Archive for the 'History' Category

The USS Lake Erie gets a new home

 

MarcNanBurrUSSLakeErieDuring this past year’s Historic Weekend, (now known as Perry’s Victory Heritage Festival) Perry Group President Marc Burr and his wife Nan were invited to fly to Los Angeles to be aboard the USS Lake Erie by XO Gonzalez when the USS Lake Erie was repositioned from Pearl Harbor (via Los Angeles) to San Diego for a refit. After the refit, the Lake Erie will make San Diego it’s permanent new homeport after 20 years in Pearl Harbor.

 

Thanks to Glenn Cooper, the Perry Group has had a long and wonderful history with the USS Lake Erie that has built long term friendship with the Captain(s) and crew of the ship.

 

Back in 1987 Captain Glenn Cooper, as you may or may not know, decided to submit an idea for the future name of the soon to be built ship. Glenn told me how he was in Florida and happened to be reading a book about Navy ships. As he perused the book Glenn realized that the Ticonderoga class Navy ships were named for important US Naval battles.

So Glenn took the initiative to follow up on this idea, and enlisted the help of then Put-in-Bay School Principal Kelly Faris and Superintendent Dick Lusardi. Together they composed a letter to Senator John Glenn on why the ship should be named Lake Erie based on the heroic efforts of Oliver Hazard Perry and his men in the Battle of Lake Erie. John Glenn, who was on the committee that had oversight on Navy projects was able to present the idea to the Navy command.

 

According to “uscarrier.net”, the USS Lake Erie (CG 70) was the 24th Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser built and was named by Perry Group advisory board member Glenn Cooper for the decisive USN victory in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Her keel was laid at Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, on March 6, 1990, and she was launched on July 13, 1991. The ship was christened by Mrs. Margaret Meyer, the wife of Rear Adm. Wayne E. Meyer. Capt. William H. Parks, Jr., was the prospective commanding officer. Several members of the Put-in-Bay community were on hand for that ceremony.

 

May 12, 1993 The Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Lake Erie departed Bath Iron Works for the last time. July 9, PCU Lake Erie arrived in its homeport of Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after a 57-day transit from Bath, Maine and on July 24, 1993 USS Lake Erie was commissioned during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

 

The Battle of Lake Erie is very significant to the US Navy and this important connection to US Naval History and the Navy’s adoption of Perry’s motto “Don’t Give Up the Ship” has made the USS Lake Erie the pride of the Pacific fleet. Glenn Cooper has fostered a strong bond with the crew and leadership of the USS Lake Erie with the Perry Group and Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial over the years.

 

If you’re heading to San Diego, the public is encouraged to go visit the USS Lake Erie while in dry dock. Glenn Cooper and the Perry Group’s long-term commitment to the officers and the crew of the ship is very evident and it has made the USS Lake Erie solid connection not just to history but to a community a standout among the fleet.

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Jessie Elliott, villain or victim?

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Jessie Duncan Elliott

Now that all the festivities are over, related to the Battle of Lake Erie, I wanted to take one last look at the controversy surrounding Captain Jessie Duncan Elliott, who captained the Brig Niagara during most of the Battle of Lake Erie. Born in Hagerstown Maryland in 1782, Elliot enlisted as a midshipman in 1804 at the age of 22. He rose through the ranks quickly to Lieutenant and in 1810 was given charge of building up a fleet on Lake Erie. In October of 1812, serving under Captain Nathan Towson, Elliott distinguished himself in an intense battle with the British fleet near Fort Erie. Together, Elliot and Towson captured both the HMS Caledonia and Detroit. (The Caledonia would later be an important part of Perry’s fleet.)

Jessie Elliott was decorated by congress for his actions and promoted to Commandant. Unfortunately for him, Oliver Hazard Perry had been given the same promotion only a month earlier and was given command of the Lake Erie Fleet construction effort. Elliot was then made Perry’s second in command. Upon completion of the two identical brigs, Elliot was given command of the Niagara.

On the day of the battle, Perry issued three commands to his fleet’s captains; stay in line, don’t overtake the boats ahead of you, and don’t engage with the enemy until you’re in range. The wind was light as the battle began, but increased and shifted favoring the US fleet. Perry, aboard the Lawrence led the attack, while Elliott on the Niagara brought up the rear. British artillery pummeled the Lawrence while the Niagara remained largely out of range until Perry transferred his command to the Niagara and won the day.

