One Tank Trip: The Arabia Steamboat Museum uncovers treasures excavated from century-old sunken steamship

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(Illustration by Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

There are many places Manhattan residents can travel to with just a tank of gas, but The Arabia Steamboat Museum is a great option many people might not know about.

Located in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, — a little under two hours away from Manhattan — the Arabia is rich in history. According to the museum website, it was voted “Favorite Kansas City Hidden Gem” by Visit KC.

The website also calls the museum “one of Kansas City’s most popular attractions. It is the largest single collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world, featured by National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian Magazine, PBS, Antiques Roadshow, Good Morning America, Southern Living, CNN, the History Channel and many other news and entertainment organizations.”

The Arabia Steamboat Museum was constructed in 1991 after five men excavated the sunken steamboat and its cargo. It sank in 1856 after hitting a tree snag in the Missouri River. The excavation process started in 1988 and took about four months.

The museum includes remnants of the Arabia and nearly 160 tons of artifacts that it held. The museum is still working to clean and preserve about 60 tons of artifacts to this day.

Discovered under a cornfield, the artifacts were naturally preserved and are still in great condition over a century later.

The 30,000 square-foot museum houses hundreds of thousands of pieces of cargo and has the largest collection of pre-civil war artifacts in the world — ranging from tools to clothes to toys.

The museum tour begins with several videos and short films explaining the history of the boat and its cargo, then moves through the artifacts and an open preservation lab where visitors can observe preservationists working on other artifacts from the boat. After this, you can see a full-scale replica of the Arabia and videos about the excavation, along with original pieces from the boat.

If you have extra time to peruse the area after your tour, you might try exploring the historic City Market. City Market is a large market where vendors gather and sell homemade goods, groceries, plants and trinkets. It also has several restaurants, apparel stores and antique shops.

For more information about the museum, history, hours and COVID-19 restrictions, you can call or visit the museum website. Still, the best way to learn more is to see it yourself.

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Madison Daniel
Hey! I’m Maddie Daniel and I am a junior in mass communications. This semester, I'm the assistant culture editor and have previously served as a staff writer. After I graduate, I plan to go to law school to pursue a career in Federal Indian Law. I love art, history and anything outdoors.