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Arabia Steamboat Museum


DESCRIPTION: Housing the largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world, the Arabia Steamboat Museum features more than 200 tons of recovered artifacts from the sunken 1856 steamboat Arabia. The museum's exhibits and "touchable treasures" tell the story of the boat's Missouri River demise and amazing rediscovery in 1988.
ADDRESS: 400 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo.
LOCATION: On the east side of City Market, a few blocks north of Downtown in the River Market district.
PHONE: 816-471-1856
WEB SITE: www.1856.com
HIGHLIGHTS: 
  • Called the King Tut's Tomb of the Missouri River, the Arabia's impressive cargo includes everything from tools and dishware to toys and still-edible sweet pickles.
  • A full-scale replica of the Arabia's 171-foot boat deck features a 28-foot working paddle wheel. Alongside it is the skeleton of a mule — the only life lost in the Arabia's sinking.
  • Visitors can stop by the working preservation lab to learn how materials are cleaned and preserved. This painstaking process will take perhaps 25 years to complete, with half the cargo on display and another 100 tons in storage.
  • The museum gift shops offers Arabia souvenirs and frontier collectibles.
HOURS: Open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and noon-5 p.m. Sun. Tours begin every 30 minutes, with the last beginning at 4 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and 3:30 p.m. Sun. The museum is open every day except New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Call for other holiday hours.
ADMISSION: Adults $14.50, seniors $13.50, children ages 4-12 $5.50. Children ages 3 and under are free. Call for school and group prices.
HISTORY: When the Arabia struck a submerged tree on its fateful voyage up the Missouri River on Sept. 5, 1856, the boat was packed with close to 200 tons of cargo and about 130 people. The boat, which took nine months to build, sank in a matter of minutes. Luckily, its passengers and crew made it to shore, but almost all the Arabia's cargo was lost. That is until a group of Kansas City "treasure hunters" decided to attempt the unthinkable-dig up the legendary ship.

Over the years, the banks of the Missouri River shifted. This left the Arabia buried underneath a Kansas farmer's crops. On Nov. 12, 1988, River Salvage Inc. broke ground above where they believed the Arabia was buried, and about four months later they saw their dreams realized. They used bulldozers, backhoes, wells, well-drilling equipment and a 100-ton crane to carve out a 45-foot hole, the size of a football field.

The project turned out to be such a massive undertaking that a professional well-drilling company from Iowa was brought in to install a 65-foot irrigation system to pump close to 20,000 gallons of water a minute back into the Mighty Mo. Over the following months, anticipation grew as more of the ship was revealed. One of the first artifacts recovered was a small shoe caught within the timbers. Little did the group know that they were about to excavate the world's largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts.

In the end, River Salvage Inc. recovered more than 200,000 frontier artifacts which included 4,000 boots and shoes, more than 10,000 printed calico buttons, 5 million glass trade beads and tens of thousands of other priceless pieces.
WHERE TO GET LUNCH: The City Market houses 12 restaurants — with menus ranging from barbecue to Middle Eastern cuisine.
WHAT'S NEARBY: The City Market is home to an eclectic mix of shopping and dining options plus the region's largest farmers' market. Also within walking distance, Berkley Riverfront Park offers picturesque views of the Kansas City skyline.
DID YOU KNOW: In spite of the fascination associated with the trade, navigating the Missouri River was a difficult and hazardous business. Many boats sank because of fire and boiler explosions; others ran upon rocks, collided with bridges, toppled over from high winds or were crushed by ice jams. However, the main obstacle to river navigation was the ever-present danger of the steamboat's hull being suddenly pierced by the trunk of a fallen tree. Lying hidden from sight just under the river's surface, these "snags" crippled and sank hundreds of steamboats, some even on their first trip up the river. Of the estimated 400 steamboats lost to the Missouri River, about 300 were "snagged". The Arabia was one of those victims.
DON'T FORGET: to sample the French perfume found onboard the Arabia — with its pleasant scent still intact. It's believed to be the oldest intact perfume in the world. A reproduction is available for purchase in the gift shop.
GROUP TOURS: Call 816-471-1856 for reservations or to inquire about group rates.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Take the MAX to the City Market stop.
DRIVING THERE: From the north: From I-29 and I-35, follow the signs for I-35 S. Take Exit 2F, Oak/Grand/Walnut, on the right side. Continue on exit to Walnut Street and turn right (north). Continue driving north on Walnut Street, and you will drive right into The City Market.

From the east: Head west on I-70 toward Kansas City. At the I-70/I-670 split just before Downtown, take I-70/I-35. After about a mile, take Exit 2F, Oak/Grand/Walnut, on the right. Exit to Walnut Street, turn right (north) on Walnut Street, and you will drive right into The City Market.

From the south: Head east on I-670. Then take Hwy 40 N, which will loop around Downtown and head west. Exit at Oak/Grand/Walnut on the right. Exit to Walnut Street. Turn right on Walnut and you will drive right into The City Market.

From the west: Head east on I-70 into Kansas City. Take the Main Street exit and immediately turn left on 6th Street. Continue east on 6th Street to Walnut Street. Turn left (north) on Walnut Street, go over the bridge and you will drive right into The City Market.
PARKING: Parking is free in the City Market lot.
PUBLIC RELATIONS CONTACT: David Hawley at david.hawley@1856.com or 816-471- 4030.

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