St. Louis

Shipwreck in a cornfield fills kinky museum

By Betsa Marsh - Travel Arts Syndicate

Travellers who are “goin’ to Kansas City,” like the old song says, usually set their GPSs for hot jazz and spicy barbecue.

But another contingent zeros in on the region’s quirky collections, from Marilyn Monroe’s locks at Leila’s Hair Museum to TWA’s paper flight attendant dresses at the Airline History Museum. And who can resist the bullet hole in the Jesse James Home where “that dirty coward” Robert Ford shot the outlaw in 1882?

But lovers of the roadside bizarre hit the jackpot with Kansas City’s Arabia Steamboat Museum.

Museum owner David Hawley was as susceptible to the lure of shipwrecks and buried treasure as the next explorer. His distinctive siren call, however, drew him not to the Atlantic or Pacific, but to a Kansas cornfield.

His quest was for the Arabia, a side-wheel steamboat that was only three years old when she rammed a log and sank in the muddy Missouri River in 1856. Hawley was undaunted when his research indicated that the wreck was probably under Judge Norman Sortor’s corn crop.

The Missouri River had moved east a half mile, leaving the steamboat shell and her mystery cargo buried under 14 metres of river-bottom silt. Once the Sortor family gave permission for exploration, Hawley arrived with his proton magnetometer.

“I walked back and forth across that field,” Hawley recalled. “It didn’t take long before the metal detector picked up the boilers.”