Oklahoma History Center to Commemorate 178th Anniversary of the Sinking of Steamboat Heroine
OKLAHOMA CITY — On May 6, 2016, the Oklahoma History Center will mark 178years since the sinking of the Heroine, an 1830s side paddle wheel steamboat that is the subject of one of the History Center’s most popular exhibits. On May 6, 1838, Heroine was navigating the Red River on its way to Fort Towson to deliver much-needed supplies to the soldiers stationed there. Just twenty minutes from its destination, Heroine hit a snag and quickly sank into the sands of the Red River. All of the passengers survived, but the supplies and the ship were lost. In 1999 the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University were notified that the remnants of a ship had been exposed. Combining their efforts and resources, these institutions excavated the site, identified the ship and conserved many pieces of the structure. Opened in February 2014, the exhibit offers a glimpse of one of the earliest examples of western steamboats ever discovered.
Although the majority of the superstructure of the Heroine had long since disintegrated, the surviving components were used to create an excellent representation of the original vessel, as well as a look into the lives of the people of that era. Among the artifacts found in the wreckage were a number of personal items belonging to the crew and passengers. Articles of clothing, food stuffs and pieces of equipment used daily were salvaged. As part of the effort to memorialize this anniversary, a number of additions have been made to the exhibit. After a great deal of research into journals, diaries, archaeological evidence and period paintings, a second deck has been assembled. The Heroine consisted of two decks: the lower deck that contained the mechanical and operational components and the upper deck that maintained women’s and men’s living quarters and a dining area. These areas have been reconstructed to offer a vivid reproduction of a colorful chapter of our history.
As a continually evolving exhibit, plans are in place to develop an interactive component to give visiting patrons an opportunity to fully experience life on the Heroine. A visitor will be able to walk in the shoes of a crew member or a passenger by clicking on that figure on a touchscreen. A hoist that was used to load and unload cargo will be added to the bow of the ship. Fire baskets will be installed to demonstrate how a ship maneuvered on the river in the dark.
The Oklahoma History Center is a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, National Archives and is an accredited member of the American Alliance of Museums. The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains 30 museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.