Justin Perry, 12, and his brother Christopher Perry, 13, of Fort Wayne, Ind., examine the pilot room of the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker.
Inflatable bouncy houses — and bouncy ships, too — graced the lawn at the National Museum of the Great Lakes on Saturday for its Kids’ Fest.
The event, which ran all day Saturday, was the museum’s first effort to broaden its audience to a younger crowd.
“We want families to understand that history museums are not boring, fuddy-duddy places,” said Christopher Gillcrist, the museum’s executive director.
With names like “Mutiny on the Bouncer,” the bouncy rides themselves attested to the museum’s nautical nature. Mr. Gillcrist said the Kids’ Fest was a good way to get children through the door so they could discover the museum’s other attractions.
“In general, there’s always been a perception issue for history museums that they’re not for kids,” Mr. Gillcrist said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from Kids‘ Fest
But the museum seemed to overcome that problem Saturday, with 285 visitors over the course of the day.
“I’ve been wanting to come here,” said Angela Short of Rochester Hills, Mich., who visited with her 10-year-old son, Ashton.
The Cheney family interacts with a museum exhibit. Matt Cheney, of Greenville, S.C., left, and his brother Eric Cheney of Fairborn, Ohio, with their dad Dick Cheney of Maumee, center, attended the exhibit Saturday. The boys are Adam Cheney, 7, son of Matt, left; and brothers Austin, 9, center, and Aaron, 6, right, sons of Eric.
While Ashton played with some of the museum’s exhibits, like a bilge pump for cleaning water out of a ship and an interactive model of the Toledo port, Ms. Short examined a computer screen that showed a map tracking all the cargo ships on the Great Lakes.
Her brother worked aboard Great Lakes freighters during the 1990s, she explained, and visiting the museum has helped her visualize what that was like.
Other families took advantage of Saturday’s weather to walk on the deck of the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker museum freighter.
“It’s eight stories high from the bottom all the way to the top,” Stephen Meier, 8, said.
His mother, Kristin Meier, explained that her son’s grandfather was in the Navy, so the museum was a good opportunity to educate them about nautical life.
There were other guests with navy connections as well, like Rita Oswald, whose husband, Ron, served in the Vietnam era.
Ashton Short, 10, of Rochester Hills, Mich., said he examined many of the interactive exhibits the Great Lakes museum offers.
“The museum is really, really nice. Fantastic,” Mrs. Oswald said.
The Oswalds came with their grandson, Brennan, 4, who found plenty of entertainment value in the museum’s normal displays.
“Brennan especially liked all the hands-on displays,” Mr. Oswald said.
And that was before he even got to the bouncy houses.
The museum opened in April and has exceeded its expectations for 500 new memberships in a year, gaining 540 memberships in eight weeks, according to Mr. Gillcrist. Its next event will be the Toledo Antique and Classic Boat Show on Aug. 23 and 24.