KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It started off as a hole in the Missouri River, and then the Steamboat Arabia was dug up.
Soon, we might know the worth of that treasure trove of historic artifacts.
It’s called the King Tut’s tomb of the Missouri River. A steamboat carrying 200 tons of cargo sank in 1856. Its contents were lost for 132 years.
“You can not see these anywhere else on earth. There are one of a kind things in this collection,” museum owner David Hawley said.
In 1988, a group led by Hawley unearthed the Arabia’s treasures once buried in 43 feet of mud. The sinking steamboat forced the oxygen out of its resting place, perfectly preserving its haul.
“It’s as if a veil to time has been pulled away and, bang, there it is,” world renown appraiser Timothy Gordon said.
“I read about this collection years ago, and I see some pretty fine things. The reason I wanted to get here and see this collection is it is a mind’s eye view into one year. Everything is seared or frozen incarnate to that time.”
Gordon began collecting when he was just 11 years old. That passion lead him to a career off appraising collections like the Princes Dianna Collection, Ronald Reagan’s ranch and Jim Morrison’s estate.
“I call myself a super appraiser not because I am not so super but because I appraise super large and super important things,” Gordon said. “I have appraised collections as big as one million artifacts, and this is a super collection.”
It’s his job to figure out how much the artifacts are worth. The Arabia collection’s bringing out Gordon’s 11-year-old treasure hunter.
“How rare. I mean where are you going to find another one of those in that condition?” Gordon said, gushing over a beaver skin hat from the 1850’s.
“It was heading to the frontier and that would have been for someone who was settling out there or had settled the West,” Gordon said. “But because it went down on the Arabia, that guy never got his hat.”
Hawley was once a HVAC guy in a home to repair an air conditioning unit. In that home were maps of steamboats that caught his attention. He decided he wanted to dig up one — and that’s how the Steamboat Arabia project began.
The rest is literally history.
“We have about seven more years of preservation frozen on ice,” Hawley said of parts of the collection still waiting to be preserved.
While finishing preservation on the Arabia collection, Hawley has started unearthing the Steamboat Malta, which sank in 1041.
“We then become the Smithsonian of the Midwest, and that is important. That is what we would like to be,” Hawley said of the future museum.
Additional collections require more space, and several Missouri cities are trying to woo Hawley away. Gordon’s appraisal will go a long way in deciding the future of the Arabia, the Malta and the museum in Kansas City.