Watertown Daily Times Spotlights NYSG's Great Lakes Shipwrecks Exhibit
Great Lakes Shipwrecks - News
“Great Shipwrecks” exhibit, popular at state fair, ready to hit the road after Oswego gig

Article published by Watertown Daily Times
Chris Brock, Times Staff Reporter

Oswego, NY, January 10, 2015 - The exhibit “Great Shipwrecks of New York’s ‘Great’ Lakes,” which made a splash at the New York State Fair last summer, is about to get even greater.

“Working with our partners, we have now turned it into a traveling exhibit,” said David G. White, New York Sea Grant coastal recreation and tourism specialist and associate director of the Great Lakes Research Consortium.

The exhibit, coordinated by Mr. White, opened earlier this month at Tyler Art Gallery in Penfield Hall on the campus of SUNY Oswego. It runs through Jan. 22.

It was created with grants from several agencies, including the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. There are plans to have the exhibit at the Seaway Trail’s Discovery Center, located at the old Union Hotel in Sackets Harbor.

“We’re very interested in it,” said David W. Alteri, president of the Seaway Trail Foundation. “We’re hoping to have it this summer.”

Components of the exhibit include interpretive panels highlighting shipwrecks in Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, the Finger Lakes, Lake George and the St. Lawrence River, two videos and freshwater science technology such as weather buoys and a remotely operated underwater vehicle.

“It’s essentially a test run to see how it works as a traveling display before it starts to go to museums,” Mr. White said during a visit to the Times offices. “It’s one thing to set it up at the New York State Fair but it’s a different thing to set it up at a museum.”

New York State Fair spokesman David Bullard said the exhibit was extremely popular at last year’s fair. It was set up under a tent outside the Horticulture Building.

“I visited several times, and every time it was full and busy,” Mr. Bullard said. “People got to see things, hear things and touch things. It was the perfect experience for learning about something in New York that didn’t feel like learning.”

Mr. White said that for more than three centuries, lakes Erie and Ontario, and the Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers, in addition to the Finger Lakes, Lake Champlain, and Lake George, have been major thoroughfares for military, shipping and recreational purposes. Hundreds of shipwrecks are located across the state, including Benedict Arnold’s gunboat Spitfire, which was discovered at the bottom of Lake Champlain in 1997. The Spitfire is one of the 12 wrecks featured on interpretive panels that are 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

David G. White, coordinator of an exhibit of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence shipwrecks, with a miniature replica of the ‘turtle ship’ Radeau. Photo: Justin Sorensen, Watertown Daily Times

More Than History

The exhibit is about more than history, Mr. White said. It encourages interest in education, underwater science innovation and waterfront tourism as an economic engine.

“We cover the diversity of wrecks that are out there as well as talking about maritime history, diving, invasive species and the impact that has on diving and wrecks,” he said.

For example, Mr. White said, invasive zebra mussels, native to the lakes of southern Russia, have since the 1990s, been beneficial for divers here.

“They give us water clarity so you can now see what you’re diving on,” Mr. White said of the mussels’ natural processes of filtering water. “The problem is that they are colonizing what we’re diving on, but it opened up the opportunity.”

Before the zebra mussels went to work on filtering water, Mr. White said it was hard for divers to see a wreck until they were very close to it; at around an arm’s length.

“Now you can be 10 or 20 feet away from a wreck and see the whole thing,” he said.

Many of those wrecks are in the waters of the north country.

“The St. Lawrence River has a wealth of wrecks, as does Eastern Lake Ontario,” Mr. White said.

Popular wrecks are The Islander, a wooden sidewheel steamer built in 1871 and shipwrecked in Alexandria Bay in 1909, and the French-built Iroquois, also named the Anson, which struck a shoal and sunk near Fishers Landing in 1761.

“Each of these wrecks has a story with it,” Mr. White said.

The exhibit includes a mini replica of the “turtle ship” Radeau that was built in 1758 and sunk the same year in Lake Champlain.

The flat-bottomed “turtle ships,” usually rowed by a crew of five, were used to transport troops and tons of cargo. Mr. White said they were deliberately seasonably sunk to store them but brought up again in the spring. But when the Radeau was sunk, it apparently fell off an underwater ridge and was lost. Its peculiar seven-sided shape was discovered in 1990 by a side-scan sonar survey, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“It’s one of the most historic wrecks in New York,” Mr. White said of the Radeau. “It’s one of the oldest intact warships in North America.”

New York Sea Grant coordinated the exhibit development in partnership with the Great New York State Fair, Great Lakes Research Consortium, Great Lakes Seaway Trail, Lake Champlain Sea Grant, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, H. Lee White Marine Museum in Oswego, National Aquatics Services and the Mexico Cub Scouts.

More Info: The Exhibit

WHAT: “Great Shipwrecks of New York’s ‘Great’ Lakes” traveling exhibit

WHEN/WHERE: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day, at Tyler Art Gallery in Penfield Hall Library at SUNY Oswego. The exhibit runs through Jan. 22

The gallery is on the second floor of Penfield Hall.

COST: Free

More Info: New York Sea Grant

New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York, is one of 33 university-based programs under the National Sea Grant College Program (NSGCP) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NSGCP engages this network of the nation’s top universities in conducting scientific research, education, training and extension projects designed to foster science-based decisions about the use and conservation of our aquatic resources. Through its statewide network of integrated services, NYSG has been promoting coastal vitality, environmental sustainability, and citizen awareness about the State’s marine and Great Lakes resources since 1971.

For updates on Sea Grant activities: www.nyseagrant.org has RSS, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube links. NYSG also offers a free e-list sign up via www.nyseagrant.org/coastlines for its flagship publication, NY Coastlines/Currents, which is published several times a year.

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