Embrace America's Rivers

About the Author

    Jerry Hay has been exploring rivers for many years. He grew up along the Wabash River in Indiana where his fascination and love of rivers began. He has traveled the entire length of the Wabash and White Rivers by canoe and power boat. During those journeys he kept journals and drew river maps. This information, along with scouting the rivers by land and air, have provided a wealth of information that can be found in his guide books. Hay is available as a guest speaker about rivers, river history and river life in general. His talks are very popular with organizations, trade shows, conventions, schools and libraries. His topics are not only about navigation, but also history, geography, and  river lore.  
     Jerry serves a a Riverlorian on the American Queen Steamboat. He gives daily talks, serves as a river guide, and makes announcements about interesting sites along the rivers. The passengers are usually on week-long trips on navigable rivers throughout the eastern United States. His expertise about rivers is well known and led to him being called as an expert witness in a case that led to designating a river as non-navigable. He has traveled nearly every major river in the U.S., including the entire lengths of the Mississippi River and Ohio Rivers. 
     One of Jerry's unusual writing projects is a published children's book. The booked titled "A Goose Named Gilligan" was written by Hay about the true adventures of a goose that he rescued and was adopted by him. Another book project by Hay is titled "Beyond The Bridges" and is one of the most complete books about life on the rivers ever written. "Rivers Revealed" was released in June of 2007 by Indiana University Press This edition is available world-wide in soft cover. Hay completed the "Ohio River Guide Book", and was published in the Spring of 2008. This book is a complete guide of the entire 981 miles of the river and is a must-have for boaters, floaters and river road travelers. In 2010 Hay authored the Illinois Waterway Guidebook, that takes boaters from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Two more guidebooks were published in 2011. They are the Tennessee River Guidebook and the Cumberland River Guidebook. The Mississippi River Historic Sites and Interesting Places book is his latest book, published in 2013.

Presentations by Jerry Hay
Lectures or speeches are actually not the right words for Jerry Hay's talks. They sound rather formal and structured. Jerry has a very informal approach to his presentations. He does not read material or even use notes. He is uncomfortable with a podium. He likes to be with the audience and becomes very spontaneous with his comments. One could listen to the same lecture title several times and hear different information. Humor is certainly part of his style, so that the audience will not only learn from him but be entertained. His river stories are popular with any group audience (not just river related groups.) If a group has no particular subject of interest, Jerry will entertain with stories that will be enjoyed by everyone, with no need to commit to a specific subject. Listed are titles and brief descriptions of some talks available by Riverlorian Jerry Hay.

River Wildlife

This is a power point presentation showing much of the wildlife in our rivers. This includes what is in the river, on the river, and along the river. Many are surprised how our rivers are teeming with wildlife, with much of it unseen. Hay will of course, include anecdotes that come to mind about a particular species like the story about his discovery that great blue herons lighten their load when they take flight (right over his canoe) or his experience trying to help a large snapping turtle cross a road.  

                The Sultana Tragedy

This is one of Hay's more serious topics, but it is a serious subject. The Sultana Steamboat was the worst maritime disaster in American history and relatively few people have heard about it. Jerry was part of a documentary on the History Channel about the Sultana. He will talk about the theories on how it happened and his own opinions of what took place, leading up to this terrible event in 1865 on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee. Everyone has heard of the Titanic disaster but more people died on the Sultana Steamboat than the Titanic. It is a sad story, but one that needs to be told. 

Mississippi River Delta

There is much more to the Delta than most people realize. It is a huge area stretching from Southern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. The Delta is not only geologically interesting but also historic. Jerry will discuss the formation of the delta (going back about 70 million years). He will also talk about the history, culture, and the music of the region. From Cajuns to commerce and from natural beauty to the post slavery era, the Delta is rich in history and covered in this power point presentation. Hay has spent a lot of time in the Delta and is well versed about the culture and people of this wonderful part of the United States.

     Floods and Flood Control

Every river has its "Great Flood Of" with a certain year added. Jerry will talk about the rivers within the Mississippi River Basin and their historic flood events. He will discuss when and how they happened and why in some cases, humans have actually created the flooding challenges we face today. This will lead to the story of Turnbull Bend on the Mississippi River. This is a place where the river is trying to change course in a major way, and what the Army Corp of Engineers is doing to try to stop it. If it happens there would be a disastrous impact in the U.S. because the lower 300 miles of the Mississippi River would no longer be where it is. Hay has visited this site and has a good understanding of how it works and whether the projects in place will work.