Looking back on the outcome of the battle, we need to remember that Perry and Elliot took quite different paths on the way to the 10th of September 1813. Of course we know Oliver Hazard Perry came from a privileged Rhode Island family with a long line of distinguished Naval service. Young Perry’s unconventional approach to command had branded him as brash, yet brave. His family’s political and financial connections assured him of command even after his fateful loss of the USS Revenge and subsequent court martial proceedings.

Meanwhile, already fighting the British here on the Great Lakes, Jessie Elliot continued to distinguish himself in a series of key battles and skirmishes. According to Wikipedia, he was transferred to Lake Ontario, and served under Commodore Isaac Chauncey on board the flagship USS Madison and took part in the Battle of York in April of 1813 and the Battle of Fort George later that May. This all led up to his assignment as second in command under Perry in July of 1813. Elliott had earned his way up through the ranks. He had extensive combat experience but was publicly critical of Perry’s decision to use Presque Isle to construct the fleet. Being second in command to OH Perry may have been a very tough pill to swallow for Elliott.

So when Perry rowed from the Lawrence to the Niagara and relieved Elliott of his command late in the Battle that September 10th, what ensued was a 30 year controversy over the exact reasons why Elliott hung back during the battle. Was it insubordination, lack of communication, or was Elliott simply following orders? We know Elliott continued to distinguish himself in service well after the Battle of Lake Erie. He was later commended, in writing, by Perry for his efforts during the battle.

In 1833 Elliott was appointed Commander of the Boston Navy Yard and then the Mediterranean Fleet in 1835. He had some issues with junior officers in 1838, (he may not have been that popular back in Washington), but in 1843 President John Tyler still thought highly enough of Jessie Elliott to appoint him Commander of the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Elliott died in December of 1845 and was buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery, near the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

In 2012 Jessie Duncan Elliott’s unmarked grave was rediscovered. Marc Burr, President of the Perry Group, and funeral director, happened onto the interesting story of Elliot’s final resting spot. According to Samuel Ricks, Graves Registrar Pennsylvania Division Sons of Confederate Veterans, he is in an unremarkable grave, part of a Naval Asylum plot in Pennsylvania.

Interestingly, the Naval Asylum Plot is a National Cemetery plot owned and “maintained” by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) inside an abandoned private cemetery, Mount Moriah.  The Naval Plot has 5 sections with approximately 1,900 Navy and Marine graves from the Revolutionary War (Continental Navy) through the Korean War.

The Naval Asylum Plot is situated in the back of an abandoned cemetery, an “oasis surrounded by jungle”.  The VA cuts the grass.  There is not even a flagpole with a US Flag flying.  Many of the grave markers are illegible.  Elliot is buried in the “Officer’s Plot,” Naval 5, Grave 1(GPS: 39.93687 N, -75.23899 W) at the Naval Asylum Plot inside the Yeadon, Delaware County side of Mount Moriah Cemetery (which spans two counties).

 

Marc Burr and the Perry Group think that regardless of what you may believe about Jessie Duncan Elliott, he deserves a proper marker for his grave. Marc has begun the process to get approval to have a new grave marker commissioned and installed at Elliott’s grave. Members of The Perry Group are making plans to visit Mount Moriah, to oversee the installation of the gravestone on the way to the Bicentennial events at Fort McHenry (Baltimore) September 12-14. If you would like to join us on this once in a lifetime trip email me at battleoflakeerie@gmail.com

 

Where’s home for Perry’s Longboat?

Over the next few years Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial is likely to see many changes. Hopefully, more renovations, updated exhibits and new expanding interpretive opportunities with Perry’s Longboat will be part of those changes. But as budgets tighten and personnel shift to support the other “year round War of 1812” site at River Raisin our efforts at the Perry Group will be doubly focused on the opportunities to support our own Monument’s Mission here on South Bass Island.

After such an incredible bicentennial year last year, I am certain this summer will seem relatively quiet. While we always seem to enjoy five very busy months every year, this year Lake Erie Shores and Islands (our regional tourism board) has produced a new promotional campaign called “Lake Erie Love”. (http://youtu.be/el_wvc3X7p4) The ads, billboards and commercials are scored with a catchy new tune sung by emerging country star Walker Hayes. The TV ads prominently feature the Monument grounds and observation deck. Mark my words, it won’t be long before you’ll be humming this tune and answering the age old question, “which way to the monument?”

