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Superior event raises money for SS Meteor's restoration

Imagine the Frank D. Rockefeller -- the ship that later became the SS Meteor -- afloat north of the Meteor's current location on Barker's Island. People stillcould walk around it, but they'd get there through a skywalk from an adjoining interpret...

Artist's rendering

Imagine the Frank D. Rockefeller -- the ship that later became the SS Meteor -- afloat north of the Meteor's current location on Barker's Island.

People stillcould walk around it, but they'd get there through a skywalk from an adjoining interpretive center. The center would tell the story of shipbuilding in the Twin Ports, Alexander McDougall's dream of an international shipping company and the novel whale-like ships his American Steel Barge Co. built, including the one-of-a-kind ship in Superior.

People can see plans for the ship's restoration at the annual "McDougall's Dream" fundraiser Saturday afternoon and evening at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior.

The Meteor won't look like it does today. It would look like the Frank D. Rockefeller that sailed the Great Lakes circa 1925.

The Meteor, launched as the Rockefeller in 1896, served many purposes over the years -- hauling everything from grain and iron ore to sand and cars before it was damaged when it struck a breakwall and was abandoned during World War II. The war likely saved the whaleback ship because the war shipping administration ordered it repaired. In 1943, Cleveland Tanker converted it to a petroleum tanker and it sailed that way until 1969.

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"The major modifications happened for economic as well as technical reasons," said Susan Anderson, director of Superior Public Museums, which manages the city's three museums.

"During her life, she had so many purposes to stay economically viable, which is one reason she lasted so long," Anderson said. "All of these major structural modifications are kind of a hodgepodge, a culmination and accumulation of all these different lives that she led. So we're going to strip that all back so that she will be as close as we can get her to Frank Rockefeller."

The goal is to raise money on a national scale to save the last remaining whaleback and last known novel ship built in a period of experimentation.

Restoring the ship is expected to be costly.

"The first phase is basically going to take the ship from where it is now, buried in the sand, and move it about 50 feet to the north of the island where it will be forever and permanently displayed on a set of piers," Anderson said.

Volunteer Roger Pellett has been doing research on the Meteor for a historic structures report. That report will provide the basis for having it declared a historic landmark. It also will help with fundraising and serve as the guide for restoration.

"People can't see what the ship really looks like," Pellett said. "So what we're going to do is elevate the ship. ... If you're standing next to the ship, you're actually going to be able to look down and see what the entire hull of the ship looks like."

Elevating the ship will allow museum officials to better maintain it, and provide the public with a full view of.

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Floating the ship again will mean expanding the island, said Port and Planning Director Jason Serck, who has had preliminary discussions with regulatory agencies about the proposed project.

An embankment around the ship would create a modified dry dock of sorts. Boardwalks along those embankments would allow visitors to see all sides of the ship as they do today.

Anderson said she envisions a future in which people can experience the ship it as the people who sailed it might have -- a hot, noisy engine room, crowded crew cabins and an aromatic galley. The adjacent interpretive center will make it a year-round facility and a destination where people return to and learn or do something new.

"The ship is going to look much, much different than it does today," Pellett said.

Related Topics: SUPERIOR
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