- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A man whose family turned the recovery of a 1850s sunken steamboat into a successful Kansas City museum is pondering whether he and his partners want to dig up another steamship.

David Hawley and his partners have been investigating a site 80 miles east of Kansas City for three years, convinced they have found the Malta, a steamship that sank in the Missouri River in 1841, The Kansas City Star reported (https://bit.ly/1OWg6jX ).

The Malta would add artifacts from a different decade to the Steamboat Arabia Museum, but the risk, he says, is not knowing whether the ship carried cargo that would be interesting enough to attract more museum visitors.

In the 1980s, Hawley, his family and others recovered the Arabia, which sank near Parkville in 1856. They opened the museum in 1991 to display some of the ship’s nearly 200 tons of cargo. About 80,000 people visit the museum every year. His family spent about $750,000 to dig up the Arabia from a muddy Wyandotte County field. The same dig today would cost between $2 million and $3 million, Hawley said.

The Malta was co-owned by the Chouteaus, an early 19th century fur-trading family that used such ships on the Missouri River to supply their traders with the manufactured goods, which they used to trade for furs. If the Malta was heading upriver when it sank, it would have included manufactured goods similar to the Arabia cargo, he said. But if it was headed back down the Missouri River, it might be filled only with animal skins.

“Buffalo hides,” said Hawley. “I’m not sure people will want to go to a buffalo hide museum.”

A drilling in January produced a piece of blue and red wool, which could be the kind of manufactured cloth that 19th century American Indians on the upper Missouri River used. If Hawley finds more of that kind of material, it could convince him and his partners to proceed; he said they’ll decide by April.

“That is the first time I’ve seen the boat like this,” Hawley said. “It kind of makes me want to dig.”

One of his partners is an executive producer and partner with Outpost Worldwide, a Kansas City television production company that has an agreement with the Hawley family about a possible documentary on the possible Malta dig.

“The Hawleys are the only family in America we know that is digging up steamboats out of cornfields,” Michael Wunsch said. “They are digging up American history in Kansas City’s backyard.”

Hawley believes the museum’s days at its current location are numbered because of space, and its long-term future viability is unknown.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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