‘Sultana 150’ celebration garners tourism award nomination for Marion

City a finalist for Arkansas Heritage honors

By Mark Randall news@theeveningtimes.com

Marion has been nominated for a prestigious statewide tourism award for its Sultana 150th anniversary celebration held last April. The city was notified by Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism that it has been named a finalist for the Arkansas Heritage Award. The Arkansas Heritage Award is presented to an individual, organization, or community that has made a significant contribution toward the preservation of some aspect of Arkansas’s natural, cultural, or aesthetic legacy. The city hosted about 200 descendants for a week long series of events held to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the sinking of the steamboat Sultana. “It’s terrific news,” said Marion Chamber of Commerce President Mike Demster. “We’re all excited here. It really was a team effort. I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in anything like it where so many people came together to make it happen.” The Sultana was a Mississippi River paddlewheel steamboat that exploded in April 1865 just upriver from Memphis killing more than 1,700 people onboard, most of the them Union soldiers who were returning home from the war after being held as prisoners of war. The loss of the Sultana is America’s greatest maritime disaster. Marion has a special connection to the Sultana because many of the city’s early residents helped rescue survivors. The remains of the boat are buried under a soybean field in Marion. The city opened a temporary museum showcasing original artifacts from the boat and is working on developing a permanent museum. Visitors to the 150th anniversary celebration were treated to a southern style dinner, grand opening event of the museum, tours of Civil War sites in Memphis, a visit to Mud Island Mississippi River Museum, as well as two sold out rive boat tours to the site near where the boat sank for a special wreath laying ceremony. “It was a great weekend,” said Lisa O’Neal, a local Realtor who helped organize the event. “It just shows Marion at our best. It was awesome. And this nomination is just such an honor for our city.” The event drew visitors from as far away as California, New Mexico, Alaska and Connecticut. “It wasn’t just Tennessee and Arkansas,” said co-organizer Roz O’Neal. “And the thing I liked about it, is that people in town enjoyed it too. It wasn’t just the visitors.” O’Neal praised the efforts of Cheryl Starling and Tracy Brick at the Marion Chamber of Commerce for their help in organizing the event. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” Roz O’Neal said. “They kept up with all of the registrations and the who, where, what, and how. It wasn’t just us. They were great.” Louis Intres, a history professor at Arkansas State University who helped facilitate the Sultana museum in Marion, called the recognition well deserved. “I can think of no other group who has committed so much time and effort, not made such a financial commitment to any one heritage project as Marion,” Intres said. “It is a tribute to every one in your great community. I will be keeping my fingers crossed that you win. No one would be happier than myself to see Marion honored for its effort in resurrecting such an important story.” The winner will be announced at the 42nd Annual Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Springdale on March 13-15.

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