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157 Years After The Steamboat Arabia Sank, Museum Of Cargo Thrives

Arabia Steamboat Museum

One hundred fifty-seven years ago Thursday the Arabia, a steamboat traveling the Missouri River westward from St. Louis, sank. The actual event was relatively minor, the only casualty was an mule that was tied to the deck — all 130 passengers were able to make it ashore safely.

The more astonishing part of the story happens 131 years later in 1987, when a Missouri family made it their mission to dig up the Arabia. Bob Hawley and his sons, Greg and David, used a 19th century map to pinpoint the location of the Arabia and their skills as appliance mechanics to dig through mud and water for treasure.

The Hawleys eventually recovered 220 tons of cargo from the buried Arabia, and they originally planned to sell it. But as they brought more and more stuff up their views started to change.

"As we cleaned them up our whole view of history changed," says Bob Hawley's wife Flo. "The things on board changed our lives."

After investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to recover the contents of the steamboat Arabia, the Hawleys decided to invest even more and create a museum. 

"We knew what a wonderful story it told," says Flo.

The full story of the steamboat and the Arabia Steamboat Museum was published Thursday by the Wall Street Journal. 

You can see some of the artifacts or schedule a visit to the museum on their website.

Sylvia Maria Gross is storytelling editor at KCUR 89.3. Reach her on Twitter @pubradiosly.
A California native, Briana comes to KCUR by way of KMUW in Wichita, Kan. and KUSP in Santa Cruz, Calif.
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