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Published: 8/26/2013

Lake Erie battle re-enactment highlights bicentennial events

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Perry's Monument in Put-In-Bay, Ohio, reopened last summer after being shuttered for more than three years during a major restoration. Perry's Monument in Put-In-Bay, Ohio, reopened last summer after being shuttered for more than three years during a major restoration.
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PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio -- A parade of tall ships and Battle of Lake Erie re-enactment are among the numerous events planned to mark the bygone battle’s bicentennial. 

The South Bass Island village of Put-in-Bay in Ottawa County serves as the hub for many activities that begin Aug. 29 and run through Sept. 10 -- the day that marks the 200th anniversary of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s key victory over British naval forces.

Throughout the nearly two-week long commemoration, coordinators expect more than 200,000 people to participate in tall ship events and other activities in U.S. and Canadian sites. 

The Labor Day battle re-enactment, to take place on Sept. 2, is among the highlights. It will involve at least 15 ships setting sail in carefully choreographed fashion to retrace the historic battle action. The best spots to observe the battle will be on board the ships or in private boats, which will be kept some distance from the re-enactment for safety reasons.

“The purpose of this event is not as much to satisfy needs of the day; it’s to satisfy the annals of history,” said U.S. Brig Niagara Capt. Wesley Heerssen. “When people look back at the record they will see that we thought this story was significant enough to recreate the battle for prosperity.”

The Niagara, the third reconstruction of the ship that played a crucial role in Perry’s victory, will be docked at Put-in-Bay. 

It’s one of nine ports -- including Kelleys Island, Middle Bass Island, and Port Clinton -- where about 17 tall ships will dock. A parade of those tall ships takes place Aug. 29, and various ships will be open for tours throughout the weekend. 

Captain Heerssen developed eight different battle plans for the re-enactment, one of which will be chosen depending on wind direction.

The Niagara will recreate its part in the historic battle, which included nine American ships and six British ships. The flagship Lawrence was heavily damaged by enemy fire, causing Commodore Perry to board a wooden boat and row to the Niagara, a move that led to victory. 

A ship's helm and several model ships in the Lake Erie islands Historical Society Museum. The museum contains over 6,000 square feet of artifacts. A ship's helm and several model ships in the Lake Erie islands Historical Society Museum. The museum contains over 6,000 square feet of artifacts.
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But the victory was not without cost. Twenty-seven Americans were killed during the battle, and eight of the 96 wounded would later died of injuries, according to the U.S. National Park Service, which operates the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial.

The monument in Put-in-Bay consists of a massive Doric column that symbolizes the ensuing peace among the United States, Britain, and Canada and honors the lives lost in battle. British casualties included 41 dead in battle and 94 wounded.

Victory gave the Americans an advantage during the remainder of the War of 1812, said David Curtis Skaggs, a retired history professor at Bowling Green State University who has authored several works on Commodore Perry and the battle.

“So long as the British controlled Lake Erie they controlled the logistical supply line both for themselves and for the Americans,” he said.

Mr. Skaggs described Commodore Perry as a “dramatic and dynamic” leader, with a voice of authority and quick temper. He said the War of 1812, though not usually rigorously studied in high school history courses, provided the United States with numerous leaders whose names still mark maps, including Perrysburg, named after the commodore.

Various groups worked to plan the events and commemorations scheduled for the upcoming weeks. The nonprofit Lake Erie Heritage Foundation took on the task of raising money to hold events. About $730,000 of its $800,000 goal has been raised so far, said foundation President David Zavagno of Solon.

He said the intent was to pull together as many groups in the activities as possible -- including the Friends of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. That organization, also known as the Perry Group, supports the National Park Service site.

Organizers have made detailed plans, from finding an actor to portray Commodore Perry and arranging for entertainment, including the Ohio State University marching band.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com, or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.



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