I am hoping that this exciting campaign will keep visitation strong during this transitional year. And 2015 looks to be another very busy summer with the 100th Anniversary of the Perry’s Monument Opening in 1915, perhaps a Tallship or two as part of the final observances of the War of 1812, but when 2015 is over the Monument will enter a new phase of its mission.

With no major anniversary events to plan for in the near future after 2015 we will need to sharpen the focus on the important story of International Peace. Last year we stimulated lots of interest about the history of the island, Commodore Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie and we need to keep that message visible and accessible. But to keep the park vital and growing The Perry Group hopes to work along with other interested civic groups to design, site and construct a new multifunctional building on the parks grounds.

We have been told that in this new very fiscally tight congressional era, where every dollar spent needs to be justified, and seasonal parks like Perry’s Victory will be challenged to maintain their existing services and personnel. Our mission is to not only design a building that adds to the scope of the monuments mission, but plays a vital role in its future and most importantly will be sustainable.

Sustainability is the critical part of this project. The original idea was born out of a discussion to find a dry covered place for the Perry’s Longboat to be on display during the season. What seemed like a simple idea to “build a garage” has become far broader in scope, perhaps also housing the Carronade, archives, and providing offices for personnel currently located in the older deteriorating former homes that remain on park grounds.

Designing a building that augments the interpretive opportunities and archive accessibility is our dream. Imagine being able to have the longboat and carronade accessible to the public regardless of weather through the entire season. Maybe we could create an environment/library for historical research and perhaps even a small museum for some of the amazing artifacts that remain out of view to the public. The potential is huge, but the challenges to seeing this happen are many. One thing is certain in this new era Perry’s Victory will change and grow if we work together to make it a valuable part of a changing National Park Service priority.

Changes at the monument

Changes at the monument

The Golden Rule, America’s First Peace Boat

Veterans For Peace Golden Rule Project

Veterans For Peace Golden Rule Project

“Thinking outside the box” is an often written and spoken accolade applied to Oliver Hazard Perry for defeating the British in the Battle of Lake Erie. He did not follow the “engagement” conventions of the day. Inspired, his men continued to fight until the Lawrence was just too damaged to continue. Perry refused to give up, transferred his command from Lawrence to the Niagara and won the day. We still marvel at his tenacity, bravery and strategy. The 1958 efforts of the four sailors aboard the 30-foot ketch “Golden Rule” known as America’s First Peace Boat, shares a very similar, albeit less known, result of challenging and defeating powerful opponents in an unconventional way.

 

It was the summer of 1958 and the world was caught up in the tensions of the cold war. According to the “Golden Rule” web site (http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-golden-rule ) “Horrified by the ongoing, open-air nuclear bomb tests and the threat of nuclear war, the four-man crew of the “Golden Rule” sailed from California toward the Marshall Islands. Their intention, publicized around the world, was to nonviolently place their bodies in the way of planned nuclear bomb blasts.”

 

These four brave men sailed aboard the “Golden Rule” from Honolulu harbor towards the testing area. They were stopped and arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard before they could get to the test site. However, the publicity surrounding their arrest, trial and imprisonment helped ignite public outrage against aboveground nuclear weapons testing and their efforts alerted the world to the health hazards of nuclear testing fallout.

 

Thanks in part to the “Golden Rule”, in 1963; the Partial Test Ban Treaty was enacted, banning above-ground nuclear testing by the two Superpowers. Several years later the voyage of the “Golden Rule” and her crew inspired a similar anti-nuclear voyage by another bold group that would eventually become known as Greenpeace.

 

After the Battle of Lake Erie, the Niagara and Lawrence found themselves useless relics of war. They were both left neglected and finally scuttled. Like the Brig Niagara, the “Golden Rule” (which was passed on from owner to owner for many years) became neglected and finally sank in Humboldt Bay, near Eureka California. Left for salvage, boat yard owner Leroy Zerlang realized it was something to save and pulled it up on shore. He stabilized the hull and donated it the local Veterans for Peace group.

 

I would never have known anything about the “Golden Rule” if it had not been for friend, Sandusky Maritime volunteer and Perry’s Longboat rower AJ “Skip” Oliver of Sandusky. Skip, who is a Viet Nam War veteran, member of Veterans For Peace, sailor, and retired Heidelberg University professor, followed his convictions to Eureka California to help reconstruct the infamous anti-nuclear peace boat “Golden Rule” back in 2011.

