The Steamboat Arabia...
Sep 30, 2010
|Today Larry & I visited the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. I believe that exploring this 30,000 square feet of wonder & discovery is my favorite 'tourist thing' that we have done since being on the road since 2006! And that's saying something as we have seen many terrific sights along our journey.
We started our visit with a guide, a nice young man that give a bit of history and answered questions as he led us to our first stop to view the hull of the steamboat. This was the only portion of the tour that included a guide. We viewed a short film and from that point on it was self-guided, at your own pace. One of the highlights for me was that after the film ended, Bob Hawley, the father of the Hawley boys, and one of the 5 excavators came up front to answer questions and take comments. What a nice guy and he was kind enough to take a photo with me after the room emptied!
I'd like to share a bit of the history of the boat and information on the dig with you first today. We took many pictures of the treasure and I will share those as well. But they will appear in the post labeled Part 2. This first post will only cover events leading up to the actual 'treasures' on display. If you have the time, I highly recommend that you click on the link at the bottom of this post and watch the short video on the Arabia's website. It is VERY interesting and informative and will make the pictures of the Arabia's 200 tons of cargo much more interesting for you. I hope you enjoy this post as much as we did visiting this wonderful museum. If you are ever in the area, this needs to be #1 on your 'to do' list!
The Arabia was built in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, on the banks of the Monongahela River in 1853. The boat averaged five miles an hour going upstream. Its paddlewheels were 28 feet across, and its steam boilers consumed approximately thirty cords of wood per day. The boat travelled the Ohio and Mississippi rivers before it was bought by Captain John Shaw, who operated the boat on the Missouri River. Her first trip was to carry 109 soldiers from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Pierre, which was located up river in South Dakota. The boat then travelled up the Yellowstone River, adding an additional 700 miles to the trip. In all, the trip took almost three months to complete.
In the spring of 1856, the boat was sold to Captain William Terrill and William Boyd. In the time between their purchase of the Arabia and its later crash, it made fourteen trips up and down the Missouri.
On this hot, late August afternoon in 1856, the sounds of hand trucks and wagons bouncing their way across the rough cobblestone streets filled the air. The nearby river landing was lined with a multitude of steamboats awaiting delivery of their frontier-bound goods and supplies. The steamboat Arabia was among them.
The 171-foot-long Arabia, with her twin stacks belching clouds of smoke and ash, pulled away from port en route to towns on the western frontier. On her deck & nestled in the cargo hold below lay over 200 tons of brand-new merchandise. European dishware, jewelry, guns, tools, food products, and clothing items were among her cargo.
She made good time steaming up the Missouri River, reaching Kansas City in less than a week. By now it was September 5th, and the trip thus far had been uneventful. However, before the sun would set that day, the steamboat Arabia and her valuable cargo would quickly and silently vanish from sight.
The big side-wheeler had just left Kansas City when her hull was suddenly pierced by a submerged tree. She sank in just minutes. Years after the tragic accident the river changed course. The legendary Arabia and its hoard of buried treasure was discovered beneath a Kansas farm field.
In the 1860s, Elisha Sortor purchased the property where the boat lay. Over the years, legends were passed through the family that the boat was located somewhere under the land. In the surrounding town, stories were also told of the location of the boat, although over time, the exact location of the boat was lost.
In 1987, 132 years later, David Hawley set out to find the boat. Using old maps and a proton magnetometer, Hawley figured out the probable location, and then found the Arabia half a mile from the river and under 45 feet of silt and topsoil.
With permission from the owners of the farm - and a requirement that the work be completed before the spring planting - Hawley, his brother, Greg, and father, Bob, along with two family friends, Jerry Mackey and David Luttrell - set out to excavate the boat during the winter months.
They performed a series of test drillings to determine the exact location of the hull. Once this was done, the perimeter was marked with powdered chalk. Heavy equipment, including a 100-ton crane, was brought in by both river and road transport during the summer and fall. To lower the water level, 20 irrigation pumps were installed around the site to keep it from flooding. The 65-foot-deep wells removed 20,000 US gallons per minute from the ground. On November 26, 1988, the boat was exposed. Four days later, artifacts from the boat began to appear, beginning with a Goodyear rubber overshoe. On December 5, a wooden crate filled with elegant China was unearthed. The mud was such an effective preserver of everything that the yellow packing straw was still visible. Thousands of artifacts were recovered intact, including jars of preserved food that are still edible. The artifacts that were recovered are housed in the Steamboat Arabia Museum.
On February 11, 1989, work ceased at the site, and the pumps were turned off. After the pumps were turned off, the site was filled back in so that it would not be a hazard to humans.
Today you can peer into display rooms overflowing with store goods from an earlier generation. Some say it's the King Tut's Tomb of the Missouri River. Others call it modern day treasure hunting at its best. If you are looking for an adventure your whole family will enjoy, discover the Treasure of the Steamboat Arabia!
To watch the video, click Museum Info and then Arabia Video at the link below: