Toledo museum attracting visitors from around the world

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TOLEDO (WTVG) - It's a true Toledo treasure that sits along the banks of the Maumee River. The National Museum of the Great Lakes has hundreds of artifacts, as well as interactive exhibits. It draws people from all over the globe.

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Centuries of life on the Great Lakes are on display at the museum.
Chris Gillcrist is the Executive Director. He says, "Great Lakes history is so important to the contours of American civilization over the last 400 years. What people may not realize is that the lakes were the superhighway of the 19th and 20th centuries for American industry. Without the Great Lakes, there would not have been an Industrial Revolution."

The museum is full of artifacts and stories that bring the rich history of the lakes to life. Gillrist says, "Whether it's the Edmund Fitzgerald life raft or the spectacle lens or a small corn cob holder from a vessel that sailed 100 years ago, we are able to tell these important stories in a very visual and physical way."

The Colonel James M. Schoonmaker is one of the biggest draws at the museum. When the boat was launched, it was the largest bulk carrier in the world. She's been docked at the museum since 2012.
Her current dock is close to the old Toledo dock where she loaded her very first cargo in 1911.

Anna Kolin is the Development Director at the museum. She says of the boat, "She looks just like she did 107 years ago when she was christened. It's like walking in and on to a piece of history. People may not realize that when she first came to Toledo, she was named the Willis Boyer. She was docked near International Park for years. She was originally named the Schoonmaker. Then her name was changed to the Boyer, and we changed it back to the Schoonmaker to mark her 100th birthday."

Gillcrist says the Schoonmaker gives people a unique opportunity. "It's just not that common to be able to go on one of these boats anymore, and it becomes less and less common as time goes by," he says.

The Schoonmaker is about to get some company. The Tug OHIO has been donated to the museum by the Great Lakes Towing Company.
The tug will arrive this fall and undergo a major restoration. It should be on display next spring.

Gillcrist says the Schoonmaker and the tug worked the lakes at the same time: "They operated together from 1953-1982, so for about 30 years they were both out on the lakes. We don;t know for sure at this point, but there's a good chance the Tug OHIO towed the Schoonmaker or worked with her on a project. The tug will be docked in front of the Schoonmaker. We are very excited about this because it will fill a void in our collection. We now have a great way to tell the story of tug boats to our visitors. "

The museum draws people from all over the world. Kolin says, "We've had people from Hawaii, Alaska, Australia and Belgium. We've been featured in articles all over the world."

Charles Connor made a special stop at the museum today. He was on his way to Chicago from the Washington, D.C., area. He says, "I decided to stop in Toledo because I read an article about this great museum in USA Today; it was a big article. I sailed the seven seas in the Navy, but my favorite water is the Great Lakes, so I just had to check this out. It is definitely worth the visit. The museum is beautifully done. It is quite interesting and very engaging. I would recommend it to anyone."

While it attracts people from all over, Kolin says the goal is to get more people from the Toledo area to check out this local treasure "It's one of those things if you live in Toledo sometimes you forget the amazing things in your own backyard. We are really urging everyone to come see it. It's truly a beautiful museum that brings some very important stories to life about the Great Lakes," Kolin says.

There are all kinds of special programs and exhibits at the National Museum of the Great Lakes throughout the year.

If you'd like to learn more, you can find a link on this page.