June 2012 Issue
Living History on the Lake
Commemorations of the War of 1812 and the Battle of Lake Erie will extend over two summers.
The Battle of Lake Erie did not start well for U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. His flagship Lawrence took most of the British squadrons fire in the first stages of the Sept. 10, 1813, confrontation, severely damaging the ship and wounding or killing 80 percent of its crew.
But Perry was undeterred. A small boat was lowered to the water, and the commodore and a handful of men rowed to another ship in their squadron, the relatively unscathed Niagara. Perry sailed the Niagara into the British battle line and ordered the crew to begin firing its cannons. Fifteen minutes later, the British squadron surrendered. The victory proved to be one of the most important in the War of 1812. It secured American control of Lake Erie and allowed the U.S. Army to reclaim posts on the Ohio and Michigan frontiers, in turn opening those territories to settlement after the war.
Two hundred years later, the Lake Erie Islands are preparing to mark Perry's victory with a party so big it will take place over two summers. The events run the gamut from educational activities to parades and concerts, even a re-enactment of the storied battle itself. Many of the events will be staged on the grounds of Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial and the surrounding village of Put-in-Bay, South Bass Island — the place where Perry and his men prepared for battle. The monument, a 352-foot Greek Doric column of pink granite completed in 1915, is scheduled to reopen in July after a three-year, $6.9 million restoration necessitated by nearly a century of freeze-and-thaw cycles. According to National Park Service superintendent Blanca Stransky, the open-air observation deck has been repaired, the original elevator to it restored, and any loose granite or mortar secured.
"[Contractors] tried to use as many of the original materials as possible," she says. "Any new granite," she added, "came from the same Massachusetts quarry that provided the original rock for the monument."
Stransky stresses that the visitor center and grounds will remain open while work on the memorial continues. The center will host a series of free activities June 16–18, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., to commemorate the start of the War of 1812. Visitors can enlist in Perry's militia and go through the motions of rolling a black-powder cartridge, loading it into a musket and firing it. Park rangers in period dress will re-enact congressional debates on the pros and cons of going to war with Great Britain, while professional re-enactors will portray major historical figures of the time such as President James Madison and his wife Dolley. Stransky explains that the War of 1812 was the Vietnam War of its time. It was extremely controversial.
"The country was divided," she says. "There were some nasty fights in Congress over whether the United States should declare war or not. So we are pulling all the historical records and re-enacting [those debates] so that people understand what it was like back then."
At 11 a.m. on June 18 President Madison will read the United States declaration of war on Great Britain, an event that will be Skyped to the memorials sister park, Signal Hill National Historic Site in Newfoundland, Canada — an area governed by Great Britain at the time of the war. Rangers at that park will then read Great Britain's response to it. Activities such as musket and cannon firings and art projects for children continue through September. For complete event listings, visit nps.gov/pevi
or the memorial's Facebook page.
The next big event at Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial is scheduled for July 4, 2013 — the 100th anniversary of the laying of the memorial's cornerstone. The days schedule includes a 2:15 p.m. parade through downtown Put-in-Bay featuring the U.S. Army Marching Band and members of the U.S. Air Force, a cornerstone rededication ceremony highlighted by a military flyover and a concert by the U.S. Army Ceremonial Band. The festivities conclude at 7:30 p.m. with a performance by the U.S. Army Concert Band on the back porch of the visitors center, followed by a Put-in-Bay fireworks extravaganza that Stransky describes as bigger and better than any weve ever had.
But the true bicentennial blowout begins Aug. 29 or 30, 2013, when 15 to 18 tall ships participate in a parade of sail around the western Lake Erie basin, an event that is part of Tall Ships America's Tall Ships Challenge. They will then disperse to eight or nine Lake Erie ports in northwestern Ohio, Michigan and Canada for local festivities from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, 2013. Put-in-Bay is slated to have at least one tall ship in its port.
David Zavagno, bicentennial committee chairman for the Friends of Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial, says plans call for a concert by a major national recording artist, a parade of sailboats and powerboats chaperoned by the Navy and Coast Guard, a performance of Tchaikovskys "1812 Overture" by The Ohio State University Marching Band at the monument, and another massive fireworks display. Stransky adds that the tall ship(s) will be open for tours and offer day sails and evening cruises. For updates and more information, go to visitputinbay.com
On the morning of Sept. 2, 2013, the tall ships will stage a re-creation of the Battle of Lake Erie between West Sister and Rattlesnake islands, the site of the confrontation. According to Zavagno, visitors and residents alike can go to battleoflakeerie-bicentennial.com
and register to portray one of the 557 men who actually fought there. The cost to participate ranges from $285 for a boy to $975 for an officer.
"You will be on board one of the tall ships during the re-enactment," he says. You can stand in their place on that day and honor their service.
The activities continue into the following week, when the National Park Service, Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce and Put-in-Bay Historical Society host their annual historical weekend, a celebration of art, music and history on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Labor Day, Sept. 6–8, 2013. Stransky says visitors can expect a larger-than-usual 1812 military encampment on the memorials grounds — in 2013, re-enactors and craftsmen from the United States will be joined by those from Canada and Great Britain as well as Native American tribes — a War of 1812 ball, historic fashion show and lectures by noted authors on the period.
Chamber executive director Maggie Beckford says core attractions that weekend include an arts-and-crafts festival in the grassy village square known as DeRivera Park; a parade of regional high school bands, local dignitaries, representatives of the U.S.S. Lake Erie (which is stationed in Honolulu) and U.S. Coast Guard; and a concert by the Toledo Symphony Orchestra on the back porch of the memorial's visitor center. Her personal favorite is the Sunday afternoon baseball game between the Ohio Historical Society's Ohio Village Muffins and Put-in-Bay Mossbacks at the corner of Concord and Catawba avenues. The game is played as it was in the mid-1800s, complete with vintage uniforms. Like the concert, it is a big draw.
"The Muffins beat the Mossbacks for a lot of years," Beckford says with amusement. "About 10 years ago, the Mossbacks snapped that losing streak. But the guys who come up from the historical society are pretty good."
The festivities end on the actual 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie — Sept. 10, 2013 — with a wreath-laying ceremony at the battle site. Arrangements are being made with ferry and cruise lines to transport visitors to the spot for a fee. Yet another parade through downtown Put-in-Bay, a ceremony at the memorial and symphony concert will follow. Stransky advises tourists to begin making their travel arrangements to South Bass Island now. Everyone from the President of the United States to the prime ministers of Canada and Great Britain will be invited to attend the bicentennial finale.
"Thats how big this anniversary is," she says.