Located at the Branson Landing, the brand new Shipwrecked Treasure Museum in Branson, MO just had its official ribbon cutting ceremony last Thursday. This interactive treasure museum is filled with fascinating artifacts recovered from miles beneath the ocean’s surface!
I received complimentary museum admission to facilitate my review.
Whether you’re a history buff, a pirate enthusiast, a rare coin collector, or just a fan of visiting museums while on vacation, Shipwrecked Treasure Museum offers something for everyone. I loved learning the stories behind each exhibit, and it’s crazy to look at artifacts like a piece of pottery that was literally underwater for thousands of years!
As you enter the museum, you’re greeted by Blackbeard, one of the most famous pirates in history. I thought it was fascinating that he used to pull theatrical tricks like putting burning rope under his hat to make smoke come out and look super fierce!
The next room holds some of the museum’s oldest and most valuable items.
Image via Shipwrecked Treasure Museum
This astrolabe (the item on the right) is an ancient navigational tool, and although it might not look very eye-catching, its rarity makes it worth over a million dollars! It’s one of seven pieces in the museum’s collection that are so valuable and unique that they’re required to let scholars study them upon request.
It’s really cool to see photos and videos of the actual artifacts in the museum being recovered by Odyssey Marine Eploration!
My favorite part about the artifacts that were underwater for such a long time is that you’ll find the occasional little crustacean or other sea life still stuck to it!
This jug from around 30 BC is the oldest artifact in the museum. How crazy is it to be able to look at an item that people actually used almost 2,000 years ago??
Bottles from the SS Republic Shipwreck
The museum holds artifacts from shipwrecks from several different eras and locations, but largest collection comes from the SS Republic, a paddle-wheel steamship that was delivering supplies to New Orleans to replenish their resources after the Civil War. The ship went down in a hurricane, so the everyday items that were on board serve as a sort of time capsule of what was important to people of that era.
The bottle wall holds almost 100 bottles recovered from the SS Republic shipwreck, and there’s a cool interactive touch screen set up in the same order as the display so that if you see a bottle that looks interesting, you can tap the image and learn more about what was inside. It’s really fun to try to guess what each bottle might have contained before you tap it, and some of them are quite surprising!
One of my absolute favorite exhibits in the museum was the cold storage. The SS Republic sank slowly enough that a lot of the bottles didn’t implode from the pressure, and it came to rest at a depth where the water temperature was around 34-37 degrees Fahrenheit. That means that a few bottles containing food, beer, champagne, and toiletries magically managed to be preserved underwater for 140 years!!! These have never before been displayed to the public, and I have to tell you that it’s totally mind-blowing to look at real peaches, blueberries, and rhubarb that are from just after the Civil War.
Blueberries and peaches being recovered from the shipwreck site.
Since both the SS Republic and the Tortugas (a Spanish Galleon whose artifacts are also on display here) went down in hurricanes, visitors are invited to hop into a hurricane simulator to experience Category 1 hurricane winds, which reach almost 80 mph. 10 seconds at that speed seems to be more than enough for most people, but the poor SS Republic crew and passengers battled the hurricane for two whole days before the ship went down! Can you imagine being on a ship that was rocking about on the choppy waves with no land in sight, being blasted by heavy winds and rain, and trying to bail water out of the boiler room before it put your fire out? For TWO DAYS? Yikes.
In addition to learning about the artifacts themselves, you get to learn how shipwrecks are discovered beneath miles of water and how the artifacts are recovered. The company that recovered the artifacts in the museum, Odyssey Marine Exploration, adapted existing oil and communication machinery to make it possible to recover artifacts from depths that aren’t safe for humans. The Tortugas shipwreck was actually the very first fully-robotic recovery of a deep water shipwreck ever! Its estimate that there are something like three million undiscovered shipwrecks scattered throughout the oceans and seas around the world. Just imagine what kind of treasure could be out there!
Because using the robotic equipment to explore the ocean floor can be so expensive ($35-$40,000 a DAY!), the explorers first take sonogram images to find shapes that look like they might be shipwrecks. There’s a fun interactive game where you can guess if an image shows a shipwreck full of treasure, large underwater rocks, or just a fishing boat with nothing valuable around it.
Once the scientists find an actual ship, they take high-res images with a ROV called Zeus to help them decide which areas of the shipwreck might hold something valuable. Museum visitors can explore an interactive photo mosaic of the SS Republic to try to find the valuable artifacts that went down with the ship. You can also try your hand at using a robotic arm to pick up coins. It’s a replica of the one actually used by Odyssey to pick up artifacts, and it’s trickier than it looks!
Notice that the buckets that the coins go into look pretty much like something you’d find at Home Depot? Despite the robotic technology being super high-tech, they’ve found that pots like this and plastic laundry baskets work the best for bringing artifacts back up to the surface! Originally, they used pots that didn’t have lids, but…
Can you imagine spending five minutes to carefully pick up a coin from among the wreckage, and then this guy comes and grabs it? Odyssey had to start putting lids on the buckets or crabs and other marine life would seriously come along and steal the treasure!
After learning about how shipwrecks are found and artifacts are recovered, you can check out some really interesting artifacts arranged beneath a replica of one of the SS Republic’s paddle wheels, which would be 3 stories tall if stood on end! (Spotting the distinctive paddle wheels underwater was what gave the shipwreck hunters the idea that they may have found the SS Republic!)
For some reason I really love these spoons. I keep wondering what made the ones in the middle bend like that?? Was it heat or strong currents or…?
