Sail On, O Ship of State: An Interview with Capt. Walter Rybka of the U.S. Brig Niagara

Interview is a series of discussions with renowned Pennsylvanians - artists, athletes, authors, historians, musicians, politicians, scholars, television celebrities and others - that have appeared occasionally as features in Pennsylvania Heritage.

Summer 1992 marked the longest and most ambitious voyage of the historic United States Brig Niagara. Originally built for the fleet of Commo­dore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819), the ship carried the twenty eight year old commandant to a decisive victory over the British during the bitter War of 1812 on September 10, 1813 (see “The Battle of Lake Erie: A Victory for Commodore Perry” by James E. Valle in the fall 1988 edition). In preparation for the one hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of Perry’s stirring naval triumph in 1988, the Niagara was completely dismantled in 1987 and a new ship built. The reconstructed Niagara was commissioned on August 18, 1990. In 1991, the ship made a number of day sails out of her home port of Erie, and the installation of engines in spring of the following year enabled the Niagara to participate in “Sail ’92,” celebrating the quincentenary of the Columbus voyages. The ship called on the American ports of Philadel­phia, New York, Boston, Newport, and Bath, and the Canadian ports of Halifax, Gaspe, Quebec City, and Montreal, among others, before returning home. The Niagara, which now serves as the Keystone State’s official flagship, proved not only to be seaworthy, but proved to be an inspiring and impressive goodwill ambassador for the Commonwealth along the East Coast.

The captain of the Niagara, Walter Rybka, was born in Brooklyn, New York, where his “earliest memories of the water are the bow wave rushing by on the Staten Island Ferry.” Although he majored in theater at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, a summer job on the schooner Pioneer, sailing from the South Street Seaport Museum in New York, allowed him to pursue his love of tail ships.

A former vice president of Tri-Coastal Marine of Galveston, Texas, a consulting firm specializing in historic preservation of ships, Rybka also served as master and trainer of the Elissa for the Texas Seaport Museum, Galveston, master of the Californian for the Nautical Heritage Society of Dana Point, California, and chief mate of Westward for Sea Education Association (SEA) out of Woods Hole, Massachu­setts. Rybka characterizes his career as being “divided between keeping traditional sailing vessels in operation and the preservation of historic vessels.”

This interview with Capt. Walter Rybka took place aboard the Niagara in Gaspe, Quebec, in August 1992. The interviewer served as a volunteer crew member on board the ship for three weeks on the leg of her journey from Bath, Maine, to Quebec City.


The easiest thing for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Commonwealth to have done in 1988 would have been to maintain the Niagara as a fixed historic site, not to rebuild it as a sailing vessel. Don’t you feel this represents a remarkable commitment?

It is. It’s a tremendous leap of faith and a great stretch of imagination. These ships are always, always, always much more work than they look at first glance. One of the things that I’m learning, from working a ship of this era is how much more labor intensive the Niagara is compared to sailing ships of the late nineteenth century. The characteristics of the ship are different from the later ships like Elissa, the Gazela, or, on a larger scale, like the Coast Guard’s bark Eagle, which were built towards the end of the Industrial Revolution – lots of iron hardware, lots of simplification, and lots of effort going into making it manageable by as small a crew as possible. Which meant that it took a little while to do certain things, but you could do them with a small group. Also, this ship is a naval vessel that needed to maneuver rapidly. It was a vital concern to be able to back a topsail to stop the ship or to back her up, or bring the guns to bear or spin around. The ship also needed a lot of speed, so you have a large sail area and you need to move the sails quickly. That requires a large crew. This ship just cannot be sailed with a small crew as a merchant ship would be.

What prepared you for your tenure on the Elissa, and the task of outfitting the ship? Did you have any training or did you have to learn as you went along?

