A special exhibit is on display in Marion, Arkansas through March 25. It tells the story of the Sultana, which was America’s greatest maritime tragedy. The riverboat exploded and burned on the Mississippi River just north of Memphis early on the morning of April 27, 1865. Over laden with paroled Union soldiers released from Andersonville and Cahaba prisons, the steamship was designed to carry only 376 passengers, but over 2400 were loaded on. About 1800 perished, which was 200 more than the number of souls who were lost in the sinking of the Titanic.
Marion is the closest in proximity to where the Sultana now lies, several feet below the surface in a local farmer’s field. Mound City was the last place the Sultana stopped before it headed northward, but the town doesn’t exist any longer. Local citizens went out on boats and pulled as many survivors out of the cold, rushing waters of Old Man River as they could, but after twelve hours, no more survivors were found, including the ship’s captain, J.C. Mason.
The exhibit sheds light on the tragedy, displays artifacts that survived, and features a short film telling the story of that fateful night. Many paintings depicting the tragedy are on display as well. It is the hope that if the exhibit attracts enough people, the town of Marion will invest in a permanent museum. On Sunday, several reeanctors and historians were on hand to discuss the Sultana.