Marion A&P votes to support project
By Mark Randall
The victims of America’s greatest maritime disaster will finally be getting their proper place in history with a museum of their own.
Marion Advertising and Promotions Commission voted to spend $400,000 to build a museum to the Sultana in Marion and another $75,000 a year to operate the museum for the next ten years.
“I would hope that spending $400,000 to build a museum shows our commitment to the descendants and to tell this story in Marion,” said Frank Fogleman.
The Sultana was a paddlewheel steamboat that was carrying over 2,400 Union soldiers who were on their way home following the end of the Civil War when the boat exploded in the early morning hours on April 27, 1865, killing an estimated 1,800 passengers. The resulting loss of life was greater than Titanic but has been mostly lost to history. The remains of the boat are buried under a soybean field in Marion.
Fogleman said the next step will be to hire a consulting firm to come up with a design to tell the story.
Members of A & P met with Gene Salacker, who represents the Sultana descendants group and owns the majority of the artifacts, last month to get his feedback about what the descendants would like to see the museum look like.
Salecker indicated he would like to see the museum have a similar look on the outside as the Titanic museum in Branson, and contain numerous rooms and interactive exhibits that would tell the story of the disaster using mockups of the boilers and sections of the deck, and a room of pictures with the names of those who were onboard.
“He’s expecting a state-of-the-art type facility with interactive video and audio — a really first rate museum,” Fogleman said. “And I think he’s got a great vision.”
Fogleman said the museum will be built near the Woolfolk Library on land the city recently purchased and will probably be about 2,000 square feet.
“Mr. Salecker had positive remarks about the site at the library, and my sense is that he will be comfortable with what we would do,” Fogleman said.
Fogleman said he spoke with Ruth Hawkins from Arkansas State University, who has experience developing museums, and was told that it will cost about $150 to $200 a square foot to design a basic museum, $250 to $400 a square foot for a mid-size museum, and $400 to $500 a square foot for a full blown narrative of what the exhibits will look like.
Hawkins has given him a list of eight to 10 consulting firms who design museums to contact.
“So it isn’t cheap,” Fogleman said. “But Ms. Hawkins believes we need professional help and I agree. Developing a story line doesn’t have to be done all at one time. It can be done in phases. But we won’t know what can and can not be done until we start talking to people.”
The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza, which was developed by ASU, gets about 5,000 visitors a year. Hawkins estimates that the Sultana museum will draw about 10,000 visitors a year, Fogleman said.
Last year’s exhibit of Sultana artifacts at Angelo’s Grove drew over 1,500 visitors from 30 states and was recently featured on an episode of “Mysteries at the Museum” on the Travel Channel and “History Detectives” on PBS. The inaugural exhibit in 2012 drew over 3,200 mostly local visitors.
“And depending on the success, we could develop more exhibits and more interactive storyline as we go,” Fogleman said.
Fogleman said they plan to ask Salecker and the descendants for a commitment to loan the museum the artifacts for at least 10 years.
A & P Chairman Khalil Nashaat said he is pleased with the level of financial commitment on the city’s part and believes the museum will be a big asset to Marion.
“I think we did the right thing,” Nashaat said. “It’s going to be great for Marion.”
The one cent “hamburger tax” generates about $190,000 a year. A & P has $849,000 in the bank and spends about $80,000 a year on various projects and events to promote the city.