the fact that gambling was legal in Charles County and the park had the only slot machines in the area.


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