The New Orleans Steamboat

In 1811, Nicholas Roosevelt and his wife Lydia did what many thought impossible by successfully navigating a steamboat from Pittsburgh, down the Ohio River then the Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. This was the first steamboat to make such a trip and was an amazing journey, not only because of the navigational challenges, but many other factors. 1811 was a very strange year and Jerry talks about all the events that took place while the Roosevelts were on their journey, including the New Madrid Earthquake, a strange comet, plagues, hostile Indians, an on-board fire and much more. This river trip led to the great steamboat era that is an important part of the American heritage.

            Confessions of a River Rat
"I never make the same mistake twice...I'm too busy making new ones" is a quote by Jerry Hay. He is referring to his many river adventures, or in some cases miss-adventures. Some of his stories are heartwarming, others are informative, and some are just down-right hilarious. One thing all his stories have in common is that they are true...and clean! There is no doubt that when river rats gather, the rhetoric can be very colorful, but Jerry keeps his talks rated "G" so children can also enjoy his stories. Confessions of a River Rat will give an audience a fascinating look at life on the river, its trials and tribulations, and how one river rat learned some valuable lessons. Contact Jerry for more details on having him serve as a guest speaker and have some fun at your next event.

Reading the River

This is an informative talk for those who wish to learn about traveling rivers. Emphasis is on non-navigable rivers, those being rivers that do not have navigational aids and defined channels. One can travel safely by reading indicators that nature provides. Those include the color and movement of the water, the riverbank, the sounds, and many other things that often go unnoticed. Many people travel past the mouth of these smaller rivers and are curious about what may be there to explore, but hesitate to turn onto the uncharted stream. This is wise unless one has learned how to read the river. This skill opens up a new dimension in river travel that can be experienced safely. As with all his talks, Jerry will include stories that demonstrate the point he may be making. Although this may sound like a dry subject about technique, it is anything but that. In fact, the subject becomes very wet as he tells of lessons he has learned the hard way.

         Beyond the Bridges

This talk is for those who are interested in discovering the mysteries, adventure, and importance of our rivers. Beyond the Bridges will bring the audience into a world that is known to relatively few. Jerry will talk about river history, its people, and tell fascinating stories about the river. He will include "river royalty", speaking of the people who are well-know for their contributions to river history, development, and lore. The evolution of riverboats from canoes to the giant towboats will be discussed. The audience will be surprised by the number of words and phrases we use daily that originated from the rivers. Anyone attending this talk will look at the river differently while crossing a bridge. They may smile, while remembering one of the funny stories told by Hay. They will have a better understanding of what life was and is like Beyond the Bridges.

Where All That Water Comes From

This is a subject that also has appeal to all audiences. Whether it is school-age children or adult groups, it is fascinating. Many people see water moving on a river but have little knowledge about where it all comes from and where it is going. In this talk, Hay shows and tells the audience about the drain basins and how even the tiniest stream connects us with the rest of the world. He talks about the sources of rivers and how they got their names. Emphasis is on the huge Mississippi River drain basin, which is typical of most watersheds. The audience will leave with an understanding that a river is not just a river, but part of a river system. He demonstrates his point by following the hypothetical path of a message in a bottle. As always, Jerry will include fascinating antidotes and personal experiences. This lecture is fun, informative, and will leave one with an understanding of where all that water comes...and where it goes.

    Indiana's Best Kept Secret

Few people have explored and researched the waterways of Indiana as Jerry Hay has. When he wrote the Wabash River Guidebook and White River Guidebook, he proclaimed that Indiana's rivers are the states best kept secrets. Many are not are aware of the rich history, pristine forests, and splendid waters of Hoosier rivers. This talk focuses on the Wabash and White rivers, starting from their source to their confluence with other rivers. Even though this lecture is featured at many adult functions, it is an excellent program for school children. It is of particular interest to educations teaching fourth-grade Indiana history. Children will get a sense of the importance of the rivers to the history of the state. Hay draws illustrations and shows photos while he tells of these great natural resources that are so often overlooked. Hay once said "I have known people who traveled thousands of miles to a beautiful, remote place near water. They didn't know we have those places right here in Indiana." They are indeed Indiana"s best kept secrets.

