You can see the impressive column of Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial from many points on the Lake Erie Islands near Put-in-Bay, Ohio, but head to the top of the monument to best visualize and understand the Battle of Lake Erie that assured this area's place in American history.
Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's naval victory over the British here on September 10, 1813 was a pivotal engagement that helped Americans gain control of Lake Erie, which was the major route through the region and into the expanding western frontier.
The British expected an easy victory over the 27-year-old American commander as troops from both sides assembled near Put-in-Bay. The British initially took a commanding lead as their superior cannons were more accurate at longer distances and they managed to destroy Perry's lead ship, the Lawrence, named after a close friend of Perry's who died in an earlier battle.
Perry and a few men managed to move from the Lawrence to another ship, the Niagara, where Perry hoisted the Lawrence's battle flag that bore his friend's dying words "Don't Give up the Ship".
Then the battle turned to Perry's favor. His troops managed to kill or wound every British commander in the six-ship fleet, leaving the British under the command of inexperienced junior officers.
The Niagara rammed the Brit's lead ship and American sailors fired rifles at the British troops.
By nightfall, the British lowered their battle flags and surrendered to the Americans.
Perry sent this message to General William Henry Harrison: "We have met the enemy, and they are ours."
Perry became a national hero. A move to memorialize his victory began as early as the mid-1800s, but plans for the memorial kicked into high gear with the approach of the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie in 1913.
Memorial committee organizers selected a site on an isthmus between the east and the west end of South Bass Island as home for the memorial.
President Taft proposed a national contest to select the design as a condition of awarding Federal funds for the project. The contest drew 54 entries. The design commission and a $1,250 prize went to New York City architects Joseph H. Freedlander and Alexander D. Seymour Jr.
Construction of the Memorial began in October of 1912.
Ceremonies in 1913 marked lying of the cornerstone and the interment of six soldiers, originally buried in a common grave at nearby DeRivera Park, at the base of the memorial. The soldiers buried under the floor of the memorial are Americans John Brooks, Henry Laub and John Clark and British soldiers Robert Finnis, John Garland and James Garden.
The memorial took the shape of a 352-foot-tall granite Doric column topped with an observation deck and a decorative 22-1/2-foot-tall bronze urn weighing 11 tons. It is among the tallest monuments in the United States, surpassed only by the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the San Jacinto Monument and the Washington Monument in D.C. It's even 47 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty!
Visitors can usually see Middle Bass Island, North Bass Island, Johnson's Island, Canada's Pelee Island and the Ohio mainland of Catawba Point and the Marblehead Peninsula from the observation deck 317 feet above Lake Erie. On especially clear days, you might catch a glimpse of Detroit, Toledo or Cleveland.
The trip to the top via elevator costs $3 for adults (it's free if you have a National Park pass as we do). There are about 40 stairs to climb to reach the elevator. There is also a real-time monitor with views from all four directions at the Visitor Center next to the monument.
The memorial opened on June 13, 1915 and became a National Park Service site in 1936. It earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial honors the victory at the Battle of Lake Erie and the soldiers who lost their lives there, but it also celebrates the lasting peace between the United States, Canada and Great Britain.
The memorial draws about 200,000 visitors each year.
In 2002, the National Park Service added the new Visitor Center at the park with historical displays, restrooms and a gift shop featuring a good selection of books about the history of the area.
Want to learn more about the Battle of Lake Erie? Check out The Battle of Lake Erie and Its Aftermath: A Reassessment by David Curtis Skaggs, Perry's Lake Erie Fleet: After the Glory by David Frew, The Lake Erie Campaign of 1813: I Shall Fight Them This Day by Walter P. Rybka, Oliver Hazard Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie by Gerard T. Altoff or A Signal Victory: The Lake Erie Campaign, 1812-1813.
Put-in-Bay photographer G. Otto Herbster took numerous images of the memorial's construction. Put-in-Bay: The Construction of Perry's Monument by Jeff Kissell features many of those photos and much of the construction information cited in this story. There are also a few construction photos posted on the Perry Memorial's Facebook page.
Thanks to the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Visitors Bureau and Miller Ferries for sponsoring my visit to Put-in-Bay, providing lodging, ferry transportation, help arranging visits to South Bass Island and Put-in-Bay attractions for my review, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinions about the stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.
© Dominique King 2013 All rights reserved