Museum to Install Temporary Exhibit Showcasing Legacy of Toledo-based Great Lakes Vessel Photographer

July 7, 2021 (Toledo, Ohio) On Friday, July 16 the National Museum of the Great Lakes will open their first in-house, temporary exhibit since the onset of the pandemic titled Jim Hoffman: The Photographic Life of Toledo’s Original Boatnerd. The exhibit features the work of Toledoan Jim Hoffman, who passed away on November 7, 2020. Considered a legend among fellow boatnerds, Jim’s photographs are instantly recognizable by most Great Lakes shipping photographers.

“Jim was a fixture on the Maumee River and was loved by boatnerds near and far,” says Paul LaMarre, III, Jim’s longtime friend who also serves on the Board of Directors at the National Museum of the Great Lakes and is the Director of the Port of Monroe in Michigan. “The National Museum of the Great Lakes is proud to be able to honor and recognize his legacy and life’s passion.”

Jim and his small boat were often the first thing greeting sailors on freighters entering Toledo. Through the years Jim’s photos have been featured and shared both in print and online. In 2020, Jim was honored as the Great Lakes Historian of the Year by the Marine Historical Society of Detroit, one of the few photographers ever chosen.

The exhibit, installed in remembrance of his legacy and love for Great Lakes vessels, will give guests the opportunity to walk alongside his life’s passion and live his photographic memories. It will be available for viewing through Labor Day. Admission is free for members and included with museum admission for non-members. Visitors will also receive a complimentary print from his photographic collection. For more information visit our event page here.

History Happy Hour Premieres at the National Museum of the Great Lakes

June 3, 2021 (Toledo, Ohio) – On Thursday, July 1 from 5 – 7:30 p.m. the National Museum of the Great Lakes will host “History Happy Hour: Sailor Stories.” The event allows guests to enjoy happy hour drinks while exploring the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship to learn more about its history—from early years on the lakes to the current restoration efforts. 

“Our History Happy Hour series is meant to mix maritime history with everyday fun by providing a unique interactive experience,” says Kate Fineske, the museum’s Senior Director of Institutional Advancement. “Guests will tour the 617-foot lake freighter and visit multiple docent-led history stations while mixing and mingling with friends and taking in breathtaking views of beautiful downtown Toledo and the Maumee River.” 

History Happy Hour: Sailor Stories is the first in what the museum hopes will be a series of events offering themed, after-hour access to the museum and its various exhibits. The event costs $25 for members or $30 for non-members and includes two drinks, snacks, and after-hour touring of the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship with interactive story-telling.

For more information, to register and/or purchase a book click here.

ST. MARYS CHALLENGER featured in Last Spring Virtual Lecture and Coming Soon to Museum’s Grounds as Newest Artifact

April 22, 2021 (Toledo, Ohio)On May 12 at 7 p.m., Great Lakes vessel historian and photographer Chris Winters will present St. Marys Challenger: Centennial the Sequel as the final virtual lecture of the National Museum of the Great Lakes’ spring series. Thought to be the oldest self-propelled bulk freighter in the world, the Challenger began her remarkable freshwater career on the Great Lakes in 1906 as the William P. Snyder—a sister ship of NMGL’s Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship. 

“I spent five years creating a record of life aboard the St. Marys Challenger,” recalls Chris Winters of the creation of his 2008 book Centennial: Steaming through the American Century. “But the vessel’s life and my connection with it didn’t stop with the book’s publication.” 

Winters continues to follow the former William P. Snyder’s remarkable career, recording her last voyage under steam in 2013, her subsequent conversion to a self-unloading cement barge, and transportation of the vessel’s historic pilothouse structure to Toledo. In his presentation for the National Museum of the Great Lakes, he will share his experiences—old and new—along with highlighting past and present-day images capturing the vessel’s extraordinary life. 

