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Great Lakes museum sells memberships at brisk pace


Dawn and Gary Sartain look at a wheel from the Tashmoo during the opening reception for the National Museum of the Great Lakes, April 25, 2014.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
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The National Museum of the Great Lakes has proven more popular than expected since its late-April opening.

The society had hoped to gain 500 new memberships within the first year of the opening, but during the first seven weeks of operations it has already signed up 364 new members, said Christopher Gillcrist, the society’‍s executive director.

That’‍s the biggest membership surge in historical society history other than the 512 charter members who joined when the society was organized in 1945, Mr. Gillcrist said.

Through Thursday, the museum had had 3,446 admissions, including about 150 people who bought tickets, then returned to the ticket counter for memberships after their visits, which the society director finds particularly encouraging.

“People are really seeing the value of the experience in the museum,” he said.

Another 162 memberships have been sold online since the museum opened April 26, Mr. Gillcrist said. Prices range between $22 and $44 for “museum-level” memberships and between $45 and $500 for full historical society memberships. The latter includes subscriptions to its quarterly Inland Seas journal.

Also a bit unexpected, Mr. Gillcrist said, is the share of museum visitors who have bought pricier tickets that allow them to tour the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker freighter as well as the museum’‍s indoor exhibits.

Museum-only tickets were expected to account for about 60 percent of sales, he said, but instead the freighter add-on ($12 for adults, instead of the normal $8 admission) has been purchased by 58 percent.

“We’‍re on track on attendance,” Mr. Gillcrist said, noting that the summer tourism season is only hitting full stride this week.

The historical society has placed rack cards promoting the museum in the information centers on the Ohio Turnpike, is “saturating the Detroit attraction market,” and also distributing the promotional cards at locations in Erie County in hopes of tapping the Cedar Point and Lake Erie islands tourist markets.

“We feel good about visitorship” and, based on positive feedback, expect good word-of-mouth promotion, too, he said.

Society leaders believe 1,000 new members could be signed up this year, Mr. Gillcrist said.

The basic membership fee is roughly equal to two admissions to the museum exhibits and the Schoonmaker. Except for fund-raising events, there is no additional charge for access to special activities like the July 5 Kids’‍ Fest, Toledo Antique and Classic Boat Show on Aug. 23-24, or the Oct. 25 “Boo on the Boat” Halloween event.

Memberships purchased by 4 p.m. Sunday include another perk: Free raffle tickets to be drawn Monday for a summer trip aboard a Great Lakes freighter.

The number of tickets varies with the membership level but is generally about one for each $10 in membership value. Society members may purchase additional raffle tickets for $10 each. Winners must be at least 18 years old, be able to climb a 45-foot ship’‍s ladder, and provide their own transportation to and from their trip’‍s starting and ending ports.

Great Lakes ship operators have provided such trips for years to help various historic-preservation groups around the region, and they carry the winners as guests of the company rather than passengers for which they would need to be specially licensed.

Freighter-trip raffle tickets often cost $100, but Mr. Gillcrist said the Great Lakes Historical Society chose a lower price point for several reasons.

“Not everybody can afford a $100 ticket,” he said. “We want to raise a little bit of money, but we also want to introduce our product.”

For raffle-ticket information, visit​memonlyraffle2014 or call 419-214-5000.

Contact David Patch at: or 419-724-6094.

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