 

Skip was one of our first Longboat volunteers and rowers. Last spring he jumped right in and started sanding and painting the longboat as we worked feverishly to get it ready for the summers events. His countless hours of time and effort to help finish our Perry Longboat underscored his dedication to boating history. He challenged us all to think about the connections between Perry’s actions in war and the ultimate peace we enjoy as part of the legacy of that bloody battle of 1813. I don’t know if his work on “Golden Rule” propelled Skip’s interest in boat building and restoration but we want to return the favor on his “Golden Rule” project.

 

Skip’s efforts to raise money and awareness about the “Golden Rule” is proof that our efforts do matter, that the time we spend centered on our convictions is what we today call “the purpose driven life” not so very dissimilar to the convictions of young OH Perry in the War of 1812. Unlike Perry and the Niagara, the “Golden Rule” never physically fired a shot, but it did strike a major blow and won a victory we still honor today.

 

Courtesy of the Albert Bigelow Papers, Swarthmore College Peace Collection

Courtesy of the Albert Bigelow Papers, Swarthmore College Peace Collection

The longboat is a visual icon of Perry’s bravery. We all enjoyed being apart of the longboat project and the peace it continues to symbolize. The “Golden Rule” is also an icon of peace. There is an opportunity to once again be a part of history. Help Veterans for Peace launch the “Golden Rule’ again. If your interested help us to restore the “Golden Rule”.  Please visit the Indiegogo website http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-golden-rule and make a donation today.

The HMS Detroit Reborn

This is the story of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, Rhode Island’s First Tall Ship. In August of 2008 after a 25 year long struggle to build a 19th century tall ship to promote local tourism, our sister city of Amherstburg Ontario finally had to let go of its tightly held dream of completing construction on a full scale replica of the 19th century ship HMS Detroit. A ship originally built at the Royal Navy Yard in Amherstburg in 1812.

In the final years of the Canadian project, the city of Amherstburg and some local businessmen had provided sizable loans and grants to keep the project moving forward. The hull had cost nearly $1.2 million (Canadian) to build but the organizers were unable to secure commitments for the additional $4-5 million to complete the project.

ImageSo it sat languishing in a local shipyard for three years. Eventually the project’s board of directors disbanded leaving businessman Ryan Deslippe to salvage or sell the steel hull.

Then as luck would have it a group from Newport Rhode Island heard about the stalled project and came to take a look. They liked what they saw, made an offer and purchased the Detroit for $339,000. Deslippe felt that this was the best chance to see the efforts of his community to build a new tall ship realized. The completed hull was towed from its LaSalle berth at Dean Construction north of Amherstburg to a shipyard in northern Rhode Island. Was it irony or providence?

When Oliver Hazard Perry defeated Commodore Robert Barclay and the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie September 10th 1813, the captured HMS Detroit was so badly damaged that it was never able to be used again. It sat in Put-in-Bay’s harbor for the winter and was eventually towed to Erie, PA. It was re-commissioned the USS Detroit but was ultimately sold for scrap in 1825, according to a well-footnoted reference article in Wikipedia.

Canadians might look at the second loss of the HMS Detroit as blow to their maritime heritage and proud defense of Canada during the War of 1812. But 2008 was a difficult time not only in the States, but also across North America as our nation and Canada were sinking into an economic recession we have yet to fully recover from.Image

The group from Newport, The Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island Organization, had a vision for building a ship with a mission of sea education. Of course the present day costs for such an undertaking are astronomical, but if any place had a chance to pull this off it had to be OH Perry’s home state of Rhode Island and the City of Newport.

So with the help of the State of Rhode Island they pushed forward. The Canadian HMS Detroit hull was a wonderful opportunity to move their efforts forward in dramatic fashion. Newport Rhode Island, the future home of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, rallied to get this project done. Their current stated mission:

Oliver Hazard Perry is the Rhode Island built Tall Ship providing our state and nation with a 200-foot long, three-masted Sailing School Vessel that joins the select fleet of Class-A size Tall Ships hosted by the world’s maritime nations. With this extraordinary ship we provide education and adventure at sea programs to youth and all ages while proudly advancing our Ocean State’s rich nautical heritage. www.ohpri.org

 

Here in Ohio, we had all secretly hoped that the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry would have been able to join us for the Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial Labor Day weekend. The ship was commissioned in a ceremony last July, but still needed much work to go to sea. This summer the OH Perry will embark on its stated mission with middle and high school aged children now able to sign up for a week long program aboard the ship in August.

