Thursday, September 5, 2013

Museum Piece

Appropriate for the Show Me State, a family started out hunting buried treasure and ended as museum conservators. At one-tenth the cost they were quoted by professional museum designers, and without taxpayer funding. According the the Wall Street Journal, they built it, and they came.

In 1856 a paddle wheel steamer went down in the Missouri River, loaded with goodies;
...axes, wood planes, window glass, nails, locks, door knobs. There are pistols, rifles—possibly being smuggled to abolitionists in the Kansas Territory—hundreds of pocket knifes, and innumerable Indian trade beads.
... boots and shoes—including some made of rubber, the earliest ever found—bolts of cloth, hundreds of beaver hats, pants and dresses, all looking like they were made yesterday. ...3,000 tallow candles and faceted-glass whale-oil lamps and flasks. ...pots, pans, muffin tins, and skillets. ...spiced pigs' feet and sardines, pie fillings, pickles (still-edible), kegs of ale, whiskey. ...castor oil, Barrell's Indian Liniment, and dozens of medicine bottles still filled with unknown liquids of dubious curative value.
....Bottles of still-fragrant perfumes, champagne, silk cloth and brandied cherries from France, along with hundreds of beautiful pieces of patterned porcelain tableware from England, show the desire for international finery, even on the remote Missouri. Other luxury goods, including jewelry and silk dresses, were produced in the U.S. and brought to St. Louis for shipment up river.
After several years silt, carried by the river, covered (and preserved) the wreck and its contents, the river changed course and the ground above the steamer became a cornfield. That's where the Hawley family located the boat and excavated it.

After learning how to preserve the now fragile cargo, rather than sell it off piecemeal, they started their museum that now employees 20 people and has been visited by 80,000 people since it was built in Kansas City. The nation now has a visual record of pre-Civil War America, thanks to a family of refrigerator repairmen turned entrepreneurs.


  1. I've been there. I would highly recommend it for anyone travelling to Kansas City. It is really well done.

  2. Thanks, Kevin. Nice to hear from someone, occasionally, with first-hand information.