No, restoring the ship was self-taught and it was really a detective game. I am not a craftsman at any one trade. What I found was that most of the work consisted of trying to determine what was appropri­ate. I found that the gap that had to be bridged was between an academic researcher who had studied the appropriate type of hardware or rigging, but really couldn’t answer all or any of the questions about how it was made – was this a forging or was this a casting, is this really right, how will it work? There is no common experience in this day and age when you are trying to re-create some­thing like that. You have to recognize right away that a great deal of what you are going to do is conjectural, but try to make it as educated a guess as possible. The key thing is to identify all the people you need to ask questions of. You have to ask questions of whatever professional seamen you can get hold of if they’ve served in a square rig, remembering that some of them might have a lifetime of experience and know exactly what they are talking about, and some of them might have made one trip in a square rigger when they were eighteen. You have to decide what things you need to ask an engineer, what things you need to ask a naval architect. It’s a great big jigsaw puzzle, trying to put all these little bits and pieces together. The way I saw my role on the Elissa was to try to determine as best as possible what her naval architect, what her builder, had in mind and try to come up with an interpretation of that.

When we came to sail the ship we had the benefit of masters who had formerly been in twentieth century sail training ships.

When you restore a traditional historic site it stays restored for a while. The Niagara requires constant maintenance over a period of time or, I assume, the ship can no longer function.

Dan Moreland [chief mate] said, “You have this beautiful ship, what you have is a big salad. It’s only vegetable matter. Salads don’t stay fresh indefinitely, you always have to be changing the pieces.”

How long this ship lasts really depends on what level of effort goes into it. The level of effort is going to have to be there on a continuing basis, or after ten or fifteen years you have a pretty seedy-looking ship, and after twenty years you absolutely have to have the next one.

What value do you think the five hundredth anniversary activities commemorating the Columbus voyages, including the Op Sail events, have for the Niagara?

The Op Sail events have a value, in that they make some level of presentation that the public would not see otherwise. If we didn’t have them, we probably wouldn’t have been able to put the engine room in, or make this trip, so I’m delighted they’re having the quincentenary splash and all these Op Sail parades on the East Coast. But the fact is that the value of this ship, the value of the experience, is in spite of those things and not because of them. Op Sails get people excited, but they are such a dichotomy, because you’re always presenting the ship, doing things that you would never do with a square rigger. I think there’s going to be a whole generation of people growing up looking at pictures of sails plastered against the mast, actually thinking the ships are sailing, when you’re carrying them for show while you’re motoring.

The engines went in a few short weeks before the Niagara embarked on this trip. Isn’t this is a rather ambitious voyage to take under those circumstances?

Well, it is, because we were under a tremendous rush to get power in the ship this winter. Ideally you do this kind of voyage in the third, fourth, or fifth year of the program. But this voyage was a matter of grabbing the opportunity. Last summer showed that if we were going to operate the ship on a frequent basis, we had to make a decision as to how we wanted our power assist. An option was to keep the ship pristine and purchase a tug. Hiring a tug all the time with an operator who is not familiar with this vessel was an invitation to get her smashed up. Buying a tug was a commitment to keeping the ship hobbled by the limitations of the tug. For an extended voyage capability the ship had to have internal power.

The engine certainly helps you keep the schedule, perhaps half of the time if you don’t have a favorable wind. It certainly speeds up the work of getting in and out of the dock. We could do it without the engine, but, for example, it might be a process of a boat rowing the anchor out, dropping it, pulling ourselves out to it, to get into a position where we could use the sails. That might be a half-a-day affair to get away from, or to, the dock. It might be a two day affair to get in or out of the harbor. They went all over the planet without engines, but not on a schedule!

What is the main benefit of these voyages?

The main thing about sailing the ship is that it encourages or retains the participation of people who know how to take care of the ship. Last summer [1991] we started training a volunteer crew in Erie and all the time went into learning lines and how to handle sails so we could sail the ship and get started on the process. Last winter we’d have work sessions every Saturday where we worked on the rigging in the shop. We also had teaching workshops where people learned how to do various knots, splices, and other tasks. That requires an investment or commitment to teaching because there’s a certain amount of teaching time you’ll spend with a volunteer who isn’t going to do a lot of this, won’t learn how to do it very well, or will go home and not come back. That’s wasted effort, from the stand­point of taking care of the ship. From the standpoint of sharing a cultural resource with the community, that’s part of what the ship is for. But in terms of how to take care of the ship I have to, in business terms, write that off as a loss. But what is an invest­ment is when the person really gets interested and they learn enough to be useful over time. Then you have an asset, you have somebody that you can give a job to do and not to have be there supervising every minute. What that requires, though, is a knowledgeable staff presence so that you can direct that effort. In most industry, the ratio of foremen to workers depends on the complexity of the job. For a lot of skilled, intricate labor you generally don’t have more than four or five people without having a foreman with them. If you’re going to utilize twenty to thirty volunteers you really need to have three, four, five staff. Then the volunteers could be a very valuable supplement. Where a lot of projects get in trouble is when they decide they have all these volunteers, therefore, we don’t need so many crew, so they start using the volunteers as a substitute instead of a supplement. Then you never get to use your volunteers to their fullest potential.