ImageFor many the next most important part of this story will be the presence of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry in Baltimore for the “Star Spangled Spectacular”, The War of 1812 Battle of Baltimore observance September 6th-16th  at Fort McHenry.  Plans are being made to have the Oliver Hazard Perry in the Great Lakes as part of the Tall Ships America Challenge in 2016. I think it can be argued that despite the irony of the ships name change, we can all be proud of the Canadian efforts to build such a beautiful hull that will be underway thanks to Rhode Island as a sailing tall ship in 2014. Let’s welcome her home in 2016.

For more information on the sea education program aboard the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry contact Jess Wurzbacher at 401.841.0080, or at jess@ohpri.org

Row, Row, Row Our Boat

www.putinbaystudios.com

Photo by Susan Byrnes

As I sit here looking out my window, drifting snow, plows and frigid air make warm weather rowing races a distant ambition. One of my regrets from last year’s bicentennial celebration was not having the 100th anniversary running of the “Commodore Perry Cup”, a ”whaleboat” rowing race championship. You might remember that an alert reader, Paul Polk from Virginia, contacted me last year about the rowing races in 1913 that were part of the bicentennial. He wrote asking for information about the story behind the black and white photograph of his grandfather Manley Smelzer Sullivan standing in his Naval Militia uniform next to three large trophies he had won in rowing championships. He explained to me that his grand father had been on the team from South Carolina that had come to “Put-in Island” to compete in the “Commodore Perry Cup”.

In 1913 the US Naval Militia sponsored 4,6 and 10 man rowing races as part of Bicentennial celebrations. Regional competitions were held and nine championship crews came to South Bass to race. One hundred years after the Battle of Lake Erie, rowing was still one of the most important skills for sailors. We know Perry’s famous transfer from the Brig Lawrence to the Brig Niagara might never have been completed if his men weren’t great rowers.

Last year ten intrepid men and two women volunteered to learn how to row the longboat. We had spent much time getting the boat built and painted, but only a few short practice days learning to row before we had the christening on Father’s Day in Sandusky,

Thankfully, Wesley Heerssen, Captain of the Brig Niagara offered to give us “crash” rowing lessons in early June. Unlike a small dinghy or kayak, rowing a longboat takes coordination, rules, directional commands and ultimately someone to understand and broadcast the commands effectively. (That person is called a cox or coxswain). Today rowing is a great form of exercise, a way to get on the water and for our longboat crew a “re-enactors” chance to perform a skill and be part of a living history team.

Many small maritime groups around the country have set up open or invitational rowing competitions. One Museum in Massachusetts sponsors a signature-rowing race called the “Snow Row” that happens the second week in March. Their race has five boat categories: workboats, livery boats, coxed boats, ocean kayaks, and ocean shells

It covers a 3 3/4 mile triangular course starting from a gravel beach. Huge crowds gather on the beach to watch a LeMans-style start and one-of-a-kind gathering of boats and athletes. A high-speed ferry follows the racecourse, giving spectators a front row seat view of the event. It is a rare opportunity to see rowers of all ages and a wide ranging array of wooden pulling boats — peapods, dories, wherries, whitehalls, ocean shells, kayaks, pilot gigs, captain’s gigs, and Irish currachs all in one place.

Paul emailed me again that he has the trophy cleaned up. He is hoping that there might be a chance to come next summer and see a re-dux of the “oared whaleboat race” for the Naval Militia US Championship” also known as the  “Commodore Perry Cup”. And so do I. It would be wonderful to invite rowing teams from across the region, heck from across the country to come back to Put-in-Bay.  We have a boat to race, now all we need is a race to enter and a crew. If rowing and being part of a team sounds like fun, let me know. The time has come that we pursue this dream and challenge the world.

PS Next month (Saturday March 1) I will be giving a talk about the longboat we built at the Sandusky Maritime Museum. I am hoping to entice a few audience members to try rowing, come join us.

A Star Spangled Year Ahead

A wonderful story about the winter after the Battle of Lake Erie came my way the other day from Captain Glenn Cooper, who by the way will be honored by the Surface Navy Association in Washington DC this January for his coordination efforts with Navy officials for the 2012-13 BOLE events. Congratulations Glenn and thank you for all your hard work to make our celebration truly memorable. Glenn’s story about Put-in-Bay after the battle came from a recent visit to the Erie Maritime Museum.

