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Historic Drought Exposes Sunken Mississippi Riverboat Casino

The Diamond Lady casino riverboat sank in 2008 but record-low water levels have exposed it entirely, sitting beached in the sand.
Photo | Getty Images

Many parts of the Mississippi river are seeing record-low water levels. In McKellar Lake— a backwater of the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee—the water level is almost 11 feet below the historic average, which has fully exposed a previously sunken Mississippi riverboat casino, the Diamond Lady. From bow to stern, there’s no longer a single inch of the Diamond Lady that lies hidden by the waterline, and there’s something tragic and eerie about it.

The Diamond Lady was built in 1991 and was the first riverboat casino in Iowa’s section of the Mississippi river since the 19th century. It was designed to look like old paddlewheel boats from that bygone era, just with modern slot machines filling its multiple decks. In the ’90s, it was bright, vibrant, and full of passengers looking to feel as if they’d been transported back in time. But in 2008, after having been transported to Memphis, the Diamond Lady sank, due to freezing water.

After it sunk, it was just left in the backwaters of the Mississippi River, and you can see where the waterline used to sit. From the hull to about midway up the second deck, the Diamond Lady’s white and blue color scheme turned to a muted brown, waterlogged and rotten from having sat in the murky lake for over a decade. Above that brown water-stained line, you can still see its original colors and get an idea of what it used to look like when it was a vibrant gambling attraction.

There’s no doubt locals are going to want to check out the now risen Diamond Lady in person and many will likely try and climb aboard. However, doing so is a terrible idea. Not only is the boat on unstable footing but there’s no safety equipment or even railings, and every part of its structure is weakened. Aside from some selfies to prove to your your bravery to your friends, you’ll find nothing aboard the previously sunken Diamond Lady but soggy wood, worthless furniture, and broken dreams.

Still, I don’t blame the sort of morbid curiosity of wanting to see it in person. Seeing what was once a popular, beloved tourist and vacation attraction, so still, quiet, and lonely has an eerie allure. Just don’t climb aboard.