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Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Steamboat Arabia Museum

The highlight of my trip to Kansas City, MO for the WWW conference was a trip we took to the Steamboat Arabia Museum. Being a history major and history buff, I enjoy museums in general; however the Arabia Museum is one I will never forget.

Built in 1853, the 171-foot Arabia sank in 1856. The boat was traveling up the Missouri River when a tree snag smacked into its hull and caused the boat  to sink. All of the passengers were rescued; whereas the boat itself, along with the two hundred tons of merchandise on board, sank into the mud. Over time, the boat and its contents continued to sink until it was forty-five feet below ground.

Except in somewhat vague stories, the steamboat was forgotten until 1988 when a group of men heard about the possibility of a sunken steamboat and decided to hunt for treasure. The Missouri River had changed course many times during the intervening years, but with the cooperation of a farmer who had heard about the riverboat's demise, the five men discovered its final resting place in the middle of a cornfield.

Using bulldozers, generators and a huge pump that extracted water twenty-four hours a day for months, the men finally found a few pieces of the boat. Then came the real treasures: barrels of English china, bolts of wool fabric, leather shoes and boots in many sizes, tools, farm implements, champagne still slightly bubbly, jars of pickles still edible, coffee beans from South America, perfume from France.

After painstakingly cleaning everything, the men decided to share their treasure with the rest of the world by building a museum to house what they found. I was totally awed by the quantity and quality of the merchandise on display.

It was like walking through a Wal-Mart that was doing business before the Civil War.

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