“Soon, the historic vessel’s pilothouse will join the museum grounds as our newest artifact,” says NMGL executive director Chris Gillcrist. “This exciting exhibit addition is ultimately meant to provide visitors with year-round, increased access to a pilothouse experience.” 

Following Winters’ presentation, NMGL’s Executive Director, Christopher Gillcrist, will outline the ongoing plans for the placement and display of the St. Marys Challenger Pilot House as part of the permanent collection of the National Museum of the Great Lakes.

The virtual event is FREE but registration is required. Donations are encouraged and can be given upon registration. In addition, the book Centennial: Steaming through the American Century can be purchased when registering. For more information, to register and/or purchase a book click here.

Museum Lecture Takes a “Deeper Dive” to Explore Underwater History

March 2, 2021 (Toledo, Ohio)On Wednesday, March 17 at 7 p.m., the National Museum of the Great Lakes will plunge into the early years of diving with a virtual lecture titled The Heroic Age of Diving featuring Jerry Kuntz. In the 1840s and 50s, Lake Erie became the proving ground for the infancy of the underwater breathing apparatus. The salvage of three infamous passenger steamer wrecks, the Erie, the G. P. Griffth, and the Atlantic, became an incentive for divers and engineers to test the limits of these new devices.

The museum is hosting the lecture to take a deeper dive into the history of underwater exploration. “Today, much of our ability to research and record shipwrecks is because of the work of these early pioneers,” says National Museum of the Great Lakes’ Archaeological Director Carrie Sowden. 

Based on research from his same-titled book, Mr. Kuntz’s lecture will share history through the lens of individuals like John Green—a man who kept secret the story of his own tragic shipwreck. Having received his Masters of Library and Information Science from Rutgers University, Mr. Kuntz is known for producing books that include exceptional, but little-known 19th Century Americans: wild west show sharpshooters, pioneer aviators, baseball league promoters, dance hall denizens, a teenage Amazon plant hunter, and early apparatus divers. He is currently researching the balloon-parachuting craze of the 1890s.  

The virtual event is FREE but registration is required. Donations are encouraged and can be given upon registration. In addition, the book The Heroic Age of Diving: America’s Underwater Pioneers and the Great Wrecks of Lake Erie can be purchased when registering. For more information, to register and/or purchase a book click here.

Women’s History Month Begins Early with Museum Lecture Featuring Heroic Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service

February 9, 2021 (Toledo, Ohio) – More than 50 women defied the gender expectations of their time to serve the sailing communities on Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior, as well as on the Detroit River, during the active lighthouse-keeping era. On Wednesday, February 24, at 7 p.m., the National Museum of the Great Lakes will feature the stories of these heroic females during their second virtual lecture of the spring series: Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service. 

“It’s a great topic to lead us into March, which is also Women’s History month,” shares Ellen Kennedy, the National Museum of the Great Lakes’ Education and Visitor Experience Director. “Lighthouse keeping was demanding and physical work and it was crucial to the safety of Great Lakes sailors. The women who stepped into these roles are truly inspiring.” 

The lecture presenter, Patricia Majher, is a former editor of Michigan History magazine and a museum professional who has held administrative positions at institutions including The Henry Ford and Mackinac State Historic Parks. In addition to her same-titled book Ladies of the Lights, she has published Great Girls in Michigan History and Bold Boys in Michigan History with Wayne State University Press.

The virtual event is FREE but registration is required. Donations are encouraged and can be given upon registration. In addition, the book Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service can be purchased when registering. For more information, to register and/or to purchase a book click here.

Museum Holds Capstone Presentation Featuring Toledo-area Experts and Historians

January 19, 2021 (Toledo, Ohio)

On Wednesday, February 3, at 7 p.m. the National Museum of the Great Lakes will begin their annual spring lecture series with a roundtable discussion highlighting the “Port of Toledo: Then & Now”. The virtual event is meant to be a capstone to a multi-part, yearlong exhibit highlighting the history and present-day images and stories of life on the Maumee River.

