Sultana Heritage Festival a success

Sultana Heritage Festival a success

3rd annual gathering draws a crowd to hear untold tales from history

Organizers of the 3rd Annual Sultana Heritage Festival say the event drew a record attendance and are already looking at ways to expand it for next year.

Marion Chamber of Commerce President Tracy Brick said about 100 people attended this year's Sultana Festival which is double the number of people who came out last year.

'I could not be more pleased,' Brick said. 'I think we had the right mix of speakers for everyone to enjoy. Overall, it was a great day.'

The event featured speakers who lectured on everything from new research on how many people were aboard and perished in the disaster, why the disaster happened, to an update on the status of the efforts to build a larger, permanent museum.

'Gene's (Salecker) new information about how many people died was very, very interesting,' Brick said.

'(Memphis historian) Jimmy Ogle's talk about Memphis during the Civil War was fun. Judge (John) Fogleman's one man act about the role his ancestors played in the rescue was amazing. Brother Tom's (Letchworth) church service is always great to hear.

And of course, (Memphis attorney and author of the Sultana Disaster) Jerry Potter – you don't get more of an expert than Jerry. So I think even people who knew the story already found a lot of new things to listen to.'

Brick said there was a large turnout of Marion residents, but they also had visitors from Memphis, Collierville, Cordova, Savannah and Rogersville, Tennessee; Little Rock; Horn Lake, Mississippi; Decatur and Peach Tree City, Georgia; and as far away as Stamford, Connecticut; Anchorage, Alaska; Madison, Indiana; and Vallejo, California.

'We had a lot of local people,' Brick said. 'We also did a lot of advertising in national publications and Facebook postings with the Sultana descendant's organization and (filmmaker) Mike Marshall's Remember the Sultana page. So I think the story is gaining national recognition. And I also think people are seeing what we are doing here to try and build a museum.'

The Sultana was a Mississippi River steamboat that exploded on April 27, 1865 while carrying over 2,000 people, mostly Union soldiers who were returning home from the war. Historians have concluded that about 1,200 people died in the tragedy making it the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. History.

Marion operates a small museum commemorating the disaster and is working on plans to raise money to build a larger permanent museum.

Brick said because the turnout was so positive, organizers are considering expanding the festival next year.

'We've talked about making it into a symposium and possibly including more authors,' Brick said. 'I think it is time to maybe let go of the outdoor events and just concentrate on the lectures.

I would also like to include more about the river and may try and coordinate with the people on the riverboat that stops in Memphis. I think we have found the right formula with the lectures and have room for growth.

Karen 'Bottle' Capps’s 'Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory/Martin Luther King Jr.' is a featured piece in this year’s Art on the Levee.

Photo courtesy of DeltaARTS

By Mark Randall