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Published: Saturday, 7/2/2011

Schoonmaker rechristened

Champagne spray marks new chapter in laker's life

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A hearty spray of champagne bursts from a broken bottle wielded by Treecie Schoonmaker, wife of James Schoonmaker II, far right, during yesterday's rechristening of the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker. A hearty spray of champagne bursts from a broken bottle wielded by Treecie Schoonmaker, wife of James Schoonmaker II, far right, during yesterday's rechristening of the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker.
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Alan Erickson had promised himself he wouldn't cry when the S.S. Willis B. Boyer museum ship was rechristened Friday to its original name, S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker, at Toledo's International Park.

But when steam whistles blew salutes to the century-old freighter after Treecie Schoonmaker smashed a champagne bottle on a handrail, Mr. Erickson said he wept anyway.

"As the Boyer, it didn't feel right. Now, it feels right," said Mr. Erickson, who was an oiler aboard the Schoonmaker during the 1961 and 1962 Great Lakes shipping seasons and traveled more than 500 miles to Toledo from Readlyn, Iowa, to witness its rechristening.

Mr. Erickson was one of several hundred who watched from shore, while ship volunteers and workers from P&W Painting Contractors stood by on board, as the retired lake freighter moored in Toledo since 1986 officially got its old name back -- 100 years almost to the moment of its launch in Toledo.

James M. Schoonmaker II, a grandson of the ship's namesake who donated $100,000 toward its cosmetic restoration, said he was "absolutely amazed" by the freighter's transformation from its somber gray Cleveland-Cliffs colors to the dark green and vivid orange of its original owner, the Shenango Furnace Co.

He last had seen the then-Boyer in 2007, when the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority had agreed to take over responsibility for the ship, then on the verge of abandonment or even scrapping because the city of Toledo could no longer afford its upkeep.

Now, he said, "She probably looks the same way she looked when she came down the ways. I was just so pleased."

The rechristening was followed by a cannon blast from the schooner Lynx, docked nearby at International Park for the freighter's centennial celebration, and then by the whistle signals, powered by a steam tractor, that represented the calls of famous Great Lakes steamships.

Treecie, Mr. Schoonmaker's wife, followed in the footsteps of his mother, Gretchen Schoonmaker, who as a child had christened the freighter at its launch in 1911.

"It was just wonderful to turn around and see the volunteers and the painters who made all this happen. It was special for both of us," Mrs. Schoonmaker said, noting that her main concern during the ceremony had been to swing the bottle hard enough, because there's "a lot of superstition about the bottle not breaking."

Paul LaMarre III, the museum ship's executive director, prefaced the ceremony by calling the rechristening "one of the most historic events in Great Lakes history" and the Schoonmaker itself much more than just "a piece of riveted steel."

Mr. Schoonmaker said the freighter's restoration would not have happened without the actions of Mr. LaMarre, who in turn thanked former port authority President James Hartung for championing its preservation before his agency's board of directors.

He also credited "countless supporters and volunteers" for their roles in rescuing the then-Boyer from scrapping in the mid-1980s and keeping it afloat in Toledo thereafter.

Lucas County Administrator Peter Ujvagi said East Toledo businessman and promoter Don Monroe deserved particular credit for the Boyer's initial preservation, which included raising $140,000 in donations and loans, later forgiven, to buy it off an intended Cleveland-Cliffs scrap-yard tow.

"Hopefully, we won't need to have another one [ship rescue]," Mr. Monroe said. "Today brought back memories of how we got the Boyer."

After noting that the Schoonmaker had been launched on "a very sunny, sultry, hot day" in 1911, Mr. LaMarre directed the rechristening to occur five minutes ahead of its 11:30 a.m. schedule because "everybody's so hot, and we didn't want anyone to have a heart attack up there."

During a luncheon reception afterward at the Toledo Club, Mr. LaMarre presented Mr. Schoonmaker with a three-foot scale model of the restored freighter that had been custom built as a model for the painting crews' reference, complete with its new homeport of Toledo listed on its stern.

 Russ Franzen sings during the rechristening of the SS Willis B. Boyer to SS Col. James M. Schoonmaker, at International Park in Toledo on Friday.  Watching from back left are, James M. Schoonmaker II,  Paul LaMarre, III, executive director of the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship, Treecie Schoonmaker, wife, of James, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, seated, and Chris Gillcrist, executive director of the Great Lakes Historical Society.  Russ Franzen sings during the rechristening of the SS Willis B. Boyer to SS Col. James M. Schoonmaker, at International Park in Toledo on Friday. Watching from back left are, James M. Schoonmaker II, Paul LaMarre, III, executive director of the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship, Treecie Schoonmaker, wife, of James, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, seated, and Chris Gillcrist, executive director of the Great Lakes Historical Society.
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Chris Gillcrist, executive director of the Inland Seas Maritime Museum in Vermilion, said that without Mr. LaMarre, "this boat would now be razor blades," then called its centennial "fundamentally about the future."

The restored Schoonmaker needs to be transformed from a maritime relic to a public institution that "educates, illuminates, and entertains," he said.

"This is the future. We're going to lose Great Lakes history if we don't do something," agreed Harold Shaw, whose father, Linwood Shaw, captained the Schoonmaker in 1944 and 1946.

Mr. Shaw said he had traveled from Indianapolis for the rechristening and donated 20 "home movies" his father had made of shipboard life during his Great Lakes sailing career.

Mr. Gillcrist's maritime museum has contracted with the port authority to move from Vermilion to the port-owned Toledo Maritime Center, off Front Street in the Marina District.

The Schoonmaker also would relocate there as a showcase exhibit.

The National Great Lakes Maritime Museum's opening has been pushed back, however, from an initial 2012 target to May, 2013.

The target date of 2012 was set early on, but has proven unrealistic because of the time needed to arrange for preparing the Schoonmaker's slip and to design other museum exhibits, Mr. Gillcrist said.

"We did not want to rush that process and come out with a less than superior product," he said.

The Schoonmaker is open through Sunday for public tours, after which it will be again closed until later this summer so that its cosmetic restoration, delayed for weeks this spring by rain, can be finished.

The Lynx, a re-created War of 1812 privateer visiting Toledo in conjunction with the Schoonmaker events, is offering deck tours and sailing excursions through Monday from a dock next to the freighter.

Admission to the Schoonmaker is free this weekend, while fees are charged for the Lynx tours and excursions.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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