Friday, March 25, 2016

Digging for Treasure

Thought for the day:  Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere. [Chinese proverb]

There's all kinds of treasures in this world. Learning is definitely one of them, and one that I value highly, but when you were a kid, did you ever dig for buried treasure? Only things I ever found were pretty rocks and fat wiggly worms, which inevitably led to a different kind of quest... for fish.

Well how about if I tell you about someone else's tenacity in solving a mystery, and his successful search for buried treasure that led to a whole new world of learning?


The roots for this story were set before the Civil War, when steamboats were a vital part of America's economy, moving goods and people up and down her mighty rivers. This picture, sent to me by a friend, is a rendition of the steamship Arabia, who happens to be the star of our tale.

On September 5, 1856, this steamboat, on a voyage to deliver two hundred tons of cargo and one hundred and thirty passengers to sixteen different frontier towns, hit a submerged tree, ripped a hole in its hull, and in a matter of minutes, sank to the muddy bottom of the Missouri River. All human passengers survived; the sole fatality was a hapless mule.

The boat, like other steamboats that had met the same fate, was believed to be lost forever.


A river is more than an amenity; it is a treasure. [Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.]

[picture by David Hawley]
In this case, as the years went by, the treasured Missouri River wasn't the one hiding the Arabia. 

A local amateur treasure hunter named Bob Hawley was particularly intrigued by this missing steamboat and the mysterious cargo she held.  He knew the course of the river had shifted decidedly eastward over the years, and based on extensive research, he and his sons surmised in 1987 that the missing Arabia might be located in the middle of a Kansas City cornfield. The farmer graciously agreed to let them search and dig in his field... as long as they were done in time for spring planting. They were. After Hawley's metal detector pinged the boat's boilers, with the use of heavy equipment, he, his sons, and some other family members and friends, uncovered the missing boat four months later... forty-five feet down, and a half mile from the current riverbanks. In the course of their work, they removed twenty thousand gallons of water from the site.

The location of the boat isn't the most amazing part. The most amazing part is the condition of its contents. Buried under the mud for over 130 years, the goods were beautifully preserved, serving as a time capsule from the past, and showing us more about the needs of day-to-day living in frontier American than any history book alone could ever do. The remarkably preserved contents of this boat included clothing, tools, guns, food products, dishes, jewelry, wine, window glass, French perfume, lumber, a couple of prefab houses, a sawmill, and a case of cognac.

The past is a treasure chest filled with learning opportunities for our present and future, but only if we look inside. [Kevin Eikenberry]

Great idea! Shall we...?




This fine china was still preserved in its original yellow packing straw.



[wikipedia]










And not just a FEW dishes were found, either. LOTS of dishes were found, as you can see from this picture taken inside of the Steamboat Arabia museum in Kansas City.





Here's a glimpse at some of the recovered clothing.



You probably know that calico was a very popular fabric for making dresses back then, but most of the calico dresses didn't fare too well during their time spent in the mud. However, these porcelain buttons, printed to match the dresses they adorned, survived beautifully.




Many guns and knives were recovered.





Check out this spiffy-looking rubber shoe.






And a beaver-skin hat. Naturally waterproof!








The world's oldest pickles? Because there was no air reaching the foodstuffs, it was surmised that the jars of food were still edible. To test that theory, one brave escavator ate one of the pickles. According to him, the 130+ year old pickle still tasted fresh. 





These signs hang inside of the Steamboat Arabia museum in Kansas City. Alas, most of us will never have the opportunity to visit that museum in person, but rather than me posting more pictures, how about something much better?









                                                          A video taken inside the museum!


What an amazing story, and what an amazing place to visit... even if only vicariously.

                            Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.
   
Time to go digging for some more fun facts.

60 comments:

  1. What a truly amazing collection. Thanks for sharing the video. But honestly I don't think I would have the courage to take a bite out of that pickle. I love history and all old things and not just because I am! :)

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    1. I think this story's fascinating; I'm glad you appreciate it, too.

      I probably would have tried the pickle, as long as it smelled okay... but I wouldn't have been the FIRST one to try it. (I'm somewhat adventurous, but not stupid.)

      Pbbbbt! You're not old.

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  2. This gives new meaning to the term "time capsule". It is absolutely incredible and truly fascinating! I'm astounded at how well-preserved these treasures are - and so many in perfectly unused condition!

    Thanks to the ingenuity of the astute treasure hunter (Hawley) and the gracious farmer who let him dig up his field (I probably wouldn't have been so generous).

    Thanks for sharing yet another story that I've never heard of.

    It's impossible to choose favorites out of these photos, but the pickles still look inviting!

