Ground broken for Great Lakes museumWritten by Don Lee | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: Don Lee, an artist and Toledo Free Press cartoonist, was contracted to draw a caricature of a winning bidder at the fundraising auction for the Great Lakes museum.
Ground was broken Sept. 24 for the Great Lakes Historical Society’s new home off Front Street and those behind the project hope it’s just the latest chapter in the story of the Great Lakes and Toledo’s role in it.
But first, the museum is seeking to get its own story out among area residents, particularly those who can help get the project fully on its feet.
“I do think this is an exciting opportunity for Toledo to have,” said Beth Stutler, who was recently hired to work in development for what will be called the National Museum of the Great Lakes Historical Society. “Another tourist attraction on the Maumee River is wonderful, and the artifacts they have really do tell the story of the Great Lakes.”
The historical society is looking to raise about $3.5 million — the difference between the approximate $10 million cost of the project and the amount already received in grants from the state’s Cultural Facilities Commission.
For that, the society promises a museum twice the size of the venue it’s occupied in Vermilion since 1953, a new home for the museum freighter Col. James S. Schoonmaker and a park from which to watch the Maumee River traffic or host a special event.
A replica of the Vermilion lighthouse — for which the people of Vermilion raised the money — will stay in Vermilion, though the future of the freighter Canopus’ wheel house, now attached to the museum building in Vermilion, remains undetermined.
Among the planned fundraising events is an Oct. 20 invitation-only cruise on the Schoonmaker when the century-old lake freighter will be towed from its berth near the Anthony Wayne Bridge to its new home next to the museum near the Veterans Glass City Skyway. The capstone of this year’s fundraising will be the society’s annual Treasures of the Lakes dinner, set for Nov. 3 at the Toledo Club. Raffle prizes include two trips aboard U.S.-registered Great Lakes freighters.
The goal of the society and museum is to create a place where people can learn about the significance of the Great Lakes in all aspects of life, said executive director Christopher Gillcrist.
There are other museums around the lakes that specialize in everything from history to commercial shipping to shipwrecks “and they do a fantastic job,” said Carrie Sowden, an archaeologist who’s worked for the Great Lakes Historical Society since graduating from Texas A&M University in 2004. “But they’re very localized and we think there’s a greater story to tell: how we became industrialized and settled in the 19th century. … And we want to tell Toledo’s story as well.”
For example, Sowden said, an exhibit at the museum might be accompanied by a “Toledo symbol,” so “you can go through the museum and get the Toledo story but see how it fits in” with the greater story of the Great Lakes.
From the early explorers to the part the lakes played in the birth and growth of the United States and Canada — including the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812 — to the natural resources and natural “highway” of the lakes, much of history would have been different without them, Sowden said.
“The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century doesn’t happen” without the iron ore of the lakes region or the ships to carry it to the foundries, Sowden said.
Telling that story means combining artifacts with other informational material to put the artifacts in the context of their times, to show how they fit into the story.
“I find that to be very powerful,” said Sowden, who has made dives on wrecks in Lake Erie. “Here’s the story of a shipwreck. Here’s the story of the guy who stepped up to ring the ship’s bell before the wreck and here’s the bell he rang.”
All that’s part of the story of the Great Lakes — how people like that watchman and places like Toledo fit into it and how then lakes fit into American and world history. Gillcrist and Sowden want the museum to be the place to go to learn that story.
“I want somebody in Chicago, looking out at Lake Michigan, to say, ‘What’s the story of these lakes?’” Gillcrist said. “And I want the guy standing next to him to say, ‘You really need to go to that museum in Toledo.’”