“This exhibit is filled with firsts, including our first online exhibit and our first community temporary exhibit at ProMedica Steam Plant headquarters’ History Walk Gallery,” explains Carrie Sowden, who helped lead the exhibit’s curation and is the National Museum of the Great Lakes’ Archaeological Director. “Little did we know our timing would coincide with a health pandemic, making the virtual components of the exhibit even more relevant.”

The virtual lecture will specifically highlight three topics and feature six Toledo-area experts and historians including: 

  • Former Eastern Michigan Director of Historic Preservation Ted Ligibel and Metroparks Toledo representative Shannon Hughes discussing recreation on the Maumee River.
  • East Toledo historian Larry Michaels and Lucas County Port Authority Vice President Joe Cappel discussing Maumee River shipbuilding and cargo.
  • Local history author and curator Tedd Long and President of the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Preservation Society Sandy Bihn discussing Maumee River navigation.

This is the first in a series of lectures in the museum’s spring series. Future lecture topics feature authors Patricia Majher (Ladies of the Lights: Michigan Women in the U.S. Lighthouse Service on Feb. 24) and Jerry Kuntz (The Heroic Age of Diving on March 17). For more information on all the spring lectures and to register for the event visit To view the Port of Toledo: Then & Now online exhibit visit Event registration is FREE but required. Donations are encouraged and can be given upon registration.

Museum Celebrates Community with Free Admission

January 13, 2020 (Toledo, Ohio)The National Museum of the Great Lakes is opening its doors to the community over Martin Luther King weekend in thanks and recognition for the support they have received over the course of the past year. Community Appreciation Days with FREE museum admission begin Saturday, January 16, and continue through Monday, January 18.

“We wanted to thank our community, and what a better way to do that than to share our mission with all,” says the museum’s Senior Director of Institutional Advancement Kate Fineske. “The past year has seen struggles like no other for so many. Yet our community rallied to ensure our museum continued to keep Great Lakes history afloat for generations to come with their generous donations, membership renewals, museum store purchases, online interactions, and continued visitation. ”

All this support, along with the community improvement and service spirit of the Martin Luther King holiday, inspired the National Museum of the Great Lakes to begin 2021 with an act of community gratitude after their annual cleaning shutdown. Museum-only admission to non-member visitors would typically be $10 for adults and $8 for children. To ensure the health and safety of its guests, the museum requires masks at all times and has a limited attendance capacity. Although not required, timed, pre-purchased entry tickets are strongly encouraged and can be reserved online at

For those community members unable to join in these Community Appreciation Days, the museum encourages them to visit their History From Home landing page which includes FREE interactive virtual tours of the museum and museum ships, videos, Great Lakes history articles and tons of other at-home activities and maritime education for all ages.

Giving Tuesday is Creating Waves of Hope for Great Lakes History

November 17, 2020 (Toledo, Ohio)The National Museum of the Great Lakes has officially launched our 2020 Giving Tuesday campaign meant to create awareness of our mission, reduce financial burdens due to the pandemic, and generate waves of hope in support of Great Lakes History. Giving Tuesday, a day encouraging people to do good through advocating for and giving to causes they believe passionately in, is scheduled this year for Tuesday, December 1. 

“In the weeks leading up to Giving Tuesday, we will be sharing stories on social media highlighting individuals whose lives have been shaped by the Great Lakes,” says the museum’s Director of Communications and Development Kate FIneske. “Funds raised through Giving Tuesday will help us continue our mission to preserve and make known the history of the Great Lakes.” 

The National Museum of the Great Lakes is offering multiple ways to support our Giving Tuesday campaign. Individuals can “Like” and “Share” Giving Tuesday posts and videos on Facebook tagged with #NMGLGivingTuesday2020. We also are asking those passionate about the Great Lakes to consider creating their own #GivingTuesday Facebook Fundraiser in support of the National Museum of the Great Lakes. Then, on December 1, we’ll ask supporters to donate to the museum’s Giving Tuesday campaign. Donations made on NMGL Facebook Fundraiser after 8 a.m. on December 1 may be eligible for matching funds from Facebook. In addition, the museum is participating in Toledo Community Foundations’ #GivingTuesdayNWO—making us eligible to receive a $5,000 grant locally. Although primarily a social media campaign, for any individuals not on Facebook, the museum created an online Giving Tuesday donation page.

