As a young boy, Greg Hawley and his father would explore abandoned gold mines in the hopes of finding buried treasure. Those dreams of adventure faded, however, as Hawley reached adulthood and went to work for the family’s air conditioning and refrigeration business in Independence, Missouri. Then in 1985, at the age of 27, Greg Hawley, his father and brothers discovered the legend of sunken steamboats on the Missouri River that contained hidden treasures of their own. Three years later, their search for those lost artifacts came to fruition when they uncovered the remains of the Arabia, a steamship from the Pittsburgh region that capsized after hitting an underwater tree branch on September 5, 1856, sinking to the bottom of the Missouri River shortly thereafter.
During late 1988 and early 1989, Greg Hawley and his family excavated the vast majority of the 200 tons of tools, housewares, shoes, boots, lumber, food and other supplies that the Arabia was carrying during its final voyage. Despite investing over $700,000 of their own money into the effort with the intentions of reaping the bounty for profit, the Hawleys later decided to preserve their findings and open the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City instead. The Museum not only tells the story of the Arabia but also offers a snapshot into the past and the thousands of Americans who risked everything to populate the open frontier of the Midwest United States. On April 26, 2014, the Senator John Heinz History Center unveiled many of the Arabia’s relics as part of its Pittsburgh’s Lost Steamboat exhibit—which runs through January 5, 2015—enabling residents of the Steel City to witness that important part of American history for themselves.