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Sultana Museum Hits $10M Fundraising Target

2 min read

The Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion has reached a $10 million fundraising goal after securing a $1 million challenge grant from FedEx.

The Memphis-based shipping giant in November 2021 pledged to donate $1 million to the museum if the museum could raise $9 million by May 31, 2023. The museum met that challenge, raising $9.3 million by the deadline.

The Sultana Museum, which tells the story of the deadliest maritime disaster in U.S. history, has now reached a fundraising target to cover construction and exhibit costs. It’s now looking to raise an additional $3 million for an operating reserve and endowment.

Bids for the project are expected to go out this month, the museum said in a news release. The museum is expected to open in 2025.

The nonprofit Sultana Historic Preservation Society acquired a 17,000-SF former school auditorium in Marion as the future home of the museum. The architecture firm Haizlip Studio of Memphis is leading efforts to redevelop the space into a modern, high-tech museum with state-of-the art concepts. In addition to an exhibit hall, plans call for an auditorium, theater, classroom and events space.

The Sultana was a steamboat commissioned by the U.S. government at the end of the Civil War to carry paroled Union prisoners back home from Confederate prison camps. More than 2,100 people were packed onto the boat, which was designed to carry only 376.

As the Sultana traveled along the Mississippi River in the early morning hours of April 27, 1865, the strained vessel’s boilers exploded about seven miles north of Memphis. The boat erupted into flames, then drifted and sank on the Arkansas bank of the river near Marion. Nearly 1,200 people died.

The city of Marion received a $1 million federal grant for the museum last July. Other financial support has come from Hartford Steam Boiler CEO Greg Barats, who pledged $1 million, and the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, which allocated $250,000 for the project.

The museum is expected to attract about 50,000 visitors per year and bring $3.5 million annually to Crittenden County.

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