For more information about the museum’s participation in Giving Tuesday, visit our Facebook Page or search Facebook for the Hashtag #NMGLGivingTuesday2020, stop by our Facebook Event and Facebook Fundraiser, or donate online here.

Museum Hosts “Christmas Tree Ship” to Spark Holiday Spirit, Support Children and Families in Need

November 11, 2020 (Toledo, Ohio) – On November 23, 1912, the schooner Rouse Simmons sank while carrying Christmas trees. Known as the Christmas Tree Ship, her captain, Herman E. Schuenemann (a.k.a. “Captain Santa”), was known for giving trees to families in need. This is the inspiration behind the National Museum of the Great Lakes annual Christmas Tree Ship event taking place Saturday, December 5.

“2020 has been a year filled with hardships and struggles, which is why we felt so strongly about maintaining this holiday tradition. The Christmas Tree Ship event is all about giving back and supporting our community,” explains Kate Fineske, Director of Communications and Development for the National Museum of the Great Lakes.  

In partnership with Geo Gradel Co. and United Way of Greater Toledo, spectators can watch Santa Claus and a boatload of Christmas trees navigate the Maumee River and dock behind the National Museum of the Great Lakes in person or via Facebook Live. Once at the museum, Santa will take his place atop the deck of the Museum Tug Ohio, where children can deliver Christmas wishes from afar to Santa via “Mail by the Pail.” Guests will have both in-person and virtual opportunities to participate in order to keep health and safety front and center.

Individuals can pre-purchase a live Christmas Tree OR donate a tree or a gift card to a family in need. The museum is offering direct support to East Toledo Family Center, Lucas Co. Children’s Services, and Sylvania Area Family Services. This is an outdoor event. Registration to attend the event is FREE, but limited to allow for proper physical distancing, with advanced reservations required. Admission to the museum exhibits will be FREE for all who purchase a tree, donate a tree, or donate towards a gift card.

To learn more about the event, purchase a tree, donate to a family in need or reserve your spot on the day of, click here or call 419-214-5000.

Museum to Host Exclusive Small Group Tours in Honor of S.S. EDMUND FITZGERALD Tragic Anniversary

October 20, 2020 (Toledo, Ohio) –  In recognition of the 45th Anniversary of the loss of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, the National Museum of the Great Lakes (NMGL) is offering a weekend of special tours. The Fitzgerald Experience is a guided tour of the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship, using our lake freighter and its similarities to the Edmund Fitzgerald to discuss the theories about the vessel’s sinking and stories about the 29 crew members who were lost.

“While traveling Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, the ‘Mighty Fitz’ and it’s entire crew sank during a storm,” recalls Chris Gillcrist, Executive Director of the National Museum of the Great Lakes. “Many from that crew were from the Toledo area. We believe this tour provides a more experiential and hands-on way to learn about a tragedy that deeply impacted the lives of so many near and far.”

Along with the tour, each group will receive a copy of the documentary A Good Ship and Crew Well Seasoned: The Fitzgerald and Her Legacy. This hour-long DVD explores the less documented and overlooked history of the Fitzgerald and her crew while at the same time reflecting on the impact of their loss on family, friends, and colleagues in the maritime community.

Although closed for the season beginning November 1, The Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship will open one last time this season on November 7 – 8 exclusively to tour guests for this unique experience. Tickets are limited to 26 groups of 4 individuals over a 2-day period (to allow for social distancing throughout the museum ship). Pre-sale reservations were made available to museum members on Wednesday, October 21. General public access to tickets begins today, Friday, October 23. Masks will be required during the entire tour. For additional information and to reserve your tour, click here.