The blast from the Winchester signal cannon echoed Saturday across the span of the Mighty Mo in Parkville, startling observers along the shoreline and marking the arrival of explorer Meriwether Lewis.
“Fire in the hole, cover your ears,” yelled Carolyn Elwess.
The crowd roared as Lewis, portrayed by Neil Davidson, pulled his canoe onto the boat ramp at Platte Landing Park. The self-proclaimed river rat wore a black top hat in remembrance of Lewis, and was soon followed by a flotilla of 50 canoes and kayaks that had traveled nearly 16 miles down the Missouri River.
It was all part of a program re-enacting a stop that explorers Lewis and William Clark made on their way to St. Louis in 1806.
The event included an unveiling of artwork for a historic marker that will be placed near the spot where the Steamboat Arabia sank in 1856, 158 years ago last week. Saturday’s program was one of a yearlong series of events celebrating Platte County’s 175th anniversary.
“We are pulling out things that have been somewhat historic, and the sinking the Steamboat Arabia was one of those,” said Pat Medill, who chairs the countywide celebration. “There has never been a marker dedicated to that event.”
But don’t bother trying to Google the connection between the Arabia’s sinking and Lewis and Clark. The two have nothing to do with each other, Medill acknowledged.
“It’s some of the homespun fun and part of the Platte County anniversary,” she said.
Musicians dressed in garb worn during the Lewis and Clark period performed as the flotilla made its way to the landing.
Brian P. Nowotny, who portrayed Clark, read an except from the explorer’s journal about his trip through the uncharted territory.
“The shore is bold and rocky immediately at the foot of the hill,” Nowotny read. “From the top of the hill, you have a perfect command of the river.”
Later in the program, David Hawley, co-owner of the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, unveiled artwork for the marker that will be placed in the park.
“We are honored to be asked to present this plaque to the city of Parkville,” Hawley said. “The Arabia has been such a popular attraction for Kansas City folks near and far, so it’s wonderful when someone comes and enjoys your hobby with you.”
The Arabia, with 150 passengers and more than 200 tons of freight, was plying the Missouri River when it struck a tree. The passengers and crew managed to escape, but the cargo was lost. Over the decades, the river changed course. Hawley found the wreck in a farmer’s field in July 1987, and the recovery began.
Museum visitors often ask where the Arabia sank, he said.
“So now we can say if you are on this walking trail by Parkville, there will be a marker and right across the river from that is where this boat sank,” Hawley said. “So that will give them a point of reference.”
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