This past weekend I had the chance to visit the Great Lakes Historical Society's new museum on the waterfront in Toledo. I've been a fan of their museum at Vermilion, Ohio since I was a child.
I was a little nervous whether this new incarnation would be too watered-down. Although the exhibits were more focused on a younger set, they managed to convey a lot of good information, and were more organized and thematically focused than the previous museum. On the other hand, the architects did not leave any real space for expansion, so there was a limited amount of room for more artifacts or, presumably, travelling or temporary exhibits.
The museum no longer has the pilot house of the Canopus, nor the steam engine of a great lakes tug (both were probably left at the Inland Seas archives in Vermillion). However, the real centerpiece, the restored 1911 freighter S.S. Colonel Schoonmaker, more than makes up for their absence. I'll get into the ship in my next post, though.
There are a few poignant artifacts from the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, the famous ore freighter lost with all hands during a November storm in 1975.
A diving suit from the pre-SCUBA years.
A capstan from a US Navy gunboat which patrolled the lakes in the 19th Century. I think these were run on steam winches but kept the holes for manual back up, to haul up anchors, lines and so on.
Unfortunately the new set up of the model display makes it hard to see them up close. These represent the great diversity of craft that have plied the lakes over the centuries-- from open boats and canoes to the 1,000-footer iron ore giants.
A sword thought to date from the early 19th century. It has an inscription from the United States Public Land Survey, which with the metal scabbard probably places this use in the 1830s (but what was a surveyor doing with such a mean-looking cavalry saber?)
A Cleveland waterfront scene from the old days. Lumber hookers not only hauled finished lumber, but used booms to tow vast numbers of freshly cut tree trunks down the lakes to the lumber mills. Thousands of these trunks sank to the bottom of Lake Superior, where they were preserved in the frigid waters. Fishing them out has become a small industry, now that old-growth lumber is rare.
The characteristic pivot mount of the smaller gunboats in the US fleet during the War of 1812 on Lake Erie. This allowed a small ship (like the schooner USS Ohio, depicted here) to carry a big gun like a 24-pounder, and bring it to bear from more angles. This ship was captured in a surprise attack in 1814. In the old museum, her model was flanked by a giant scale model of the 1820 64-gun ship of the line USS Ohio. The Great Lakes Society is selling the smaller model for 3 or 4,000 dollars... I have no idea what the bigger one would go for.