Lewis & Clark Expedition
Jerry Hay portrays Captain William Clark, co-commander of the Corp of Discovery. After a great deal of reading and research about this expedition, Jerry found that he related so much to the life of William Clark that he chose to portray him. This is not a lecture or talk, but a show that tells of the epic journey. Hay becomes the character and shares his thoughts and journals from the expedition. He takes listeners from his childhood in Virginia to his completion of the historic journey in 1806. Jerry prefers to dress as Clark would have during the river trip, as opposed to full dress military. He tells of the hardships, dangers, hunger, and challenges. Hay also adds the humorous things that happened. He just can't stay serious for very long, which adds to the enjoyment of the presentation. The Lewis and Clark expedition was a journey that changed American forever and Jerry Hay will bring that mission to life.

                The Big Easy

New Orleans is a unique river city that is rich in history and a melting pot of cultures that are unlike any other place in the world. Jerry Hay has spent a lot of time in New Orleans and shares stories and information about the city from its founding to present day.  This power point presentation shows much of what the presentation is about, while Jerry discusses the geography, the people, the culture, the history, and interesting places to visit. His focus is mainly on the Mississippi River but he covers much more about this great city from Cajuns to catastrophes and from wars to parades. The audience will also enjoy humorous anecdotes while learning about the Crescent City.    

The Grand Excursion

The Grand Excursion was a big event on the Upper Mississippi River in 1854 that involved many cities, railroads, steamboats, and even the President of the United States. It was a celebration of an important link to westward expansion and steamboats played a big part in it. In 2004 the Grand Excursion was re-enacted and Jerry Hay played a part in that event. He tells the story of the original event and his experiences (and mishaps) during the 2004 flotilla. He often refers to it as the "wackiest six days on a riverboat that he ever had".  Audiences will laugh and learn about this important historical river event. 


There is no better way to end the day at camp than a storytelling session around a campfire. For your next group camp, invite Jerry to spend the evening around the campfire telling stories that will amaze and amuse. All stories are true and clean, so children will enjoy the storytelling session as well. 

                 Click for speaker request form


Quote from Cruise Travel Magazine:

Jerry Hay demonstrates an unabashed passion for his subject that goes well beyond any prepared script. His love of rivers and riverboating runs deep, having explored America's rivers by raft, canoe, and powerboat. Now on the Delta Queen he shares his love of the river on voyages of American rediscovery.

AAA Magazine EnCompass
"Best, though, is Jerry Hay, Riverlorian (a.k.a. Captain William Clark), whose role is to spin yarns and share river lore and history, which he does with a sense of humor as rich as the Delta's deeply polished wood. Fidgeting with his three-corner hat, Captain William Clark describes the perils of his 4,000-mile journey westward with Meriwether Lewis, his words connecting century to century like the river beneath us connects town to town."

Henry Nowicki, Travel writer
"Our lecturer, Jerry Hay, who is also known as a "riverlorian" has a daily talk about steamboating and the sights along the river. These get-togethers are not to be missed as they provide interesting aspects of the river cruise."

"Jerry Hay, our Riverlorian on this cruise, is a real story teller and you will learn lots about steamboating and the rivers."

Quote from Amazon Books review:

"I had the pleasure of riding on the Delta Queen Steamboat last year where the author, Mr. Hay is a Riverlorian. He told the story about Gilligan Goose. I have not read the book yet but the heartwarming story was wonderful. Jerry Hay is a great storyteller so I'm sure the book will be great, as well. The incredible thing about the story is that Gilligan is a real goose and the story he told is true. I am ordering copies for myself and each of my grandchildren."

Note recieved:

"Your talks each morning added so much enjoyment to our trip. You have a real gift for story telling and I found myself wishing that when I was growing up I had history teachers who were half as interesting as you." ---- Joan

Pittsburg Tribune-Review
"Jerry M. Hay, the steamboat company's "Riverlorian," and a river pilot in his own right, is into steamboatin' all the way, and has converted an old houseboat into the Wabash Queen -- his own steamboat. Each morning, Hay holds informal talks about steamboat history, shares river lore with passengers, and cites the source of many common expressions we use today, which had their origin in steamboatin'.Hay is an author as well, having written a delightful children's book titled "A Goose Named Gilligan" -- a story about the goose he managed to free from the mud, with great difficulty, in his native Indiana. The goose returns for visits with him every year. Soon to be released in his newest book, "Beyond The Bridges," which chronicles his travels on the rivers. It takes the reader through all aspects of river life."

The Telegraph newspaper London, England

Hay is always eager to answer questions or chat informally about any aspect of life on the river. His on-stage delivery is spontaneous, entertaining and humorous. Perhaps fired by his infectious brand of enthusiasm, people always want to know more. His body of work, along with his travels, detailed research and years spent working on the river, provide Hay with ample material for his talks and commentaries