The U.S. Brig Niagara, arriving in Toledo during a 1998 visit, will return next month as part of a fund drive to benefit the SS Willis B. Boyer museum ship. The brig will be available for public tours on July 28 and 29, but prices have not been established. The Boyer, a longtime Great Lakes freighter now tied up in International Park, has fallen on hard times, a victim of the city of Toledo's financial straits.
As a deckhand on the SS Willis B. Boyer in the 1970s, Steve Remick of East Toledo knocked off pieces of rust with a hammer and scraped off old paint to keep the cargo ship in tip-top shape.
Mr. Remick was one of 29 crew members who traveled back and forth to ports in Minnesota and Cleveland with occasional stops here to load and unload iron ore, coal, limestone, and grain.
The 53-year-old retired sailor, a volunteer at what is now known as the Boyer museum ship, has a personal connection to the 617-foot cargo vessel tied to the south end of International Park - in exactly the same spot it loaded its first shipment of coal in 1911.
He'd hate to see it taken to a scrapyard. "You'd be losing part of the [city's] heritage," he said this week while standing in the ship's kitchen.
Paul LeMarre III, executive director of the floating museum, said he expects the Boyer to be docked in Toledo for many more years.
As a fund-raising effort to help the ship stay afloat and to generate more local interest in the Boyer, the U.S. Brig Niagara will sail into Toledo July 27, making its third visit to the city.
The ship is to dock in Monroe tomorrow, and two Monroe County Community College students are aboard the brig as part of its sailing training school.
The Niagara will leave Monroe Wednesday and stop in Sandusky before sailing to Toledo.
The Niagara is a replica of an early 19th-century wooden square-rigged warship built for the War of 1812. The brig will be available for public tours on July 28 and 29 and the Toledo Concert Band will perform on the deck of the Boyer at 7:45 p.m. Saturday, July 28. Prices for both events haven't been determined.
The brig's battle flag displays the words "Don't give up the ship," which is a fitting battle cry for the Boyer, Mr. LaMarre said.
Ironically, a flag bearing that phrase has been flying atop the Boyer even before the Niagara was scheduled to aid in the efforts to save the Boyer.
"We have flown that flag on the ship to publicly voice our enthusiasm in keeping this vessel in Toledo," Mr. LaMarre said.
The Niagara was last in Toledo during the 2003 Huntington Tall Ships Festival. Because of lower-than-expected attendance and a heavier-than-needed security presence, the group that sponsored the event - International Park of Toledo Inc. - lost more than $150,000.
The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority's board of directors last month agreed to take responsibility for the Boyer after the city said it couldn't afford to fund the ship because of its current budget crisis.
It is still unresolved, however, whether the port authority would lease the ship from the city, or leave that to the nonprofit advisory board that recently was re-established to support the former freighter, Mr. LaMarre said.
It can cost $15,000 to $40,000 to sail the Niagara from its home port in Erie, Pa., to other ports nationwide, said Julie Gladitz, administrative secretary for the Flagship Niagara League.
Frank Melhorn, a lawyer at Marshall & Melhorn in downtown Toledo, who started the ball rolling in getting the Niagara to Toledo, declined to comment on how much it's costing to bring the historic war vessel here because of the varying prices charged to each port.
He did say, "It's not cheap."
Much of the support is being provided by local sponsors, including ProMedica Health Systems, FirstEnergy, the Hylant Group, and The Blade.
Despite the cost, bringing in the Niagara may boost community support for the Boyer. Just 2,500 people toured the Boyer last year, Mr. LaMarre said.
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