Year-round, tourists and locals enjoy the Steamboat Arabia Museum, which houses goods—from French perfume to buttons to coffeepots—salvaged from the Arabia's muddy grave 132 years after it sank in the Missouri River in 1856.
Mar 3, 2003
The following are from a journal entry by the science fiction author, Joe Haldeman, who toured it with me... ...In 1988 an old beat-up river map led treasure-hunters to a Kansas cornfield. A sensitive magnetometer detected the tons of steel cargo, now buried 45 feet deep. One family got together with some friends and made a deal with the farmer. After harvest they dug a deep pit -- complicated by an underwater river that had to be pumped out constantly
-- and found the 171-foot-long hulk. Much of the cargo was perfectly preserved by the oxygen-free mud. Things like cotton and paper had washed away, but silk still had its bright colors. Pickles 150 years old were still green and edible... It's a wonderful display of quotidian necessities and occasional luxuries. ...most of the passengers aboard _Arabia_ were women and children, and most of the cargo was made up of the things they were carrying to start life anew, along with stock for the general stores that were springing up along the river. The museum is a huge fasscinating clutter of things like rifles, plows, boots, kitchen impliments, medicines. Imported dinner services that look brand new, in fact some in patterns that are still sold in England. French perfume and beads from Romania, for trading with Indians... Seventy percent of the cargo awaits restoration, kept frozen in a warehouse... Being a food freak, I was fascinated by the menu for the first-class passengers. You could choose among a dozen different kinds of meat, including calve's head. Jellied eels and tripe done to your liking. If you ordered wine without specifying what kind, you would get madiera. The wine list was heavy on madieras, ports, sherries, and sweet champagne. But under clarets, it listed an 1844 St. Emilion for $1.24. Time machine, anyone?