Seems that over the winter of 1813-14 snuggled in our harbor here at Put-in-Bay were the HMS Detroit and Queen Charlotte. The two ships became frozen in and were defended by a cadre of Perry’s men; for fear that the British might retake them. The two ships had suffered considerable damage to their standing rigging during the battle and when a storm hit the islands just after the battle it further damaged their weakened rigs. In fact the hulls of the two boats banged against each other until finally the unstable masts were knocked down. With General Harrison ready to retake Detroit there was not enough time for the Americans to even consider re-rigging the ships for future service.

The two ships remained here in the Put-in-Bay harbor until the following spring. The Queen Charlotte and the Detroit were eventually laid up in Erie, Pennsylvania. In 1825, the Queen Charlotte was sold to George Brown and was converted to a merchant vessel before being decommissioned years later. The HMS Detroit, which had only been put into service a few months before the Battle of Lake Erie, was so badly damaged that it never saw service again and was eventually sold for scrap.

Meanwhile the war slogged on and Perry worked under the command of Harrison to retake Detroit. After the Americans won the Battle of Thames in October, and William Henry Harrison had secured the American Northwest (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan) the need for an active Navy fleet here in the Western basin of Lake Erie was all but eliminated.

Perry was promoted to Captain and given the Congressional Gold medal in January of 1814. In July 1814, Captain Perry was offered command of the USS Java, a 44-gun frigate being built in Baltimore. While overseeing the outfitting of the Java, Perry participated in the defenses of Baltimore and Washington, DC during the British invasion of the Chesapeake Bay.

This coming summer the focus on War of 1812 events will shift to Baltimore and the siege of Fort McHenry. This fort withstood an all out attack by British forces. It was the key stronghold held by the American troops that defended Baltimore and Washington from further attack. When we think about the lost lives and the important events that shaped our young country the Battle of Lake Erie and the defense of Fort McHenry rank very high.

I am certain that what we will most remember the upcoming summer for are these words from the first paragraph of “The Defense of Fort McHenry” by Francis Scott Key.

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Finally the Battle of Lake Erie Photo book “Remembering Forward” with beautiful award winning photos of the past summers events is available. Only 100 of these books were printed and almost half are already sold. Purchase one soon by going to www.theperrygroup.org. Happy New Year.Image

Lost and (Waiting to be) Found (Jane’s Missing Essay)

Time Capsule

On July 4th over two thousand Free Masons from Ohio, surrounding states and Canada will gather in Put-in-Bay to re-enact the cornerstone laying at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. Exactly one hundred years ago the Battle of Lake Erie Centennial Celebration commenced with this important event. It was the culmination of many years of fund raising by the Perry’s Monument Commission to construct a lasting legacy to Commodore Perry and the men who had fought in the Battle of Lake Erie.

The remains (or so the story goes) of the three American and three British officers buried under the old willow tree in DeRivera Park were exhumed, placed in a coffin and transported to the monument as part of the centennial tribute.

It was a solemn and well-documented day. Otto Herbster, island photographer hired to record the monuments construction, captured many of the details of that day. One important part of that ceremony was the placement of a time capsule in the monument to be found and opened one hundred years later.

We have the pictures of Webster Huntington carrying the fabled time capsule to the corner stone laying ceremony with the unknown and precious contents about to be sealed away for a century. Small problem, no one today seems to know exactly where the time capsule was placed or what the contents might be. Was the box filled with pictures, local souvenirs, or something else?

This is the story about the possible contents of that missing time capsule. Flash back to March of this year when I got an email from Tim Bosworth about his grandmother Jane Beach Hummon’s deathbed story, and her wining essay, and our missing time capsule.

His information is cobbled from family lore, fading memories and may not be correct at all, but the family story he shared is that when turning 100 Tim’s Grandmother, Jane Hummon (Beach was her maiden name) dictated memories of her life, which were compiled into a book for the family.  Growing up, Tim had always heard that an essay she wrote was in a time capsule at Perry’s monument.  The account she gave in her memiours reads as follows:
 
“During our Junior year the superintendent (of her school) suggested that we* participate in a statewide essay contest commemorating Admiral Perry’s battle on Lake Erie.  We spent a lot of time studying about the event and reading all the literature and history we could find.  When the awards were announced Grace (Purnell)* had won first place in the state and I won second place.  When Perry’s Monument was erected that summer on Put-in-Bay Island, our essays were buried in the cornerstone, which is to be opened… on the 200th anniversary of that historic battle.”
  
Tim found several references to the essay contest on the Internet. The idea of a winning essay seemed plausible. In my research on the contest I found that a prize of $200 was offered to the winning essay. But there was no mention of any essays being buried in a time capsule at the monument. More research revealed that there were hundreds of essays submitted.

