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Toledo's new National Museum of the Great Lakes is a gem

NationalMuseum of the Great Lakes
NationalMuseum of the Great Lakes

Toledo, Ohio has a new museum attraction that is a 'must-see" for those who love all things nautical and for those who have grown up or lived by any of the five Great Lakes. Located along the banks of the Maumee River (about a half mile from the Lake Erie shore), the National Museum of the Great Lakes seeks to educate and entertain visitors of all ages about the Lakes region which is the largest source of fresh water in the world.

National Museum of the Great Lakes Costing $12 million dollars to build, the new educational and interactive museum opened its doors on April 26 of this year. The National Museum of the Great Lakes features more than 250 original artifacts of the Great Lakes, numerous audio-visual displays and it offers more than 40 hands-on exhibits that are geared for all ages.

When visitors arrive at the Museum they can view a 6 minute orientation film about the Great Lakes and then proceed through four exhibit sections of the museum including Exploration & Settlement, Expansion & Industry, Safeguard & Support and Shipwrecks & Safety.

Among some of the amazing artifacts to be found in the Museum are a life raft recovered from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the first gold "life-saving" medal awarded by the United States government, a 22-ton propeller from the lake freighter John Sherwin, a piece of the frame of the USS Niagara ( a ship that played a part in the U.S. victory in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812) and a 160 year old life saving boat from Kelleys Island (the oldest Great Lakes boat known to exist in its original form). Other artifacts include a second-order fresnel lighthouse lens and collectibles (including dinnerware) from passenger vessels.

The Museum also features hundreds of historic photographs and in the Shipwreck area, visitors can watch numerous fascinating underwater videos of various shipwreck sites.

Interactive displays include giving visitors the chance to stoke a steamship boiler with artificial coal, operate a real bilge pump and seek and find a shipwreck using clues from a newspaper article. One of the best interactive displays is a computer-simulated exploration of the wreck site of the Edmund Fitzgerald which sank in Lake Superior during a vicious storm in November, 1975. Guests get to take a lesson in running a simulated underwater submersible and then pilot the submersible (using a joy stick) to explore the Edmund Fitzgerald's final resting place.

The National Museum of the Great Lakes covers hundreds of years of history of the region from early explorers and fur traders in the 1600's to the rise of the shipping industry to the role of the Underground Railroad operators during the 1800's to the age of luxury passenger travel on the Great Lakes in the early 1900's and the liquor smugglers during Prohibition era in the 1930's.

Some Interesting Facts About the Great Lakes Did you know that the five Great Lakes have more than 8000 shipwrecks (nearly 1/3 of them occurring in Lake Michigan)? Did you know that Navy pilots during World War II trained on two Great Lakes passenger steamers that were converted into aircraft carriers? Well, now you do.

Make sure you also tour the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship docked outside right next to the National Museum of the Great Lakes. Once the largest freighters on the Great Lakes (when it was built in 1911), it carried iron ore, coal and other cargo from Duluth, Minnesota to Cleveland and other ports for the Shenango Furnace Company. It was sold and renamed in 1969 (Willis B. Boyer) and after 69 years of service, was retired in 1980.

The ship was restored and rechristened in 2011 and moved to the Toledo waterfront where it now serves as a museum.

Hours for the National Museum of the Great Lakes are 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday and noon - 5 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission for the museum only is $8 for adults and $7 for seniors and children. Admission for the museum and the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker museum ship is $12 for adults and $11 for seniors and children. Children 5 and under are free.

For more information about the National Museum of the Great Lakes call 419-214-5000 or get online at

The National Museum of the Great Lakes is located at 1701 Front St. in Toledo, Ohio. Toledo is approximately a 90 minute drive from Cleveland.

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