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HPPR Arts, Culture & History

If You Dig Into Certain Kansas Cornfields, You Might Discover a Buried Shipwreck

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Luke Spencer
/
Atlas Obscura

If you want to excavate a shipwreck, you don’t have to buy a submarine and go cruise the Caribbean. You need only travel to certain cornfields in Kansas, as Atlas Obscura recently reported.

David Hawley and his team of explorers have an unusual focus: They locate and excavate 19th century steamboats—ships that sank in the Missouri river and now lie beneath fields of rustling corn.

To name one example, in 1988, in a field a few miles west of Kansas City, Hawley and his crew discovered the steamboat Great White Arabia. The boat had sunk 132 years previous—before the Civil War. Hawley’s crew hauled out over 200 tons of items—10 container trucks’ worth. The treasure can now be viewed at the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City.

This all begs the question: How do these ships end up buried on the Kansas plains? During the second half of the 19th century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers set out to alter the shape of the Missouri River. As the river’s course changed, steamships struck ground and sank. As time wore on, the riverbed became farmland and the ships were forgotten.