Sultana docked in Helena, Arkansas
Marion will commemorate the 151st anniversary of the explosion and sinking of the steamboat Sultana, the largest U.S. maritime disaster in history, with the Sultana Heritage Festival April 30 and May 1 on the courthouse square in Marion.
The Sultana, a river steamer, was carrying more than 2,000 freed Union prisoners of war, along with cargo and private passengers, upstream in spring flood season when her boiler exploded and she burned and sank just north of Memphis, on April 27, 1865. An estimated 1,800 people – more than on the Titanic – died in the disaster.
The anniversary heritage festival will feature living history demonstrations, period craftsmen, Civil War authors and book-signings, a period church service on Sunday afternoon, buggy rides on the nearby Marion Lake trail, interim museum tours, and a presentation of plans for the permanent museum, on which construction is scheduled to begin later this year. Saturday evening will wind up with a concert by 52nd Tennessee Regimental Band, a group of Civil War enthusiasts from Memphis, followed by a preview showing of the documentary, “Remember the Sultana,” at the Marion Performing Arts Center. The band will also perform concerts during the day on the courthouse square Saturday.
Additionally, Curt Field will bring his impersonation of General U.S. Grant to the festival, and will be on hand Saturday on the grounds to visit with attendees. Other scheduled appearances include Donald Harrison portraying a Civil War era doctor and Diane Bonhert, presenting a Civil War medicine woman demonstration.
Saturday’s itinerary also includes a free history lecture series at Trinity in the Fields Anglican Church, located adjacent to the square. Lecturers include Frank Barton, Judge John Fogleman, Jimmy Ogle, Jan Thomas, Michael Lejman, and Jerry Potter.
A limited number of picnic basket lunches will be available on Sunday prior to the period church service scheduled for 2 p.m. with the Rev. Tom Letchworth. For more information or to preorder a picnic basket, which contains lunch for two, call the Marion Chamber of Commerce at 870-739-6041.
In 2015, Marion opened its interim location of the Sultana museum in an historic building on the Crittenden County Courthouse Square, while developing plans for the permanent facility nearby within the city government complex. The festival will also feature an unveiling of the formal plans for the new facility by the designers, The Haizlip Firm of Memphis.
The remains of the Sultana are now buried about 30 feet beneath a soybean field inside the levee about four miles east of downtown Marion. Ancestors of several Marion residents, including Mayor Frank Fogleman and former City Clerk Frank Barton, helped rescue survivors from the floodwaters following the explosion.
More information about the festival, including a detailed itinerary, is available at www.marionarchamber.org or by contacting the Marion Chamber of Commerce, 870-739-6041. Inquiries regarding booth space and exhibition registration should be directed to Tracy Brick at the Marion Chamber, 870-739-6041, email@example.com.