The winners at the state level are listed in one article, but, alas, neither Jane Beach nor Grace Purnell were mentioned.  All in all, there were 78 prizes awarded by district (congressional district) and at the state levels so perhaps these girls placed in the more local contest. 

The rules of the contest indicated that the winning essay would be read as part of the Centennial ceremony in November. It also stated that all the essays would be part of a “museum” exhibit to be constructed as part of the monument. Unfortunately that part of the design was never acted on and the whereabouts of the 78 winning essays is as unknown as the contents of the mysterious time capsule. Jane’s essay is still lost and waiting to be found. 

Mystery of the Deep

Last year, on a beautiful Sunday morning in September, about a hundred history lovers headed out of Put-in-Bay harbor aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Ice Breaker Tug Katmai Bay. Our mission was to put a specially designated buoy at the site where the Battle of Lake Erie took place 199 years prior.  We used the logs and scholarly assessments of historians and archeologists to determine the nearly exact location for the buoy. That spot is now charted and published on the official 2013 Coast Guard charts of Lake Erie. (41-44-50.00 N, 083-02-00.00 W)

But another site, a sacred and forgotten one, not far from where the battle played out 200 years ago remains a mystery. The watery burial site of the men who sailed aboard both the American and British vessels September 10th 1813 that lost their lives defending liberty and their country’s honor.

The custom of the day was to place the deceased sailors in their webbed hammock or an old sail loaded down with cannon shot. Bound tightly they were lowered over the side and ceremonially  “interred “ in Burial at seaDavy Jones locker. Resting together in an unmarked grave, the men drifted along the bottom, eventually being covered by mud and decomposing algae.

In the years that followed, some random reports later surfaced from Pelee, Marblehead and Cleveland noting that some or (maybe just one) British sailor had washed ashore. According to recorded accounts, the British had not followed such a strict process for sending off their dead perhaps leading to these sightings. Perry had insisted that the 6 officers, 3 British and 3 American, aboard that day be brought into Put-in-Bay and buried in a more traditional style near the present day cannon ball memorial in what would be come DeRivera Park.

No additional substantiated reports of bodies washing ashore from their lake grave were reported again for the next hundred years. In 1913 as part of the Centennial celebration the Brig Niagara was raised from its scuttled grave in Erie, reconstructed and towed to the site of the battle for a solemn remembrance of the lost sailors. In recent years this moving ceremony had been carried out with a wreath laying ceremony on, or around September 10th.

As we know sometimes nature and time have a way of reminding us of what history books have forgotten or left unwritten. A few years back as this summer’s bicentennial approached we started to wonder where the exact whereabouts of those brave and fallen sailors and soldiers might be. Was it possible after such a long time had passed that we might find their actual grave and honor them in a known and marked grave designation?

NOAA reported that on March 8th, “The remains of two unknown USS Monitor sailors, recovered by NOAA and the U.S. Navy in 2002 from the ship’s gun turret, were buried, with full military honors, at Arlington National Cemetery. USS Monitor sank in a New Year’s Eve storm just over 150 years ago, carrying 16 crew members to their deaths.”

This report gave us a glimmer of hope. If these men’s remains could be found and partially identified maybe there was a chance that further research and surveys of the western basin of Lake Erie might yield a similar discovery.

Twenty years ago an island diver had privately identified the spot of the Battle of Lake Erie and dove repeatedly on the site bringing up artifacts and cannon shot which was turned over to the then Superintendent of Perry’s Victory. Unfortunately that diver today is in poor health and no specifics of his dive location were recorded.

According to Jim Wilson of Bay Area Divers (BAD) Tom Kowalczk got a grant through the Ohio Historical society to cover some of expenses that he incurred while running many hours of side scan sonar over the area where we think the battle took place.  Tom is part of the CLUE group that had discovered the Anthony Wayne and a few other important shipwrecks that have been featured in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Unfortunately, Tom’s efforts only yielded some ordinance from Camp Perry’s yearly target practice into Lake Erie. So we pursued the US Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). After a flurry of emails and a six-month effort we connected with Dr. Bob Neyland, Head of the Underwater Archeology Branch of NHHC. While he and several experts attached to the NHHC showed a flicker of interest in finding this site the “final” word on this matter came from Dr J.B. Thomas, Assistant Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, “the US Navy regards burial at sea as an honorable form of interment, the [current known} site serves as a military grave site and should be afforded the utmost respect and honor by remaining undisturbed”.

