Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Toledo museum ship only days away from regaining 1911 name


The S.S. Willis B. Boyer is to be rechristened the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker on July 1. The ceremony will kick off a weekend of events that will feature public tours and a boxing match on deck.

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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At 11:30 a.m. on July 1, 1911, Gretchen V. Schoonmaker smashed a bottle of champagne against the bow of the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker, christening the ship in her father’s name.

On July 1, at precisely the same time, Colonel Schoonmaker’s grandson, James M. Schoonmaker II, and his wife Treecie will do the exact same thing 100 years later on the bow of the newly renovated freighter, proving that history often comes full circle.

Rechristening the ship, better known to Toledoans as the S.S. Willis B. Boyer, will kick off a weekend of events that will feature public tours of the vessel, a boxing match on deck, and Toledo’s Independence Day fireworks show on July 3. The War of 1812 privateer Lynx will be on hand as well, making a special trip to Toledo to salute the Schoonmaker and then offer tours and sailing trips during the weekend.

But because of persistent rains that have slowed work on the Schoonmaker, it will close again afterward and will not reopen to the public until Aug. 1, said Paul C. LaMarre III, the museum ship’s executive director.

Sandblasting in preparation for the vessel’s repainting into the orange and green of the Shenango Furnace Co. began April 4, and for at least 40 of the next 55 days, Toledo had rain, Mr. LaMarre said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see more pictures from the S.S. Boyer.

But the cosmetic restoration has been thorough, with the old Boyer paint sandblasted to the bare metal before repainting. Several local companies have donated thousands of dollars’ worth of labor and materials to the effort, and James Schoonmaker II, a retired Florida businessman, is contributing $100,000 in cash.

Colonel Schoonmaker, the youngest colonel in the U.S. Civil War and a Medal of Honor winner, later became heavily involved in mining, banking, and railroads in western Pennsylvania.

Also attending the rechristening will be William P. Snyder III, the grandson of William P. Snyder, who as president of Shenango Furnace 100 years ago chose the ship’s name, and Willis B. Boyer II, the son of the Republic Steel executive for whom Cleveland-Cliffs renamed the vessel.

The Saturday evening boxing match, to be hosted by the Toledo Club, will commemorate the 1919 heavyweight championship in Toledo’s Bay View Park between Jess Willard and Jack Dempsey. The Toledo Club and The Blade will co-sponsor the July 3 fireworks.

The ship’s time as the Boyer, the name Cleveland-Cliffs gave it after buying it in 1969, will be preserved in onboard exhibits, Mr. LaMarre said.

“That chapter of her history will not be lost. We know she will always be the Boyer to many people, and we want to continue to relate that history,” he said.

Next year, the vessel is to be moved from its current dock in International Park to the National Great Lakes Maritime Museum under development at the Toledo Maritime Center in the Marina District. That move, Mr. LaMarre said, will enhance the telling of the Schoonmaker’s story by putting it into context.

“I think bringing the vessel’s history full circle will give us the opportunity to reinvigorate the story of the Great Lakes,” Mr. LaMarre said. “In our ever-advancing society, we rarely reflect enough on history.”

Contact Sara Felsenstein at: or 419-724-6050.

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