Travel Channel will visit Earle museum

EARLE (Evening Times) - The Travel Channel will be visiting Crittenden County in June to uncover the "mysteries" of the Sultana disaster.

Louis Intres, a history instructor at Arkansas State University and Sultana scholar, said a documentary crew will film the artifacts from the upcoming Sultana exhibit at the Crittenden County Museum in Earle on June 3 for a future episode of its popular "Mysteries At The Museum" show.

"They're going to film all of the artifacts and do a couple of local interviews," Intres said. "They will then tell the story of the Sultana as one of their segments for the show."

The show's producers saw the documentary on the Sultana, which was shown at the exhibit last year on You Tube, and contacted the Marion Chamber of Commerce, which referred them to Intres.

Intres said they are particularly keen on filming the fire bricks from the Sultana's boilers, as well as the alligator curio box belonging to William Lugenbeal, who survived the disaster by killing the boat's alligator mascot and used the crate it was held in to float to safety.

"Mysteries At The Museum" seeks out strange and curious artifacts housed in the back rooms and corners of museums that have shaped history.

The show takes viewers on a tour of America's past, tackling both familiar and little-known events that have never been seen or told before on television.

"The Travel Channel has been after this story for a year," Intres said. "They consider it one of history's mysteries because it is so little known."

The Sultana was a Mississippi River paddlewheel steamboat that exploded about seven miles north of Memphis in the early morning hours of April 26, 1865, killing over 1,700 people in a fiery inferno. The passengers were mostly Union soldiers who had survived major battles and captivity at Andersonville and Cahaba prisons, and were on their way home from the war. It is the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history, surpassing even the death toll of the Titanic.

The Sultana disaster was overshadowed by the funeral of Abraham Lincoln, the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, and the final surrender of Confederate forces and lost to history.

Scott Lovelady, a member of the Crittenden County Museum Board, said he is thrilled that the museum will get to act as a showcase for the Sultana artifacts.

"This is a great thing for the museum and the people of Crittenden County to see it," Lovelady said. "It will be great exposure for the museum and to people who maybe have never seen our museum before."

The museum will also be lending Marion some artifacts from Hopefield for the Sultana exhibit, which will be held at Angelo's Grove June 10-July 26.

Hopefield was once one of Arkansas's oldest towns and played a key role as a transfer point for freight and passengers coming across the river from Memphis. The town was a center for guerrilla activity during the Civil War and was burned by Union troops in February 1863.

Hopefield survived until 1916, when it was finally abandoned due to constant flooding and the opening of the Harahan Bridge across the Mississippi River. Remnants of the town are located near the main pier of the Interstate 40 bridge.

"We have an original map of Hopefield showing the plats, a Civil War uniform, and the Bible from the Methodist Church, which was saved by three ladies moments before the town was burned," said local historian Norman Vickers.

Intres said PBS is also planning to film the exhibit in Marion sometime in late June.

"You're going to have a couple of national media outlets coming here within a matter of weeks to tell this story," Intres said. "I think that is important for Marion and the Crittenden County Museum. And I'm excited to finally be able to share this story with the rest of the country."

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