Was that a factor on this trip?

With this trip the frustration was that we had too high a turn­over. We decided that if we filled the ship up with people who could make it for the entire voyage we would have one tight-knit, smooth running crew. But we’d also have only about thirty-five people who knew anything about the ship at the end of the summer, and most of them would not have been from Erie. If we were going to try to build our base for the future, and make the experience available to more people, we had to broaden it. I think we went a little too far. Ideally we would have said the minimum enlistment is two weeks, three is preferred, and instead we got so deluged with applications that we decided to accept a lot of one week sign-ons, which might have been feasible if all we were doing was sailing the ship, as opposed to trying to do public presentation on an ambitious schedule. It ended up being absolutely exhausting because so much energy had to go into the most basic functions of teaching on a weekly basis. On a ship where all of the roles are this tightly defined, all you have to have is a few new people and dishes don’t get washed right, or the cook doesn’t get awakened, or simple details all of a sudden end up being aggravations and hassles for the whole rest of the ship.

I could not operate this ship without the level of professional assistance I have in the crew, primarily through the chief mate, but from the other officers to the boatswain (bosun) on down – ­they have a high level of craftsmanship and knowledge. If I had a lesser knowledge level in the crew, there’s no way that I could accomplish this voyage; there’s no way the ship could be safely handled. It’s not just a matter of having a good captain, it’s that you have to have all the other positions for back up. The job’s just that big.

I’m impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of both the crew and the volunteers. I imagine many of them would rather be sailing than anything else. Do you share those feelings?

Actually, I do, but it’s sort of tempered for me. The satisfactions are not just being at sea. I love to have the ship sailing – for me it’s a great frustration to have to motor. The satisfactions for me are mostly the totality of putting together a team effort where you take care of the ship, where you see what I think is a very important part of the culture passed on, propagated, shared. It’s the teaching functions I enjoy, whether it’s putting together a lecture for use in Erie, working on the crew manual, or working on the design of some little thing to be built for the ship. The totality of it is important to me. Maybe that’s because I’ve been at it long enough to be looking at the bigger picture.

Last winter in Erie l had a crew that was not going to sea, who was working in a cold north­ern winter when they might have been sailing on some vessel in the Caribbean. We were continu­ing the building of the ship. So there is that sense of practicing the craft even though it was ashore, working on rigging, things that were going to be used as pa1t of the ship. It wasn’t a matter of doing something as a demonstration, as an interpreter at a museum, or doing something for a ship that was just going to sit. This was working towards this trip. I think there are a lot of people on the crew for whom that’s just as important.

On this ship, there is a level of completeness to get back to the interpretive side of what the ship should look like. We brought Elissa into Mystic [Seaport, Connecticut] in 1986. We stopped there for a day on that East Coast tour. A lot of their staff came on board ship, and their most common comment afterwards was that they never realized how much was missing on their own ships. The most outstanding impression was the volume of rigging and rope, all the lines were aloft, every pin had a line hanging on it – all the little bits and pieces of gear around the ship, whether it was buckets, boat hooks, lines, all of these little tools of the trade were out. The ship that’s in commission, it all works – it has to be there.

There were one hundred and fifty-five on board the Niagara in 1813, but not all of them actually involved in sailing the ship. I understand it took thirty-five to forty individuals to do the actual sailing, much as it has on this trip. Is that accurate?

