Saturday, April 20, 2013

A New National Museum on the Toledo Waterfromt: The National Museum of the Great Lakes

Christopher Gillcrist, far left,, and chatting with audience members;
 Lynda Hoffman, interim director, Lifelong Learning at Lourdes; some slides
featuring  themes of  the new  National Museum of the Great Lakes; friend
Teddy Wilson holding copy of  Inland Seas, the quarterly magazine of
the Great Lakes Historical Society, which is in charge of creating the national museum.. 
Did you know that "Rosie the Riveter" worked at the Port of Toledo at some point during World War II?  We know the  iconic image, which was featured in the government's campaign to encourage women to join the workforce while their men went to war. We know that lots of Toledo and Ohio women went to work in ports, plants and factories during the war, millions of them nationwide. So Rosie was here for a time? It's an American story, a great story.     

That was the main message of Christopher Gillcrist's April 19th lecture at Lourdes University's Livelong Learning program. "Great Lakes history is American History....It's a national story."  

Gillcrist, executive director of the Great Lakes Historical Society and the upcoming National Museum of the Great Lakes, drove the point home. Almost 100 people listened intently as Gillcrist shared the rationale, purpose, plans and themes of the evolving new NATIONAL museum. 

And, guess what? The museum will be housed right here in downtown Toledo on the Maumee river, in a great building next to the old Acme Power Plant. It's a creative reuse of an existing but empty building.  It has some 16,000 square feet of space--a super exhibit venue, expansive and open, and a beautiful location. Gillcrist hopes the Museum will open in the fall of 2013 or Spring 2014. It sounds like it will become a great tourist destination, like the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland.

The Great Lakes compose 80% of the world's fresh water, Gillcrist told us, and comprise a major aspect of American maritime and industrial history, shipbuilding and transportation history, and the story of western migration.  "This is American history, and it hasn't gotten the attention it deserves."  The new Museum will make sure it does. 

Of course it is a national story comprised of lots of local stories that include the waterways, ports, cities and towns around the Great Lakes, including Toledo, Maumee, and Detroit.  In 1892, for example, 8 million people passed through the Port of Detroit, more than Chicago, Boston and New York together. Toledo was a major shipbuilding and transportation center through World War II, when  thousands of "Rosies" worked here. I imagined the strong image of Rosie the Riveter blown up to grand proportions, hovering over the museum!      
National Museum of the Great Lakes on the Maumee River,
downtown Toledo waterfront. image. 

Gillcrist showed slides demonstrating some of the major themes to be featured in exhibits and programs at the museum, and talked about Shipbuilding, Shipwrecks (we all knew about the Edmund Fitzgerald), Passenger Transportation and the creation of vacation travel, Port Activities, and Ship Records.  He noted that Bowling Green State University's "Great Lakes Maritime Collection" is one of the best in the world and an important resource. The new museum will focus on permanent and temporary maritime exhibits, with the mission of "educating and entertaining."  It's something to which we can all look forward!   

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