Author Archives: superiorpublicmuseums

Volunteers Help Get S.S. Meteor in Ship Shape

At the north edge of Barker’s Island at Superior, Wisconsin sits an unassuming, little (by today’s standards) ship with a big story to tell.

It’s hard to believe today, but the launch of the S. S. Meteor (then the Frank Rockefeller) drew tens of thousands of spectators, as did most launches in the Twin Ports near the turn of the last century.

Now one of only two ship museums on the ports’ bay (the William A. Irvin is anchored in Duluth, MN) the  S.S. Meteor Whaleback is now land berthed just a few short miles from the site of her launch in 1896. At this site, she again drew tens of thousands of visitors during the mid-1970s’, with people from across the nation, and even across the sea, coming to view the longest sailing and only remaining (above water) Whaleback in the world.

The S.S. Meteor is one of about 40 Whaleback ships designed by Captain Alexander McDougall and built by his American Steel Barge Company in Superior. The Meteor is an enduring example of the technically innovative steel-hulled ships that greatly influenced the future of ship building and shipping on the Great Lakes. The design marks an important step in the progression toward the 1,000-foot freighters sailing the largest freshwater chain of lakes today.

Superior Public Museums has been charged with the maintenance of this historic vessel and the interpretation of the ship’s history. On deck for the near future is a comprehensive plan to completely overhaul to the ship’s exhibits so we may better present her story to museum visitors.

In the meantime, we have been readying for the new displays to come – getting her in ship shape – you might say. With thanks for the extra help from our hardworking and steadfast volunteer clean-up crew, we can confidently say that the ship is in better shape than it has seen in decades.

The volunteer work weekend scheduled April 26 – 27 is an event in itself. Along with all the cleaning, scrubbing, scraping and painting, there is an evening program, plenty of food to fuel our hale and hearty volunteers, and tons of fun to be had. This year, we’ll also be making plans for a crew to return when the winds at the head of the lakes are blowing just a bit warmer, to give the hull a new coat of paint.

If you are interested in joining the clean up crew or the painting crew, email: info@superiorpublicmuseums.org, or call Sara or Stacie at (715) 394-5712. 

Not up to the down and dirty of heavy lifting and cleaning or wielding a paint brush?  No worries, you can still help out when you Buy a Bucket ‘0 Paint!  $50 purchases one gallon of paint for the ship. You will receive our thanks and your name will be displayed on your bucket(s) in our “Thank You Tower” of empty cans, exhibited at the Meteor for the 2014 season. Contact us for details on how to make your donation – or click here.

The S.S. Meteor will re-open for the 2014 tour season on Sunday, May 19 from noon to 4 p.m. with free admission that day. Come Aboard to hear the story of the Whalebacks and experience a significant piece of Superior’s history.

Visit Your Local Museums

The head of the lakes, along with most of the rest of the country, is experiencing one of the most weather intense winters we’ve seen in a long time.

In the Twin Ports of Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota we’ve set a record for the number of days with below zero temperatures. Some of them have been as much as 30-below.

Let’s not forget the snow. We’ve got a pretty good start to setting a record snowfall for the year as well.

Such extreme weather can get old with the month of March approaching, causing cabin fever to set in with a vengeance.  What to do?  Why not visit a local museum or two?

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel all my life. I’ve seen most of the U.S., from rural farm communities, to small towns and villages, to large cities. One thing I’ve noted, is that for a region the size of the Twin Ports, we have a lot of museums by comparison.

Most of our local, historical sites and museums operate as non-profits. That means the $$ you spend for admission are an important contribution to keeping these historical sites operational and open to the public.

So shake your cabin fever and do a good deed at the same time. Visit one of these local museums to hear the fascinating history of our area.

And remember . . . Your History Becomes You!