Yes, but they were supplemented by all those people standing around on deck, most of them there to help man the guns, who might not have been sailors but could certainly haul and pull and make getting the anchor up a lot easier and quicker. It made “sheeting home” sails in a breeze easier, because you had a big party on deck, so that even if only one was a knowledgeable seaman, he could just say, “Here, grab this and pull!” But even there, a tremendous effort was required for drill, just to hold that team together.

I appreciate how difficult it must be to make a judgment about whether or not conditions are safe to make a given passage, even with the engine. You can’t afford to take chances with the people or with the ship. Yet, despite not being an ocean-going ship, she sails beautifully.

When the conditions are right. The ship is either very fast or she’s not going to get there at all. One of the things that people have to realize, is what the engine buys you is a certain measure of safety and a tremendous amount of convenience, but it does not buy you a guarantee of schedule or invulnerability. The way ships used to operate was strictly a matter of waiting for the weather. This one still has to do that to a large extent. Staying within the limits of safety, given the limits of the crew’s experi­ence, has required taking a very conservative approach. The ship herself demands that, because this is not really an ocean­-going ship. This ship requires knowledgeable, careful operation to make sure she stays in port when she ought to be in port.

If you actually want the ship to be properly main­tained, to be sailed safely, to get places reliably, then having a lot of time built in for training and drills is not a luxury, it’s just essential.

The way it works best, what I would like to see in the future, is to work out a schedule when the ship is touring where we’d stay a little longer than a weekend in port, but skip a weekend in between. The emphasis of trying to be in port on a weekend is one of the things that made this trip tough on some legs. If we have eight or nine days in between, that really works well, because you can afford to wait out some bad weather, wait for the next good weather, and have a good sail with plenty of time. That way the teaching pro­gram would work best. That doesn’t happen while you’re pushing to get there; it doesn’t happen when you’re motoring overnight.

If we were going to run the ship on a continuous basis with more overnight work, we’d go on a three-watch system. The problem is that it takes about three days for anybody to get their body clock on ship’s time, even on a three-watch system. People are usually exhausted after two or three days of it. We ought to concentrate on sailing by day and being on the anchor or stopped for the night. So that people’s body clocks stay on land time. Because on a three day trip, even if you give people the time off, they can’t get to sleep right away first day. Next day, they’re tired, their meal schedule is different. By the third day, the people get tired enough they’ll sleep on anything that doesn’t have nails sticking out of it as soon as you give them a chance. Then the fourth day you’ve arrived and you have three or four days on land time, then you get started again.

On the ship everyone works together as a team, helping other people when they need help, and staying out of the way when necessary. I can almost see the ship as a wonderful exercise in management training.

I’ve always said, in terms of all the key people from upper management who have to fund the program that, if you could get them all out to the end of the jib boom when the ship’s doing eight or nine knots, you would never have any problems. It’s the most exciting view of the ship!

One of the things organizationally we tried doing on this ship to an extent was to parallel some of the naval structures, simply because it’s what works best on this type of ship – organizing people by division, the divisions are the messes. In 1813 a mess was a gun crew, about the same size as our divisions now.

There’s the larger picture about what people get out of this. I think part of the reason that people generally enjoy their time on the ship is because they’re a part of something bigger than themselves – that works.

It’s the things you learn yourself, it’s the things you get to share with people. That’s what is so different about this ship than a lot of modern industry or the modern merchant marine, where you have highly automated systems where as much thought and effort as possible went into it to try to take the humans out of the loop, to try to minimize the need for maintenance, for hands-on attention. So in that sense the Niagara really represents an old time, small town commu­nity, whether it’s at every meal or just shifting the ship. This ship just requires this sort of concentration of energy that’s very focused, very directed.

The actual experience of the passage on a tall ship is a difficult thing to translate to the public.

It is. If somebody hasn’t been on one, it is very, very difficult to explain just what it’s about. When a ship goes on a passage, I’d say the closest analogy might be a monastery. You have this community of people cut off from the rest of the world with their own set routines and things that they are doing for the common good, maintaining their little city or their little detached planet.

It’s very quiet. It’s very peaceful. It is kind of a retreat.

Still, in a way, sailing is the real essence of the ship as a historic “site.”