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    1. I find the whole time capsule concept to be the second most intriguing thing about this story. The fact that the boat was discovered in the middle of a farmer's field is what really amazes me. You're right; the farmer was very generous. But just think... he made the diggers promise to be finished in his fields before planting time, by which time the dirt in his fields would be well-turned without him having to lift a finger. :)

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  3. Wonderful. I love all things buried and archaeological. One of my favourite UK TV programmes is 'Time Team'; they dig a lot, but often find little.

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    1. Cool. I'm glad you liked it. My hubby watches a lot of shows about diggers searching for hidden treasures, too.

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  4. Wow. Beyond amazing, and I love the preservation aspect. Perhaps it is time for my mud pack. My overdue mud pack.
    The final photo also made me smile. One of our German Shepherds was a champion digger. My next door neighbour and I could both fit (comfortably) in one of her excavations, with not a skerrick of us to be seen.

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    1. HA! Good thinking. Maybe a mud pack really DOES work!

      Now THAT was a champion digger!

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  5. I'd try one of those pickles and those are pretty buttons. What an amazing find in a cornfield. I didn't know rivers shifted that much.

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    1. Aren't you the brave one? (I'd probably try one, too, but only after someone else led the way.)

      I didn't know they shifted that much, either. Pretty cool.

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  6. That's so cool! How I would love to visit the museum, but I think Kansas City has seen the last of me. It even told me not to let the door hit me in the butt on my way out.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Well, that was terribly rude of Kansas City! Serves it right if you don't ever grace it with your lovely presence again.

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  7. What an interesting post! The tenacity of Bob Hawley and his sons and friends is amazing.

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    1. I'm glad you found it interesting. Not just tenacity... it was downright smart of them to figure out the river's course change over the past 100+ years, and to zero in on the correct place to dig.

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  8. Loved the video tour! I'm amazed that someone thought to look where the river used to be, and I'm glad they did. What a great find.
    I never dug for treasure as a child, I preferred reading about treasure, gold and jewels in pirate chests, buried on islands. If I'd lived on an island, I would have dug for pirate treasure.

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    1. Great! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Those guys were smart cookies to figure out how far the river had shifted, and to look in the right place. Amazing is right.

      When I was a kid, we used to try to "dig a hole to China." So silly. :)

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  9. Hi Susan - I'd definitely love to visit ... how absolutely fascinating - reflecting all aspects of life - the merchandise being transported; the change in the river; the farmer's co-operation and then the imagination of the family to want to find the Steamboat 'Arabia' ... it amazes me what is preserved in water and by water ... and the differences that drying out brings ...

    Fascinating .. cheers and a very happy Easter - Hilary

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    1. Hi, Hilary. I figured this was the kind of story that would float your boat, too. So to speak. :)

      Cheers, and a very happy Easter to you, too!

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  10. We had a dog that would dig like that haha I've dug for treasure as a kid too, only found old bottles. Couldn't strike oil or find anything like that.

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    1. When we were kids, we rarely found bottles while digging, but when we did, it was cause for celebration. Empty soda bottles were good for a two-cent refund at our neighborhood store. (Yeah, two cents went a lot farther back then. HA!)

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  11. Susan this is incredible, I had not heard of this... wow that the items on the boat were in such great shape... I am glad to see they made a museum of it so that people can see this. It is so interesting that he was able to figure out where the boat ended up, so far from where it started... very cool xox

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    1. Yeah, it's hard to believe some of that stuff is well over a hundred years old, isn't it? Hmmmm, some enterprising soul could make a mint selling some of that good ol' Mississippi River mud to spas around the country. :)

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  12. This is absolutely amazing! I can't believe how well everything was preserved, giving us a rare insight into the past.
    Fascinating.

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    1. Yeah, I know! Those clothes look better than some of the stuff hanging in my closet! (And they aren't even 75 years old yet!)

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  13. Too cool, Susan! Buried treasure of any kind has always fascinated me (the underwater footage was the only reason I watched Titanic... well, and DiCaprio, I admit), so I really enjoyed this. What a fabulous find, and the state of preservation is extraordinary. Thanks so much for sharing!
    Guilie @ Life In Dogs

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. After reading your book, I'm not at all surprised about your fascination with underwater footage. I guess DiCaprio was just icing on your cake. (Or bubbles atop your waves.)

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  14. Wow - what a fascinating glimpse into the past. You are right, this museum is showing us more about the needs of day-to-day living in frontier American than any history book alone could ever do... I always thought life then and there was really tough and plain. It really surprised me to see that French perfume would be shipped to these outposts. The cognac, that I can understand. But perfume? Hehe.

