News Column

Party welcomes 1856 pickles to Heinz History Center

June 14, 2014

By Bob Karlovits, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

June 14--Piloting a parcel of perfectly preserved pickles poses a problem.

But David Hawley and staffers at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District figured out a way.

"This is the farthest and fastest these pickles have ever traveled," says Hawley, who drove the pickles on a 36-hour trip from the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

The tall jar of sweet pickles along with a bottle of ketchup will go on display June 14 at the history center here as part of the exhibit "Pittsburgh's Lost Steamboat: Treasures of the Arabia."

The history center will be the site of a "Pickle Party" from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. where visitors will get a fresh dill spear, a classic Heinz pickle pin and a chance to hear Hawley talk about the discovery of the Arabia -- and the pickles.

The exhibit here is the first time an exhibit from the Kansas City museum has been displayed anywhere else and the first time the pickles and ketchup have left their cooler in Missouri since they were found in 1988.

By the way, these are not Heinz pickles. The sinking of the Arabia in the Missouri River in 1856 predates the beginning of Heinz by about 13 years.

Getting the pickles here demanded keeping them cool, a task accomplished with two electric coolers -- one as a backup -- history center staffers found online for $139.99.

The pickles and ketchup were put in the cooler, surrounded by a plastic foam framework to keep the bottles from moving. Hawley plugged one into his car and took off from Kansas City at 5:31 a.m.June 11, he says.

The Arabia, a packet boat built at a variety of sites along the Monongahela River in this area, sank in the Missouri in 1856. The boat disappeared into the silty bottom of river, the river shifted, and it wasn't discovered until 1988, when it was then beneath a cornfield.

Hawley's father, Bob, owner of a refrigeration firm in Independence, Mo., located the boat and he and his sons excavated it. Because the Arabia had been in the water table, away from sunlight and oxygen, much of its 200 tons of cargo was preserved.

The boat essentially was carrying goods to supply the move west: clothes, shoes, food, even prefab homes.

Hawley says when they found the pickles and lifted the bottles out of the water, the brine began to ferment immediately. They realized they had to keep them cool. They put the 36 bottles that weren't broken into a refrigerator.

Eventually, he says, they resealed them in a process that involved getting corks from a manufacturer of wine-making supplies. The jars were put into an ice-filled tub to keep them cool, recorked and then sealed with wax.

One of the members of Hawley's crew tasted one of the pickles, Hawley says, and reported it was not quite crisp, but it wasn't mushy, either, and still had a pickle taste.

"I don't even like pickles," Hawley says, "so I wasn't about to do that."

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.


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Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)

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