Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Arabia Steamboat Museum - Kansas City

Due to poor planning on my part, I'd booked the hotel and car rental through Tuesday, and a return flight on Wednesday.  I think I must have booked the lodging and transportation with reference to the day of the eclipse, and then booked the flight with reference to the price -- already the fares were getting outrageous.  I noticed the car rental first, and figured I'd just keep it an extra day (it'd just be $16 more).  But after I got to my friend's place in Lawrence, I realized I also didn't have a hotel for the Tuesday night.  So I started looking at switching the return flight (only $3980 by then!) and realized I was going to have to find another way.

The solution: I would stay in Columbia for two nights, as planned, then at an airport hotel near Kansas City  for the last night.  I'd return the car as originally scheduled too, and just take the hotel's airport shuttle around.  So that worked pretty well, although with a slight comedy of errors involving the shuttle -- I traveled from the car return place to the main terminal, and then hopped on the Marriott shuttle, only to find out (a) there are two totally separate Mariott Shuttles and (b) you can call the right one from the car return place.  Oh well!

One of my fellow eclipse watchers had recommended I go to the steamboat museum in Kansas City. It was not very convenient from the hotel, but car service there and an uber back made it quite doable.

I  arrived just in time for the last tour of the day.   The place was pretty interesting.  They had us watch a video about the family and friends who got together to track down and salvage the lost wreck:

Notorious for its shifting channel, the Missouri River cut a new path and moved east, abandoning the spot where the Arabia sank.  By the twentieth century, the steamboat was lying deep beneath a Kansas farm field.   Rumored to be filled with whiskey and gold when it sank, the Arabia drew the attention of treasure hunters and failed salvage attempts for many years.

Using a metal detector, weathered maps, and old newspaper clippings to guide the search, David Hawley located the wreck in July 1987.   Years of erosion and shifting sand left the lost paddleboat 45 feet underground and a half-mile from the present channel of the Missouri River.
Apparently, the excavation took them 20 years.

Most of the items recovered were found in bulk, intended for merchants.

Coffin Screws

Some of the rarest finds were ones that might not seem particularly valuable to us - items made of rubber.  They were preserved from oxidation by their anaerobic environment (mud!) and are now preserved in a nitrogen-pressurized case and somewhat dimly lit.

Fragile (light-sensitive) buttons manufactured by
Novelty Rubber Co. under Goodyear's patent.

Much of the fascination of the place is just the sheer volume of merchandise on display.  Not everything has been cleaned and treated for display yet.

50-foot tape measure

What makes these boots special?

According to the guide, they are a rare example of left/right differentiation

"If you're gonna stick a man, stick him clear to Green River" (i.e., up to the manufacturer's name)

The snag that sank the Great White Arabia

Monday, August 21, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse

Since the sun and moon were cutting a dark swath across the U.S., I figured it was worth traveling  to Columbia, Missouri for the occasion - one of the longest periods of totality (approx 2 minutes and 37 seconds).

When I floated the idea on Facebook, my friend T suggested stopping by while I was in the neighborhood - and I did!  So I made a big triangle from Kansas City to Lawrence KS to Columbia MO.

It was great to see T and meet the kids; I hadn't seen her for several years.  The little one, at 6 months old, was very baby-like, but he apparently loves being read to.  The elder one, a toddler, had less patience for stories, but was happy to be chased around the back yard (as long as it wasn't too scary).  Their mom is doing a great job, and I'm very proud of her.  She has dreams of going further west, where she will likely feel much more welcomed than in her current community.  Fingers crossed.

We went to a nearby college campus, and saw the future location of a franchise sandwich shop she really likes - but unfortunately, even though the door was open, it's still under construction!

After a few days there, I drove out to Columbia.  As luck would have it, the hotel was walking distance from Cosmo Park, the city's official party central for the eclipse.  (Probably bigger crowds were at the college campus a few miles away.)  I went over and checked it out Sunday - they had bands playing, and food trucks, and a fabulous playground with a vaguely science-y theme.  I found a covered picnic table area that seemed like an ideal location for the day itself - a place to sit in the shade and get some work done while I waited for the eclipse, with a restroom nearby in case of emergencies.

The bands were fun, and an artist had brought two nicely painted cardboard cut-outs to frame people's faces as the sun and the moon.  A lot of people posed with these cut-outs, and one of the bands really got into it -- they gave us a mini-eclipse!

On the Big Day, the weather was looking rather iffy over most of Missouri.  I'd brought work to do at the picnic area, but I and a family near me were also checking our various weather apps, including darksky, to try to see if we should make a break for it to get in a better place by 1 pm.  They were thinking of going to St Louis, but were indecisive and missed the window of opportunity for that.  They eventually left to try their fortune at a nearby town that was predicted to have only 18% cloud cover at 1 pm.  I told them regretfully, "You're probably doing the right thing," but I decided to stay put.  I've had too much experience with the despair of switching lines at the grocery store only to be stuck in the very slowest one.

As the morning wore on, other people arrived.  One group, from Massachusetts, had decided to go at the last minute.  The closest affordable flights and accommodations were in Chicago!  But they saw that as an advantage - they had ease of travel in multiple directions.  And they found a place to stay for one night in St. Louis.  They trekked over to Columbia that morning because it looked like the best weather!  Yay!  I also met one couple from Wisconsin  and  another from D.C. who seemed quite nice.

Despite the overall cloud cover, there was an occasional weakening of clouds right around the sun, which gave me some hope.  Sometimes we even had actual shadows on the sidewalk!

As things started getting dark, the regular bands stopped, and they started playing somewhat more eerie music  over the loudspeakers.  I'd come out now and then to look through my eclipse glasses to see the progress, then go back to work.  One of the young girls from the Massachusetts family was giving me funny looks as I put on the eclipse glasses, and she apparently whispered to her mom that she was worried I had fake eclipse glasses and would lose my eyesight.  It was really sweet of them to pass on the message, although I was pretty confident in the glasses.  I'd bought a set of eclipse spectacles and a set of paper eclipse glasses, both supposedly meeting the ISO standard,  from amazon.  I'd gotten a recall notice on the spectacles ONLY, so I figured the others were safe.  But I also had a pair of eclipse glasses from the hotel, stamped with the Columbia MO insignia, and the mother seemed to feel that would be much more reliable, so I switched.  I don't think there was any difference.  Could only barely see the ever-diminishing sun through either pair!

It didn't get completely dark (presumably because of the ambient cloud cover), but the insects got really loud all of a sudden as we approached totality.   And when they said to take off our glasses, we did - and everyone gasped.  It was amazing to see the corona.  We had 2.5 minutes to gaze in wonder, to turn to our fellow humans and share our wonder, and generally to drink it all in - the eeriness, the humanity.