When the mighty Steamboat Arabia sank near Kansas City on September 5, 1856, she carried 200 tons of mystery cargo. Lost for 132 years, its recovery in 1988 was like finding the King Tut’s Tomb of the Missouri River. Remarkably preserved clothes, tools, guns, dishware and more. The discovery was truly a modern day treasure-hunting story at its best.
The Arabia Steamboat Museum is a unique Kansas City attraction: a time capsule of life on the American frontier in the mid-nineteenth century. It is not your typical museum. Visitors have the one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience the everyday objects that made life possible for pioneers in the 1800s. It is the largest single collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world.
The Steamboat Arabia was one of many casualties of the perilous Missouri River. The Mighty Missouri, as it was often called, is the longest river in the United States and has claimed nearly 400 other steamboats over its 2,500 mile course. In September 1856, the Arabia was carrying over 200 tons of cargo intended for general stores and homes in 16 mid-western frontier towns. The steamer was still fully loaded when it hit a tree snag and sank just 6 miles west of Kansas City. Due to erosion, the Missouri River changed course over time, and the Arabia was buried underground for over a century – along with all of its precious cargo. Lying 45-feet deep beneath a Kansas cornfield, the Arabia’s payload was protected from light and oxygen and was thus remarkably well preserved.