News & Events
FedEx to Donate $1 Million to Sultana Museum
June 2, 2023
FedEx officials informed officers of the Sultana Historical Preservation Society (SHPS) this week that they would be making a million-dollar donation to the society’s campaign to build a new Sultana Disaster Museum. This comes nearly eighteen months after FedEx initially announced their challenge grant to the museum, stipulating that if SHPS could raise $9 million of their own fundraising, FedEx would donate $1 million, with a deadline of May 31, 2023. By the end of May, SHPS had a cumulative total of $9,296,594 in funds raised, officially earning them the FedEx grant. This million-dollar award comes with special significance as it completes the museum’s $10 million dollar goal for total construction costs.
The new museum, expected to go out for bid this month, will feature a state-of-the-art interactive exhibit, an orientation theater, a research library, a classroom for educational programming, and an auditorium for community events, in addition to administrative offices. The project cost is estimated to be $6.7M for initial building renovations and $3.3M for exhibit construction. An additional $3M will be raised to go into an operations reserve fund.
With the generous donation from FedEx coupled with the wide array of other donations collected since the capital campaign began in 2020, the story of the Sultana is now all but guaranteed to be told at a level that suits the significance of its history. The new Sultana Disaster Museum is slated to open in early 2025, in time for the 160th anniversary of the disaster on April 25.
Exhibit to Be Named for Late Docent Rosalind O'Neal
February 7, 2023
The Sultana Disaster Museum announced this week that they will be naming an exhibit in their new museum for the late Rosalind O’Neal, who passed away on November 1, 2022. O’Neal had been a manager and docent at the temporary museum since its opening in 2015 and an outspoken supporter of the project from its earliest stages. After her passing, the members of the Sultana Historical Preservation Society announced a community fundraising campaign to raise $25,000 to have the “Camp Fisk & Prison Exchange” exhibit named after O’Neal, one of the many subjects on which she was extremely knowledgeable. The campaign received contributions both from community members who knew her well and past museum visitors who had enjoyed the opportunity to learn from her tours. In just over two months, the funds necessary for the naming opportunity had been raised, and now the new Sultana Disaster Museum, a project into which O’Neal put her heart and soul, will feature an exhibit that bears her name once it opens.
Museum Breaks Ground on New Facility
November 16, 2022
On Friday morning, November 11, the Sultana Historical Preservation Society broke ground at the new site of the Sultana Disaster Museum, the former 1939 Marion High School Gymnasium and Auditorium. The ceremony included remarks from Senator Keith Ingram, Congressman Rick Crawford, Senator John Boozman, and Former US Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater. Donors, local officials, history buffs and museum enthusiasts alike crowded the seats of the historic space to celebrate the official kickoff of the renovations and construction project. Click the links below to read two of the major news articles published on the event.
The Daily Memphian
Sultana Disaster Museum Announces Groundbreaking
October 25, 2022
Just weeks after receiving a $500,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority, the Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion was able to raise enough additional funds to cross the $6 million fundraising goal set for initial construction costs. With that, the Sultana Historical Preservation Society has announced a groundbreaking ceremony set for Friday, November 11 at the site of the new museum, the former Marion High School Gymnasium & Auditorium at 54 Military Road. The event will commence at 10:00am and will feature three keynote speakers: former US Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, Senator John Boozman, and State Senator Keith Ingram. Mayor of Marion Frank Fogleman and retired Judge John Fogleman, both descendants of rescuers during the Sultana disaster, will be offering opening remarks, in addition to incoming mayor Tracy Brick, who will speak as well.
Sultana Museum gets significant funding, nears Phase I goal
October 3, 2022
It was announced Friday that the Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion would be the recipient of a $508,910 investment from the Delta Regional Authority. The organization, which serves to increase jobs in and better the economy of 252 counties and parishes across eight states, had $2.6 million allocated to invest in Arkansas projects that would benefit the Delta region. The DRA saw the Sultana Disaster Museum as a worthy investment due to the anticipated economic impact the new museum will have on Marion and the surrounding area. The museum, which tells the story of the steamboat Sultana and the events that led up to its demise that killed over 1,100 people, was one of only seven projects in the state selected to receive funding from the $2.6 million.
With this investment, the Sultana Historical Preservation Society now sits at $5,976,859 in their capital campaign, just around $23,000 shy of their $6 million goal for initial construction and renovation costs of the existing structure (the historic 1939 Marion High School Gymnasium & Auditorium) in which the museum will be housed. With the end goal for this phase of the campaign in sight, SHPS expects to break ground on the new Sultana Disaster Museum before the end of the year. Once construction is underway, the next phase of fundraising will commence, with the museum aiming to raise another $4 million to build the actual exhibit within the building. The final phase on the capital campaign will raise another $3 million to go into an endowment for operational and promotional costs for the new museum upon opening. SHPS anticipates the new museum to open its doors by the end of 2023.
Tacker's Shake Shack Supports Sultana Museum
August 25, 2022
Tacker’s Shake Shack is one of the most well-known restaurants in the region and is one of biggest attractions in the City of Marion. However, they don’t keep all the attention for themselves – they have consistently used their business to help promote another major tourist attraction for Marion: the Sultana Disaster Museum. For several years now, the Shake Shack has supported the museum by advertising for them in their restaurant, with photos of the Sultana on the wall and brochures for the museum by the front entrance. They even have a food challenge named for the museum: the mighty Sultana Burger – a two-pound burger with chili, hashbrowns, bacon, eggs, and layers of cheese. In return, Sultana Disaster Museum employees have been recommending the Shake Shack to just about every visitor who walks through the museum doors.
Both institutions have had major impacts on Marion and the surrounding area. The Shake Shack routinely brings in customers from all over the globe, while the Sultana Museum has had visitors from all fifty states and fourteen foreign countries. Furthermore, a 2016 study from Owen Economics, which was updated in 2021 by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, estimated that the new Sultana Disaster Museum will attract an estimated 50,000 visitors a year and is anticipated to create 88 new jobs that will generate an estimated $2.2 million in wages. The museum is also expected to create approximately $3 million in revenue for Marion and Crittenden County. It is also believed that tourism to Marion will likely encourage travelers to visit other notable sites in Northeast Arkansas.
In December of 2021, Shake Shack made their biggest show of support yet by pledging $25,000 to the efforts to construct a new museum housed within the historic 1939 Marion High School Gymnasium & Auditorium. Continuing to foster the partnership, the Sultana Historical Preservation Society recently provided the Shake Shack with a banner to display in the restaurant with details about the current and future museum. Thursday, former director Tracy Brick visited the Shake Shack to deliver the banner along with her successors, Wyly Bigger (Director of Special Projects) and Melody Walker (Director of Planning & Operations). Norman Vickers, a long-time support of the Sultana project and a former docent at the museum, was also present.