On some artifacts like these religious statues, I’m so happy that some of the evidence of being underwater for 140 years remains! I think it adds so much character!
The porcelain “Dancing Couple” are so beloved that you can actually buy replicas of them in the museum gift shop. The first photo above is the authentic set recovered from the shipwreck, and the second shows the ones you can buy in the gift shop.
Blackbeard’s Adventure Pirate’s Lair
Everyone loves pirates, so of course there’s pirate history included in the museum as well!
See real artifacts recovered from pirate shipwrecks, learn about female pirates, try out tying pirate knots… lots to do here!
Of course you have to have a peg leg if you’re talking pirates! This is the first time I’ve ever seen an authentic one. It’s interesting that it’s designed to fit one leg (I think this one was a lefty) but doesn’t work on the other.
Before exploring the museum, I had NO IDEA that famous pirates had different flags! I knew about the skull and crossbones and I’ve seen the skull with crossed swords before, but it turns out that each one of these above was the flag of a famous pirate! (You can lift each one up to see whose it was and learn about them.) Super interesting!
I also learned that having a proper burial was surprisingly important to a lot of pirates. Many purposefully wore enough jewelry to pay for a burial, and some even had the name of their home port engraved into an earring so people would know where to bury them!
Rare Coins from Shipwrecks
The SS Republic went down with 51,000 coins on board, but the museum has some really cool “treasure” recovered from other wrecks as well! The display pictured above shows what coins look like when they’re found – they can be hard to distinguish from rocks on the sea floor! The coins scattered around show what they look like after going through a chemical cleaning process.
One incredible discovery among the SS Republic coins was a collection of 111 half dollar coins that had been wrapped in canvas bags and sealed in a barrel and somehow managed to avoid being touched by the saltwater for the 140 years they were underwater. These uncirculated coins came out of the water in mint condition, totally rocking the coin collecting world. You can pick one up on Amazon if you have around $500 to spare:
This is my favorite coin from the collection. Prior to finding the SS Republic, historians believed that the practice of soldiers carving messages and designs into coins started during WWI. Trench art can be really hard to verify – you could decorate a historic coin in your basement today and be like “This was totally done during the war!” but there’s no way to prove it. Since the SS Republic went down right after the civil war, they knew for sure that these coins were carved during that time period! If you look closely, the one above says “War” on the right and “1861” on the left. The soldier also carved his initials into the back.
Everyone has heard of Pieces of Eight, also known as Spanish Reales, but this was my first time ever seeing some. At the time, the weight of the coin was more important than the shape, so they would just break off chunks until it was the right weight. Thank goodness they didn’t have to deal with picky vending machines back then!
Treasure comes in forms other than coins, of course. The British government hired Odyssey to find the shipwreck of the SS Gairsoppa, a British cargo ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat during WWII while it was carrying 48 tons of silver bars to help fund the war. The ship was found and the silver was recovered – you can see three bars of it above! Each one weighs about 88 lbs, except for the one in the middle, which is super rare – it’s 91% silver, the rest gold, and weighs about 100 lbs. It was the first bar recovered from the shipwreck, and the only remaining gold/silver hybrid bar that hasn’t been melted down!
Buy Rare Shipwreck Coins and Fun Nautical Decor in the Treasure Museum Gift Shop
Every great attraction needs a gift shop, and Shipwrecked Treasure Museum is no exception! The gift shop is open during museum hours, so you are welcome to just stop in and browse without buying tickets. There’s literally something for everyone, from $1500 rare coin sets to 99 cent pirate flags to free balloons for kids!
I think it’s super cool that buy can buy artifacts just like the ones in the museum! Most of the bottles are around $200-400, and you can get an olive jar rim (see bottom right of the photo above) that was under water for over 400 years for about $80! I think it would be super cool to have something like that on display in your house, especially if you’re into ships and nautical life. Each one comes with a certificate of authenticity.
I love books, so I was happy to see that they offer a great selection of ship and pirate-related books! I’m currently reading one I got there, Lost Gold of the Republic: The Remarkable Quest for the Greatest Shipwreck Treasure of the Civil War Era.
I love that you can also buy pirate-era coins. They range in quality from super nice to a little more “weathered”, so to speak, but the lower grade ones are super affordable!
Important Info for Visiting Shipwrecked Treasure Museum:
Shipwrecked Treasure Museum is located at the Branson Landing next to Belk and across from the Black Oak Grill. The Branson Landing Website has handy maps of parking and nearby stores and restaurants. There is a ton of parking at the landing, including a large lot that is just a minute’s walk from the museum and a covered parking garage, but finding good parking spots can be tricky on weekends and busy seasons.
At the time of writing this post, adult tickets are $24.95, children 4-17 are $9.95, children 3 and under are free, and seniors 65+ are $22.95. You can buy a VIP pass that gets you in all year long for $59.95. The best deal is a Family Pass that covers 2 adults and 2 children for $59.95. The one-day tickets are good all day long, so you’re welcome to wander through the museum, leave to go get lunch or do some shopping at the Landing’s nearby shops and restaurants, and then come back to read more in depth about artifacts that caught your interest. You’re also welcome to spend as much time as you’d like exploring the museum, and take as many photos as you’d like! The museum is generally open the same hours as the Branson Landing, but does occasionally close a bit early for private events.
Check back next week, when I’ll be giving away a family pass to Shipwrecked Treasure Museum AND an authentic pirate-era coin recovered from a shipwreck! 😮