It's not often you get to experience a day, and know it's one you'll never forget. Today was one of those days for me.
I had the pleasure to visit the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, MO today. This ship and all it's cargo was one of hundreds of steamboats in the 1800s that sunk in the Missouri River. It is the world's biggest and most complete pre civil war time capsule ever to be uncovered! This steamboat hit a tree snag in 1856 and went down in 15 minutes, in 15 feet of water. All 121 passengers survived. Time took the Arabia and it's 220 tons of cargo away as the river changed it's course over the next 135 years. In 1988, 5 adventurous men set forth to uncover it, buried 45-70 feet deep in a cornfield. Yes, it was buried below a cornfield.
One of those men was Jerry Mackey. I had the museum to myself, and only one man was there as it opened. Turns out, it was Jerry. He proceeded to give me a personal tour of the massive collection that they are still preserving for over 2 hours today! To hear the tale from Jerry made me feel like I was somehow connected to the steamboat, and to the discovery myself. We walked room after room together as he regaled me with the triumph and tragedy of the Arabia, and his fellow partners. This dear man is so knowledgeable, he's probably forgotten more than I'll ever know. His wisdom and curiosity are unmatched. He knows the intimate details of all the items aboard, and has been a devoted researcher over the 30 years since they painstakingly pulled up the cargo. Their discovery has literally rewritten our collective knowledge of the 1850s in America, filling gaps with stories big and small. To see two story lines unfold; the story of the frontier and the steamboat searchers made history and the American spirit come alive in me in a way I never thought possible.
Not one piece of the collection has been sold or is in private ownership. The partnership of the five men vowed to keep it all together as one time capsule to share with the world. It cost them 1.5 million to recover the steamboat, and they made their money back in ten years of museum visitors. Talk about vision!
Jerry reminds me of both of my grandfathers somehow combined in one. I was hanging on each word, each story. I wanted to stay all day. I wanted to be part of their team!
I knew I would be seeing this amazing collection as I made my way to Asheville, and I listened to Surviving Savanna by Patti Callihan which is also about a steamboat from the mid 1800s and it's modern day recovery. To be immersed in this brave period of American history (and the historical preservation and seeking) over these 20 hours in the last two days has given me such a beautiful perspective on perseverance, resilience, and tenacity.
Adventure is out there. I feel the heaviness of the last two years wash away as I drive East to my beloved art show and family reunion with my fellow artisans, craftsmen, and collectors.
I could talk for hours about these photos below, but instead, I encourage each of you to come find this museum and walk it's 1856 rooms of artifacts for yourself. You will be transported back in time through the hope of the American West. Many of the items were brand new. Dishes never used, hats and shoes never worn, prefab homes never built. In many cases the last hands to touch them were their makers.... That is a powerful story for this maker, at least.
The 1856 Steamboat Arabia
The Steamboat Arabia was a steamboat that was once a popular way to get across the Mississippi River. This boat was the first steamboat to make it up the river and into the heart of St. Louis. The steamboat was made for river navigation and was equipped with a paddle wheel and a large smokestack. The "A" in the name came from the first letter of the word "Arabia." The Steamboat Arabia was retired from service in 1856 because of it's age and began to sink. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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