Starting Sept 5, Erie will host its second tallships festival, Tall Ships Erie 2013. It kicks off with the Parade of Sail when nine large masted ships – including our own Niagara – will cruise into Presque Isle Bay under full sail, and the city will undergo four days of festivities, lectures, music, and, of course, tall ships. It’s the culmination of a two-year long celebration of Erie’s role in history. Or, more specifically, Erie’s role in the War of 1812 and in a battle that took place on the lake, a battle that could not have been fought nor won without Erie – or more, a battle that birthed Erie.
“As individuals, we live on past triumphs, on high moments,” said Dr. William Garvey, president of the Jefferson Educational Society and a chair of the Perry 200 Commemoration, in a phone interview. “We need that as a nation, too.”
The Perry 200, of course, is the event series that brought you flag-raising ceremonies, picnics, music, history classes, pageantry, fireworks, and a very large parade, all in honor of Oliver Hazard Perry’s stunning defeat of a British fleet on Lake Erie on Sept. 10, 1813. Tall Ships Erie is the final act.
Besides the Niagara, Erie’s reconstruction of the brig that won the battle, other tall ships will populate our harbor. There’s the Friends Good Will, a reconstruction of the sloop that rushed off with Perry’s famous victory message after the battle, a ship less than half the length of the Niagara. There are the two reproductions of War of 1812 privateers, the topsail schooners the Lynx and the Pride of Baltimore II, both fast-sailing ships with masts leaning rakishly aft. There’s the converted Dutch fishing ship, the Unicorn, which now runs a sailing program for girls and women. There’s the St. Lawrence II, a Canadian brigantine; the Peacemaker, a barquentine built in Brazil; and the Appledore IV, a two-masted schooner that usually sails in Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay. And there’s the steel-hulled Sorlandet, the biggest ship in the festival, and, built in 1927, the world’s oldest full-rigged ship still sailing regularly. With its three masts and six banks of sail, she can spread as much as 13,000 square feet of canvas.
And for the second time in three years, the ships together will create a skyline of masts that hasn’t appeared regularly in our harbor in over a century.
This year, too, will be better than the last tall ships festival. Hosted in the Bayfront Convention Center, Tall Ships Erie 2013 will feature a video and lecture series sponsored by Mercyhurst University on maritime and historical topics relating to the Battle of Lake Erie. There’ll also be live music in the Labatt Blue Beer Garden at the convention center, mostly of maritime music from Captain Tom Kastle, the Hardtackers, Lee Murdock, and the Good for Nuthin String Band. And in the H.O. Hurt Auditorium in the Blasco Public Library, a collaboration between the Erie Playhouse, Gannon University, and the Flagship Niagara League brings Erie the play, “Fortunate Victory,” a dramatic adaptation of the events leading up to and including the battle.
“The first purpose,” said Garvey of Tall Ships Erie, “is to celebrate the fact that we have the Niagara. It’s expensive to maintain, the state supports less than half of it. Having tallship festivals every two or three years generates a lot of cash. That will keep the ship sailing.”
That’s the first and the most practical reason for hosting Tall Ships Erie. It’s a fundraiser for our city’s iconic ship. That’s the practical reason. There are other reasons, too. Ones you can’t count in ledger book, but reasons that have value nonetheless.
“It reminds people of the importance of the Niagara,” said Garvey, “and it does so dramatically. Without Perry’s victory, we wouldn’t be celebrating right now. Efforts do matter.
“The city’s pride stems from past successes. There’s a quote from Winston Churchill about England that I always thought pertained to cities, too. He said, ‘having once been great, we cannot endure being mediocre.’”
Erie was born in a singular and historic summer, one in which our city built a fleet of wooden ships and sent it off into danger. And, by doing so, won an important battle that helped shape the republic. This is our legacy. It’s our identity. And the tall ships – with their dramatic silhouettes, their walls of wood, the canvas and rope that hold them together – these relics of bygone days should remind us what happened on here two hundred years ago and thus inspire us to carry on.
For more information about the Perry 200 celebration, check out the full article at the Erie Reader.
This article by Jay Stevens, originally published on Sept. 4, 2013.