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Maritime artifacts formerly on Boyer need a new berth

  • Maritime-artifacts-formerly-on-Boyer-need-a-new-berth

    Bob Brooks and Harry Archer of the Western Lake Erie Historical Society look over the display items that now are stored at the former DeVilbiss facility on Phillips Avenue.

  • Maritime-artifacts-formerly-on-Boyer-need-a-new-berth-2

    The Willis B. Boyer museum ship had about 5,300 visitors in 2007, more than twice the number in 2006. It is still owned by the city of Toledo but managed by the port authority.

Maritime-artifacts-formerly-on-Boyer-need-a-new-berth

Bob Brooks and Harry Archer of the Western Lake Erie Historical Society look over the display items that now are stored at the former DeVilbiss facility on Phillips Avenue.

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The S.S. Willis B. Boyer museum ship may have had one of its better admissions seasons in recent years during 2007, but the ship models and other memorabilia once displayed there by a local historical group weren't along for the voyage.

Instead, the Western Lake Erie Historical Society is looking for a new home - preferably a cheap one, and at the least, one that's more convenient for public access than its current quarters in the former DeVilbiss plant on Phillips Avenue.

"We've got a large collection here, and we need a lot of space," said Howard Pinkley, head of the historical society's board of trustees, said while surveying the exhibits stored in what is now the I-75 Business Park.

"This is not the proper location. We've got to get on a first-floor level where we can get some visitors in and don't have to worry about stairs, or elevators that don't always work."

For years after a local group saved the Boyer from being scrapped, then sold the vessel to the city of Toledo, the historical society displayed its ship models, books, and collections of lanterns, life rings, and old outboard motors on board.

But after Paul LaMarre III became the museum ship's executive director, he decided it was time for the Western Lake Erie Historical Society to go ashore.

"It was a collection of maritime material, rather than pertinent maritime artifacts," said Mr. LaMarre, who was hired by the city of Toledo last year and is on the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority's payroll this year as it negotiates a takeover of the Boyer from the cash-strapped city.

Mr. LaMarre said he is "trying to create an experience" through which Boyer visitors learn what shipboard life was like during the vessel's heyday.

Maritime-artifacts-formerly-on-Boyer-need-a-new-berth-2

The Willis B. Boyer museum ship had about 5,300 visitors in 2007, more than twice the number in 2006. It is still owned by the city of Toledo but managed by the port authority.

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Exhibits now on display aboard the Boyer "are all pertinent to the history of the Boyer," he said.

"We're trying to create a personal attachment to the vessel."

Mr. LaMarre added that the historical society hastened its eviction by insisting on receiving 50 cents from every visitor admission to the Boyer, which charges $6 per person with discounts for children and seniors.

"The Boyer cannot afford to give away a single cent from our incoming revenue," Mr. LaMarre said.

Artifacts now on board are on free loan from the Great Lakes Historical Society in Vermilion, Ohio, he said.

About 5,300 people visited the Boyer during 2007, more than twice its admissions in 2006, Mr. LaMarre said.

The Boyer was the beneficiary of a stepped-up publicity campaign, in which The Blade participated, after the city announced it no longer would support the vessel financially after June.

So far, however, the ship remains city property even though the port authority has assumed its management.

Originally named Col. James M. Schoonmaker, the vessel was renamed Willis B. Boyer late in its career. It was the Great Lakes' largest ship for nearly three years after launching in 1911. The Boyer sailed until 1980, when its then-owner, Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Co., laid it up on a Toledo wharf.

Bob Brooks, who is leading the Western Lake Erie group's search for a new home, questioned Mr. LaMarre's wisdom in evicting its exhibits.

"That was the dumbest thing they ever did. Now people go in there and they say there's nothing to see," Mr. Brooks said.

But Mr. LaMarre said the Boyer itself is "the exhibit people come to see," not "a collection of miscellaneous items brought from miscellaneous donors."

And he challenged as "extremely uneducated" Mr. Brooks' assertion that the Boyer is in "such decrepit condition" that it ought to be sold for scrap at current high scrap-metal prices, and the proceeds used to obtain a smaller historic vessel that could be used for harbor tours.

"She actually is in better shape than some of the ships still sailing the Great Lakes today," Mr. LaMarre said, citing the results of a hull survey conducted during mid-2006.

Leaking rivets are typical for vessels of the Boyer's vintage, he said, and "all of our hull thicknesses are appropriate for our purposes."

Mr. Pinkley said the main thing he's concerned about is finding a new place for his society's exhibits - perhaps one in Point Place or the Marina District that would have a maritime setting and be convenient for public visitors.

But so far, he said, "We've looked at about four places, and we couldn't afford the rent. In brief, we're looking for a sugar daddy to help us along."

The museum's current quarters have been paid for with donations from the American Legion, Mr. Pinkley said, and the group has enough money to pay for a move if the right destination can be found.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.

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