Arabia Steamboat Museum

Although Otto only had a short stopover in Kansas City, I decided to spend a few days in the city – which I did not regret.

Right on the first day we went on a timetravelling trip in the Arabia Steamboat Museum. During the days of steamboat travel, many of them sank due to collision with stumps in the shallow water when going upstream in the Missouri river. Steamboats usually transported many goods, but also passengers. Whereas it was reatively easy to save passengers, it was harder to save the cargo due to the fast sinking. Today, hundreds of wrecks are known to lie at the banks of the Missouri river, who has changed its path over the years. Many people have tried the treasure hunt, but only few wrecks actually hold true treasures.

One of them was the Arabia Steamboat. It sunk in September 1856 with all of its cargo, over 200 tons, into the Missouri river. Explorers have tried to find the legendary ship, but it was only in the 1980’s that 4 men – a father with his two sons and a friend – actually found it and excavated it. During the excavation, every day was like christmas, when they discovered everything from fine china and clothes to building materials and canned food. Initially thinking to sell the discoveries they quickly realized how valuable the vast collection was and decided to not break it up.

Today, we are able to see the treasures at the Museum in downtown Kansas City. The visit starts with a short guided tour and introduction to the Museum and the story of the steamboat, followed by a video about the discovery of the wreck. Afterwards, one can wonder around the treasure collection – which is still only a part of the entire cargo on the ship. Matt Hawley, the son of one of the founders od the Arabia, explained that they would need another 30 years to clean all of the items they had found.

In the treasure room, the sheer amount of items was overwhelming. Whole collections of complete fine china sets, intact cans of food, hats by the pile, mountains of nails and many more form today the largest collection of pre-civil war artifacts. While looking at all the precious artifacts it tried to imagine all the fates that were decidec because this very steamboat sank. In the museum we learned that a whole city was abandoned because the needed clothing and building materials never made it to its destination.

In the Museum, one can also see in an open office how the materials are cleaned and preserved, which is very interesting. The upper deck is recreated in it’s original size, which gives a pretty good understanding of the size of the Arabia. I really enjoyed the journey to the past on the Arabia Steamboat!

Website of the Museum: www.1856.com
My friend Franz’ blog on steamboats and travel: www.steamboats.org

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