150-Year-Old Sunken Steamboat Is Recovered, But What’s Inside Will Surprise You…

The Steamboat Arabia left the banks of Kansas City in 1856, on a routine supply trip up the Missouri River.  There were two hundred tons of precious cargo onboard en route to 16 different towns along the frontier.

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In those days, steamboats were common since they were the best method of traveling up and down America’s river systems. These boats were big business at the time and were essential for trade and commerce.

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Unfortunately for the Steamboat Arabia, a fallen walnut tree hidden from sight due to the glare on the water from the setting sun, stopped  the boat dead in its’ tracks. The impact instantly tore the hull and the boat sank within minutes. Thankfully, everyone on board was able to swim to safety but one poor mule who was tied to the deck and forgotten in the chaos.

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The soft river bottom quickly engulfed the boat in mud and silt and within a few days, the boat was swept away entirely. Over time, the river shifted course and for the next 132 years, the Arabia was lost to the world…until the 1980s, when it was discovered 45 feet deep underneath a Kansas farm!

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Local Bob Hawley had heard legend of the sunken ship through the generations and was inspired to find it!  In 1987 he and his sons used old maps and sophisticated equipment to eventually find the boat a half-mile away from the present-day river. The farmers who owned the land agreed to let them dig it up just as long as they were done in time for the spring planting season.

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Heavy equipment was brought in, including a 100-ton crane. There was 20,000 gallons of water that had to be removed.

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After two weeks of excavation, the boat started to appear.  The remains of the left paddlewheel and this small black rubber shoe that was lying on the deck.

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They recovered fine china that was fully preserved along with its’ yellow packing straw. It was all preserved perfectly, thanks to the airtight mud.

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On November 26, 1988, the full boat was uncovered along with its 200 tons of buried treasure.

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With no air to cause spoilage, thousands of items were recovered completely intact including jars of preserved foods that were still totally edible. One of the brave excavators even tested it out by eating a pickle from one of the jars!

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Today, the artifacts are all housed in a museum in Kansas City called the Steamboat Arabia Museum. One of the displays is the fully preserved skeleton of that poor mule.

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These jars of preserved fruits are just some of the many relics recovered from the Arabia.

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Most of the hats recovered from the Steamboat Arabia were wool felt, except for this hat.  It is one of a rare few that were made of beaver fur, which is naturally water resistant.

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All manner of clothing was found and much of it could still be worn today.

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The ship also had over 4,000 shoes, all ready for delivery. There were some shoes lined with buffalo hair for extra warmth.

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A keg of ale from 1856.

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These bottles of French perfume were still fragrant when they were recovered, can you believe it?

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Just a few of the 29 different patterns of calico buttons found on the Arabia.

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Calico, was a fabric type made out of cotton and printed with small, repeating patterns named after its point of origin, Calicutta (now Kolkata), India. The fabric was quite popular in England and the Western world and the Steamboat Arabia had several calico dresses that sadly did not survive that much time underwater. The dresses did have porcelain buttons printed in the same patterns as the dresses, however, indicating what kinds of designs people were wearing back in those times.

A variety of  vintage medicines was also found.

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A sampling of some of the other relics recovered from the steamboat.

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Would you try this 150-year-old pickle?

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