Sunday, March 6, 2016

Shipwrecks and Lighthouses Star at Great Lakes National Museum

Steer Submersible to View Wreck of Iconic Ore Boat
(Excerpts from Bob Downing's writing in the Akron Beacon Journal)

There have been 8,000 shipwrecks on the Great Lakes.
A few of those are spotlighted in the expanded and relocated “National Museum of the Great Lakes”, a new Toledo attraction that opened in the spring and includes a 617-foot-long-ore boat/museum ship...the 'Colonel James M. Schoonmaker' that once hauled iron ore, coal and rye on the Great Lakes.
The wrecks featured in the museum
 include the most-famous Great Lakes shipwreck ~
the ore boat, Edmund Fitzgerald, that sank in Lake Superior 
on November 10, 1975, taking 29 men down with it.

Visitors to the $12.1-million “National Museum of the Great Lakes' will find one life raft and paddles from the 'Edmund Fitzgerald' among the items from the boat. The orange raft, one of two, automatically inflated and popped to the surface after the boat sank. There is also an interactive exhibit where visitors can direct a simulated submersible to the Fitzgerald wreck in an attempt to determine the cause of the sinking. The exhibit looks at an array of options to explain what happened to the lake freighter. Officially, it remains undetermined.

(For your information: Gordon Lightfoot, renowned Canadian songwriter and musical icon from Orillia, Ontario, wrote and performed what is probably his most famous song...Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Described in detail, it was a tribute to the ship, the sea and the men who lost their lives that night. The story is lyrically and lengthily written conveying the factors contributing to the disaster. Check it'll be impressed! The freighter had left Wisconsin, fully loaded, heading to Cleveland. The northwind 'Gales of November' ravished it on Lake Superior.)

FACT: The shipwrecks are compelling tales. They amount to one shipwreck every 11 days for the last 250 years. There are more shipwrecks per surface square mile on the Great Lakes than anywhere else in the world. The greatest number occurred in Lake Michigan and Lake Erie.

FACT: The 335-foot steel 'Marquette' sailed from Conneaut, Ohio on December 8, 1909 to cross Lake Erie to Port Stanley (on the Canadian side). It carried 30 railroad cars. It disappeared. It has never been found and no one knows why it sank, although some wreckage was located.

FACT: You can look through goggles to view footage that divers took of the wreckage of the 'Cedarvale' that sank in the Straits of Mackinac in 1965, after it collided with another ship.

The Museum is filled with more than 250 historical artifacts from Great Lake vessels and other sources, plus hundreds of photographs. The exhibits cover 9,000 square feet of space in five galleries. It also features documentary videos and interactive displays. It is an interesting, fresh, bright, colourful and kid-friendly place designed to attract and entertain families with compelling stories. You can easily tour the museum and the impressive old ore boat in two to three hours.

FACT: There are exhibits on Great Lakes Lighthouses (326 of them), luxurious passenger ships that once sailed the lakes, the Underground Railroad, rum runners on the lakes, the 1913 'White Hurricane' that sank 12 boats and killed 240 and maritime technology and equipment.

FACT: One of the most historic artifacts is a piece of the wooden frame of the 'USS Niagara' the flagship of American commander, Olivier Hazard Perry, at the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. This artifact was acquired when the sunken ship was raised in 1913.

FACT: I had never heard about the two Great Lakes passenger steamers that were converted into aircraft carriers in the Second World War. They were used on Lake Michigan to train thousands of American pilots to safely land on a carrier. Among those pilots was future president, George H. Bush.

FACT: In another exhibit, you can admire a gold life-saving medal established by Congress in 1874. It was awarded for bravery in rescuing people in distress on the water. The Museum has the very first medal...awarded to Lucian Clemons of Marblehead, Ohio who with his brothers, A.J. and Hubbard, rowed the 12-foot boat to help rescue two seamen from a schooner that had overturned in Sandusky Bay in 1876. Lucian Clemons later became the keeper of the lighthouse at Marblehead.

FACT: You can hoist a heavy backpack like early European fur traders...learn how to pump a ship's bilge to keep water out of leaky vessels...and work together to fire an engine of a simulated coal-powered freighter.

FACT: Visitors learn that the Great Lakes contain 84% of all fresh water in North America and 21% of the world's surface water.

FACT: A 22-ton ship's propeller from the lake freighter, 'John Sherwin' sits outside the museum in a small riverbank park.
Only 10% of the museum's historical items are on display
But the 'Colonel James M. Schoonmaker' is easily the museum's biggest attraction.
The retired freighter is moored on the east bank of the Maumee River next to the museum. It was launched in 1911 and was hailed as the “Queen of the Lakes” as well as the largest bulk freighter on the Great Lakes and in the world at that time. It carried iron ore from Lake Superior to the steel mills of Ohio and Pennsylvania, plus coal and rye. The biggest expense was dredging the river for the ore boat. For 419-214-5000...or go

Lighthouses Along The Great Lakes Seaway Trail…
is a fascinating collection of 28 historic lighthouses and 2 modern replicas. America’s history was shaped by the role these lights played as active beacons. In fact, some are still at work guiding ships travelling Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The lights are an important part of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail region’s maritime heritage as prized landmarks. In the early history of United States and Canada, Lakes Erie and Ontario quickly became prime transportation routes. The building of lighthouses went hand-in-hand with our nations’ economic growth. By the early 19th century, the Great Lakes had become the single most important transportation system in the country. Today, travellers can view 30 lighthouses along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail.

Compiled by Merle Baird-Kerr…September 6, 2014
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