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    1. Being able to see these items in person, maybe even to touch them, sure would bring history alive, wouldn't it? Well, of COURSE they'd need French perfume in those old frontier towns... for the dance hall girls and brothel babes. :)

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  15. Wow how exciting. I love looking and digging for treasure.
    When I used to live a few steps from the beach and sometime for a fun treat at Birthday's instead of pinatas (I despise them) I would have my older son stake out a big piece of sand with some flagpoles and hide treasure. Give each child a plastic bucket and shovel and let them dig away.
    So much fun !

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. What a cool idea to plant treasures for the kids to find. Birthday parties must have been extra special in your family.

      Cheers back atcha.

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  16. This was absolutely fascinating! Of course it get me wondering what future generations will think of the stuff we leave behind.

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    1. Somehow, I don't think future generations will be duly impressed with the mountains of plastic bottles and disposable diapers we leave behind.

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  17. Incredible! Hard to believe an entire steamboat can be buried like that, and then for the river to move as if to say, "Me? No I'm not hiding any boat". Makes you wonder what else is buried under all the acreage touched by the meandering Missouri.

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    1. It's a cinch most farmers would never expect to find a ship buried in the middle of their corn fields... but maybe they should start looking!

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  18. Cracking post. I always enjoy learning new things. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.

      Greetings right back atcha.

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  19. How amazing that so much was preserved! And how crazy that the boat was buried in a cornfield!!!

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    1. I know! Really captures the imagination, doesn't it?

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  20. I'VE BEEN TO THIS MUSEUM!! I'm so excited to see you featuring this story. My sister lives in Kansas City, and on our first visit after she moved there, she and her family took us to see the treasures of the Arabia. It was absolutely fascinating!

    Of course, after that, we ran out of things to do in Kansas City ... besides eating amazing steaks.

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    1. HOW COOL IS THAT?? It's super cool that you've been to this museum. On the other hand, I don't think you should volunteer to serve on Kansas City's tourism board... :)

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  21. Oh, what a great story, Susan. Everybody loves to read about lost ships and buried treasure. That farmer sure was a nice guy letting them dig up his cornfield. I wonder if he got any souvenirs to keep.

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    1. Good point! I HOPE the farmer got a couple of souvenirs, anyway. Like a bottle of cognac and some of that French perfume. Maybe a jar of pickles...

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  22. Now, this is a fun story! Never expected someone to find treasure in a corn field...

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    1. I'm glad you liked it.

      Depends on the corn field, I suppose. That silver queen variety they grown in Maryland is quite the treasure...

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  23. Susan, What an unbelievable story!Those pickles were packed tighter than Aunt Bee's homemade pickles! You would also think that more than a few plates would have broken into tiny pieces, or at the very least been discolored. You have a gift for discovering the most unusual places!

    Julie

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    1. Hi-ya, birthday girl.

      Yeah, it is pretty amazing that so many things survived so beautifully, isn't it?

      A gift? Thanks. Some people call it being nosy. :) I prefer to think of it as curious.

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  24. Wow, that is so awesome that all those things were preserved over that time. What an amazing thing to find. I don't believe I'd be brave enough to eat a pickle that was 130 years old, though!

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    1. I don't know if I'd be brave enough, either. It'd have to pass a rigorous sniff test first... and somebody else would have eat one without gagging.

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  25. I can't believe how well-preserved the wooden things were!

    This museum is definitely on my bucket list now. :-)

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    1. Yeah, I know. Pretty amazing.

      If you go, you'd better blog about it!

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  26. I can't imagine the river shifting that much. I live long the Ohio and it's pretty steady- maybe all of our locks and dams keep it in it borders.

    All of that cargo was on that one ship? Wow. Someone lost a lot of money when that went down.

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    1. Yeah, a half a mile of shift sounds like an awful lot, doesn't it? Maybe the amount of flooding the Missouri has endured has something to do with it.

      Two hundred tons of "stuff" is a lot to lose, for sure. Maybe they were covered by State Farm? :)

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  27. I bet there were points in time when the farmer wondered just what he'd gotten himself into when he said yes, they could dig. ;) Amazing find!

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    1. Yeah, you're probably right. It might have happened as soon as he saw the heavy digging equipment rolling onto his property.

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  28. Okay, this is one of the coolest things I've ever heard about. It all looks like it just stepped out of a time machine. How cool. And you know what? I totally would have been one of those guys who tried a pickle just to see if it was still good. Besides, who else can say they ate a 130 year old pickle and didn't die?

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    1. Hmmm, am I surprised you would have happily munched on one of those pickles? Nope! I'm glad you think it's a cool story.

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  29. Susan, I'm not able to comment on your April Fools joke which is pretty darn funny!

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    1. Hi-ya. Yeah, I turned the comments off, so I could concentrate on writing, instead of spending time on blogger. (ahem) Okay, so THIS is not me writing, but I'm getting to it; I'm getting to it.

      I'm glad you liked the April Fools post. :)

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