In 1856, a southbound steamboat chock-full of Victorian-era goods hit a tree and sunk beneath the muddy waters of the Missouri. For 150 years, locals speculated as to the whereabouts of the once-mighty ship. Treasure enthusiasts petitioned farmers to let them scour the land along the riverbank. Sure, they said, many have tried, but no dice. Impossible. Professionals were unable to find the boat, let alone dredge it up. The river changes course, the current picks up and deposits tons of mud far from where it started all in a matter of hours.
Prior to hearing talk of buried treasure, the Hawley family ran an air conditioning repair company. Bob Hawley's interest was piqued after a brief conversation with a passing lore enthusiast. He and his sons asked the same farmers who had been petitioned time and time again over the years if they might be able to run a metal detector over their land. Sure, they signed, but again, you're not going to find anything, no one has.
But by some combination of luck and determination, the detectors went off a half-mile away from where the Missouri currently resides. Thus began the Hawleys' heroic effort to raise the ship from its watery grave. A self-financed amateur endeavor driven by genuine curiosity, the family and their friends spent many months and an ungodly amount of money pumping, dredging, sifting, and heaving mud, water, and crates up from 45 feet below the earth.
What they found, they cleaned and put on display at their own Arabia Steamboat Museum. Contained within are extraordinarily well-preserved luxury and general goods frozen in time from 1856, significant chunks of the steamboat itself, and on occasion, people hard at work carefully cleaning off the century-and-a -half worth of mud caked onto those goods. The docents are often the Hawley family themselves, who are only too happy to tell you about their story. "Hey," says Matt Hawley, "I love what I do, and it sure beats working in air conditioning."
I'd say that the museum is one of the true treasures of Kansas City. The Arabia is a unique and charming cultural and historical landmark not too far from the downtown KC bend of the Missouri river. It's a complete surprise in a city famous for football and barbeque. Unfortunately, the city is aiming to demolish the museum to make way for some sports-related structure or other. Before they relocate (or, ideally, the KC government abandons this fool's endeavor and appreciates the diversity of attractions it can offer out-of-towners!!), swing by and interrogate Matt well past closing time like I did.