In Superior, WI

  • Fairlawn Mansion ~ A Victorian House Museum
    The 42 room Queen Anne Victorian, featuring a four-story turret complete with widow’s watch overlooking the bay, is a unique and well recognized landmark in the City of Superior.
  • Douglas County Historical Society
    To collect, preserve, interpret and exhibit artifacts, archival materials and photographs of the cultural, social and political history of the people and communities of Douglas County, Wisconsin.
  • The Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center
    To honor the memory of Major Bong and all the veterans of WWII and later conflicts whose sacrifices maintain our Freedoms. The Center is an educational resource that collects and preserves the tangible legacy of these veterans and their home front supporters.

In Duluth, MN

  • Glensheen Estate
    Glensheen, a historic estate on the shores of Lake Superior, offers a slice of turn-of-the-last-century opulence. Its 1908 collection is intact, completely immersing you in the life of one of Minnesota’s most influential families.
  • Duluth Depot
    Including the *St. Louis County Historical Society, *Lake Superior Railroad Museum,  *Duluth Art Institute and *Veterans Memorial Hall.
  • Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum
    Located in a former Christian Scientist Church building built in 1912, the structure is a beautiful building with a large main floor exhibit hall.

Check individual websites for hours of operation, admission and additional information on exhibits, collections and tours.

Ghoulies and Ghosties and Things That Go Bump In The Night

Superstitions and belief in the supernatural world reigned at a high point during the Victorian era.

Sir Athur Conan Doyle, the creator of the super-rational, Sherlock Holmes in literature, himself believed strongly in the existence of an “other” world, spiritualism and fairies.

At the opposite end of the controversy, was renowned magician and escape artist Harry Houdini (who by the way, was born and died on Halloween).  Houdini spent a good deal of his life, exposing charlatans who professed to be mediums – in touch with the spirit world.

Houdini vowed to his wife that if there was indeed a life after death, and a way to escape the spirit world and cross over into the living, he would communicate a specific message to her so that she would know it was really true.

As the story goes, after 10 years of conducting séances at his grave on Halloween, Harry’s wife, Bess, never received the message.

To hear more about superstition and spirituality in the Victorian Era, visit Fairlawn Mansion on September – Friday the 13th,  for our Superstitions Tour after dark!  Bring your own flashlight and see for yourself if the ghosts really do come out after dark!   Tour information and prices.

 To read more about superstitions and spirituality in the Victorian era click on the links below:

 http://thevictoriantimes.blogspot.com/2011/10/superstitions.html

 http://www.scoutingny.com/?p=3279

The Season of Weddings

Tying the knot during warmer summer months has long been a tradition, so what better time to talk about weddings at Fairlawn Mansion. Beginning with the Pattison family in residence, weddings have been celebrated in the mansion and on the grounds with both lavish extremes and simple, quiet elegance.

No less than four brides descended the grand staircase of Fairlawn when it was home to Martin, Grace and their children, beginning with Martin and Grace’s  nieces, Eva Irene Thayer and Mary Ann Growling on the occasion of their double nuptials, June 3, 1896.

Two later weddings followed in rapid succession when another niece, Grace Margaret Frink was wed September 7, 1902 and daughter Ethyl Mary exchanged vows in October of the same year.

Such weddings were considered high social occasions in the town of Superior, often times with numerous fetes being held for days before the big event, all described in great detail by local news reporters.

One historical account from our archives reported on a wedding breakfast at the mansion, “The breakfast room was most handsomely decorated and was a marvel of exquisite taste and skill.”

For the wedding of Grace Frink, another archived report describes the lavish decorations throughout the mansion. “The spacious dining room was in pink with the mantle banked in sweet peas and ferns, while pink roses graced the table. The hall, where the wedding ceremony was performed had been transformed into a bower of beauty. The mantle was banked with sweat pea and ferns, while festoons of ferns hung from the ceilings, and were caught in the center by a large ball of white asters. The stairway was draped with sweat pea and Elysium.”

Modern Fairlawn couples prize the mansion for its elegant décor and intimate setting to host a wedding that transcends the ordinary. Whether they chose to fill the mansion with floral arrangements as did Fairlawn brides of the past, or opt to go sans decoration, their wedding ceremony is a beautiful sight to behold.

For more information on rental of Fairlawn Mansion for weddings and other special occasion events, email our Events Coordinator or phone 715-394-5712 during business hours.