I am certain that it is only a matter of time, now that the battle site is properly marked, that a fisherman or diver will find that sacred spot again. Meanwhile, ‘Dont give up the ship’.

***Please join us, The Perry Group, The National Park Service and Sandusky Maritime Museum June 15th 10am at the Shelby Street boat basin in Sandusky for the culmination of a year of historic wooden boat building to christen the newly completed Commodore Perry’s longboat.

 

Know Change

Perry's 1814 Congressional Gold Medal Coin

Perry’s 1814 Congressional Gold Medal Coin

“Know Change” is one of those kitschy phrases that has made its way into our current inspirational dialog. But you can truly make change happen on Saturday April 20th amid fanfare, interested onlookers and a gaggle of numismatists. Commodore Perry will begin a new voyage through the purses, banks, pants pockets, and cash registers of America as the newest US quarter.

This was not the first time Perry’s likeness has graced a coin. In 1814 the US Congress minted a special gold coin medal with Perry’s likeness for his bravery and courage under fire in the Battle of Lake Erie. On the backside it said “Viam Invenit Virtus Aut Facit”, Valor finds a way.

Interestingly, the congress also created one for Jesse Elliot, who was the Captain of the Niagara as the battle began to unfold the morning of Sept 10th. Elliot is often left out of the discussion about the Battle of Lake Erie. There are virtually no towns or counties named after him. No stamps or Marble statues, or 350 ft high memorials. His story remains clouded in controversy on that important and fateful day.

The issuing of those coins in 1814 fanned a growing controversy between Perry and Elliot that emerged after the Battle was over. What we know is that in March of 1813, due to timing, Perry out ranked Elliot when Perry was given the commission to build the fleet in Erie. (They had both received recent promotions.) Both were decorated leaders on the rise among commissioned officers. Perry did an admirable job getting the fleet built a head of schedule, though he had ruffled some feathers in the process up the command chain.

As day broke on September 10th Perry was heading out to complete a task never done successfully before, to defeat the British Navy. Not just a single vessel, but an entire fleet. This was a heavy load on the shoulders of a young commandant. Perry issued his orders to the fleet. Stay in line, don’t overtake the ship in front of you, and don’t fire until you are with in range. Perry led the fleet aboard the Lawrence into Battle.

Shortly after the battle was over in a letter to his wife William Taylor, Perry’s Sailing master wrote “The Lawrence alone rec’d the fire of the whole British squadron 2 1/2 hours within pistol shot—we were not supported as we ought to have been. Captain Perry led the Lawrence into action & sustained the most destructive fire with the most gallant spirit perhaps that was ever witnessed under similar circumstances”.

 

With the Lawrence in tatters, Perry boarded the longboat we see in so many depictions and headed to the Niagara, which had lain back during the initial fight. As Perry assumed command aboard Niagara, Perry historian Gerard Altoff noted “The meeting between Elliott and Perry on the deck of Niagara was terse. Elliott inquired how the day was going. Perry replied, “Badly.” Elliot then volunteered to take Perry’s small boat and rally the schooners, and Perry acquiesced.”  Perry then ordered Niagara into the battle.

Jesse Elliot’s response to history’s criticism of his inaction, according to Naval History Magazine, was that there had been a lack of effective signaling. Court martial charges were filed but were not officially acted upon.

According to author David Curtis Skaggs, “friends and supporters mounted a campaign that attempted to restore Jesse Elliot’s honor. They embarked on a 30-year campaign that would outlive both Elliot and Perry and ultimately leave Elliot’s reputation in tatters.”

In the final tally, Elliot challenged Perry to a duel, though Perry refused to engage. Perry wrote a letter of commendation for Elliot that praised his valor. Still the smoldering fire of controversy continued. Finally Elliot  requested a court martial hearing.  He was found “not guilty”.

Today Oliver Hazard Perry’s courage and unconventional approach to the Battle is heralded and unchallenged. Perry remains a hero, he defended Elliot’s honor and ultimately was promoted to Commodore. There is “no change” in Perry’s place in history; we are privileged to share in the honor of his actions with this new coin. The US Mint quarter honors both Perry and the memorial, which was built to remember all who gave their lives to ultimately promote a new era of peace. The quarter release event starts at 11:30am at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial upper plaza. What a wonderful way to “change” history and be a part of the bicentennial celebration.


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