News and views, and history and humor, about the lake I love.

"I can hear my granddad's stories of the storms out on Lake Erie, where vessels and cargos and fortunes, and sailors' lives were lost." ~ James Taylor, Millworker

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Commemorating the 198th Anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie

On Saturday I posted a pic of the wreath ceremony held out in Lake Erie to commemorate the 198th anniversary of Oliver Hazard Perry's famous victory, and promised to post some more, so here they are.

There was a light rain Saturday morning as I headed to the Miller Boat Line dock at the end of Catawba Island to catch the ferry to Put-in-Bay, so I feared the worst. In the end, though, it was a near-perfect day for what we had to do, the heat of the sun kept at bay by a cloud cover, and after some light drizzle the rain did not return.

Once on South Bass Island (where the town of Put-in-Bay is located), I caught the bus into town and walked the short distance to the Jet Express dock. There the Perry Group had a table set up to check off the invited attendees as they arrived. I was given a name tag and told to go on board the Neah Bay. This is a large U.S. Coast Guard Cutter and a beautiful ship. A large group of us was soon assembled, several dozen at least, and we were herded on board.

On the aft deck a petty officer briefed us on where we could and could not go on board. I finally met Dave Savagno who is the driving force behind the Perry Group's ambitious effort to coordinate a D-Day-sized Bicentennial worthy of the hero of Lake Erie himself. The wreath-lay ceremony seemed to be a dry run, of sorts, for the much elaborate series of events slated to take place two years from now. Aside from garnering the cooperation of the Coast Guard, Dave brought on board representatives of the National Park Service, leaders from the Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce, and even a bona fide member of the Patawatame Tribe in Michigan.

We chugged slowly out of the bay and into the open waters of Lake Erie where we picked up steam. Once we were well under way, two guys with the National Park Service on Put-in-Bay, dressed in period costume as U.S. Marines, talked about the Battle of Lake Erie. (above photo) Their talks were informative and put everyone in the mood for the ceremony to follow. Many people are not aware that, with a shortage of sailors (this was true of both sides), Perry took whomever he could get. Among the more then 500 manning his ships were native Americans, militiamen, Army soldiers, and U.S. Marines.

About ten miles out we idled to a stop and the ceremony began with the Coast Guard Commander reading the names of some of the men who died 198 years ago out on the lake. Then native American from Michigan came out and explained what he was about to do. He had fashioned his own wreath to place in the water, a design based on the traditional 'medicine wheel.' (photo below)

After reciting a blessing in English, he sang a traditional native song. The crowd of people on that ship found it very moving. (photo below)

When he had finished, Dave Savagno and another member of the Perry Group brought out their wreath and after another brief blessing, tossed it over the rear of the ship into the lake. (photo below) As a final tribute, everyone present was asked to toss a flower into the lake after the wreath. The head of the Park Service contingent on Put-in-Bay handed out the white flowers and a line formed at the rear of the ship.

It was a moving ceremony and has come to be an annual event for the last several years now. In the coming weeks I will provide details of the proposed plans for the Bicentennial celebration, which promises to be one of the biggest single event (actually, series of events) the north shore has ever seen.


  1. Nice Article, but the man you mentioned several times spells his name as follows: Dave Zavagno ( I am sure if you were mentioned in an article, you would appreciate your last name spelled correctly too)! Rick Dudas

  2. Thanks for the correction, Rick. You are indeed correct and I will correct this in a future post.

  3. You should talk more abou tthe similarities of this blessing and its meanings compared to Alaskan ceremonies and their blessings and meanings. Especially go into the significance of the "chanupa"