Annual Beckwith lecture to present co-founder of steamboat Arabia museum

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Greg Hawley and his partners had one goal when they started digging for a steamboat in a Kansas cornfield in 1989: make a profit.

But as the steamboat Arabia revealed itself, the entrepreneurs thought less about cash and more about contributing to the historical record of Missouri River travel in the mid-19th century.

Hawley will talk Wednesday night about the discovery of the Arabia and the partnership between business and academics represented by the discovery and subsequent founding of a Kansas City museum telling the Arabia's story. Hawley will speak at the annual Thomas Beckwith Memorial Lecture at the Southeast Missouri Regional Museum.

In 1989 Hawley partnered with his brother David, his father Bob Hawley and business partner Jerry Mackey in a massive project to salvage the steamboat Arabia from a Kansas cornfield near the Missouri River, where it sank with all its cargo in 1856. The Hawley family became interested in sunken steamboats after David looked at a map pinpointing the locations of boats lost along the Missouri River.

Over the years the river has changed course significantly, and the family knew some of those lost boats would be buried under dry land.

Inspired by family vacations spent panning for gold in Colorado, the Hawleys decided to make a business out of treasure hunting close to their Independence, Mo., home, Greg Hawley said. The Arabia was the last of six boats the group looked for in the Missouri River area, and one of the biggest finds.

The Arabia sank in 1856 on its way up the Missouri River after hitting a log in the river -- while carrying passengers and freight to the western frontier. All manner of objects were found on the boat, many of great value to antique collectors and academics. An archaeologist was on hand during the dig, Hawley said, to document the finds for auction.

After reaching the boat buried under 45 feet of topsoil, the group's thinking about profit began to change, Hawley said. "The first artifact we found was a rubber shoe with the word 'Goodyear' stamped on the sole," Hawley said. "We didn't know they made rubber shoes back then. My partner said, 'I hope it's worth a lot of money.' But the story that the shoe told us took precedent over its value for at least a few minutes.

335-6611, extension 126

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