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One Wild Idea, Thousands of Treasures

October 30, 2009

Many of us have come up with wild ideas, but very few people follow through on those. I was able to travel this week to Kansas City for some meetings near the River Market area and, while there, ventured over to the Arabia Steamboat Museum ( This museum is an excellent showcase of what can happen if you follow through on your wild ideas.

The story of the Arabia Steamboat began in 1856 when the side-wheeler was headed up the Missouri River carrying what was rumored to be over 200 tons of fine dishware, guns, gold, jewelry and Kentucky bourbon, along with passengers to Council Bluffs, Iowa. A mile below Parkville, Mo., the steamboat hit a snag (a ragged-edged log caught in the river acting as a torpedo to any vessel headed up river) and sank in a matter of minutes into 15-feet of water. All passengers escaped safely, minus a mule, and the steamboat continued to sink into the muddy Missouri.

The tale of the lost Arabia became something of a legend and when a father and his two sons learned of it, they had a wild idea to see if they could find the Arabia and its treasures. The father and son trio, along with two other men, began to research the Arabia’s location at the time of the crash and discovered the steamboat was probably now comfortably resting under some farm land owned by a local judge.

With the judge’s permission, they began to dig up the area where they believed the Arabia was buried and finally found it lying 45 feet underground, one-half mile from the river’s edge. They returned to the spot and unearthed what would become the discovery of a lifetime.

Buried in the thick mud for 132 years, this 1988 discovery uncovered a “time capsule” of remarkably preserved 1856 frontier supplies. The first discovery onboard uncovered a barrel filled with beautiful dishes in immaculate condition. Other items found included thousands of articles of clothing, frontier tools, nails, buttons, guns, knives, beads and some very well preserved food (one of the men digging even decided to try a pickle from the food they found). They didn’t find the gold and barrels of Kentucky bourbon rumored to be on the ship.

A visit to the museum will tell you the entire tale of this amazing discovery and maybe even bring a surprise visit with one of the men who had the wild idea to locate and dig up the Arabia. On our visit, we were able to talk to the father and one of the sons and they told us of their next planned adventure.

It is absolutely incredible to see all the items in this museum and think of all the work these people have put into preserving it. You will be amazed when you hear the stories of the extremes they have gone to so each piece is properly preserved (I can’t share it all with you). Only about two-thirds of the found items are on display as they are still cleaning and preserving items daily (you can watch the cleaning and preservation process there at the museum) after 11 years.

Next time you get a wild idea, follow through and maybe you will find the treasure of your life!

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