Ships are very difficult to interpret; I’d say they are almost the hardest thing there is to interpret. What it’s built for, what it’s designed for, what it’s used for, the sensations of doing so are just not at all apparent when the thing is tied to the dock. In terms of preservation or maintenance of a ship, 1 always tell people when you own a ship, the difference between a ship and a building is, you own the horse, not the stable. The horse has requirements of being groomed, walked, fed, watered, trained; the rider has to be trained, the horse has to be trained. A tremendous investment has to go in all of this, besides just food and water, for that horse to be the least bit useful. Then you can do things that you can never do with a building: go places, gallop. Most people aren’t going to get to ride. Any number of people can look at the stable building. When people come there, do you think they get more out of seeing a live horse that’s just come back from a ride, or a horse which is stuffed and mounted? That’s the difference between whether you sail a ship interpretively, whether you bring a ship back from a sail, or whether you just keep a ship sitting all the time.

So, how do you give people a sense of what it’s like to be on the ship when it’s actually under way?

I think film is a very impor­tant medium for trying to convey some sense of the motion. I also think that on a ship like this the best interpreta­tion, short of getting people out to sea, is a well-informed guided tour. Partially because I think that that’s just a good way to do any museum. The other thing is that I think that on a nineteenth century or tradi­tional sailing ship, voice is very much part of the message, since the way information is con­veyed to the crew on this ship is by voice, the language of command. Those are the control linkages, that’s how the ship functions. On a traditional vessel the human contact, the lack of modern electronics and mechanics – it’s very important that you try to maintain that. So one of those recorded tours – it’s not that they are inherently wrong, but they are not at their best in this environment. What is best in this environment is people talking. I think ideally what should be striven for would be to stimulate enough interest in the visitor that they want to buy something more detailed to read and take home.

Visitors ask the crew more about what it is like to be on the ship, rather than questions about the ship or its history. Is this common?

That’s almost universal. With Elissa we found that most of the visitors didn’t ask anything at all about the history of the ship. Most of the visitors asked questions about the barrels that carried some of the ship’s ballast below – people always wanted to know whether those were for drinking water or rum, or what was in them. The other thing they asked about all the time were the little glass prisms that were deck lights. The most commonly asked question of the crew was, “How did you get involved with this, how did you get to do this?” After a major trip the most com­monly asked question is, “Were you on the voyage?” I suspect that for the next few years the most asked question in Erie will be, “Were you on the ship when it went to the East Coast?”

Many of the tall ships, such as the Bluenose and the Christian Radich, have specific training programs. Also, there are training programs through organizations, including the American Sail Training Association [ASTA]. Do you foresee developing similar programs for the Niagara?

Those vessels are keyed toward courses of professional development. Those people are going into the Merchant Marines or the Navy. In this country, the Eagle is exclu­sively for Coast Guard cadets.

ASTA is dedicated to promoting sea experience on ships, but its primary focus is aimed at vessels that have a tuition paying program. Most of the vessels participating in ASTA don’t earn any money at a dock, their support comes from doing something with people away from the dock who pay to be there. There are other vessels where it’s an educational experience for college credit, like Sea Educa­tion Association, or Seamester. There you have vessels that charge tuition.

The Niagara is the other way around. This ship doesn’t earn a nickel when it’s away from the dock. Where we have an allied interest is that we can’t operate this ship without it being a training ship. If we want to get there safely we have to do it. I think it would be to our long-term benefit to develop a more concrete curriculum of what we want people to learn on board here.

I think, educationally, one thing that’s kind of missed is in terms of what use school systems could make of the ship. A sailing ship is not just a piece of history or an adventurous experience, it’s a real laboratory of applied mechanics. You could put a math class to work trying to analyze some of the problems, or a physics class. The engineering that went into this ship is actually pretty sophisticated. These ships represented the most that could be achieved with the materials available. Most of the advances we’ve made in the last century and a half have been where materials technology has allowed us to do something else. In terms of the essential engineering of the ship, I think it was very sophisticated within the limits of what was available to them. That’s a valid history lesson in itself. What I’m getting at is that there is a multi-disciplinary aspect to what the ship has to teach that goes far beyond military history.

What kind of learning experiences do you think the volunteers can hope for?

The most that somebody can hope for in a few weeks is to get an appreciation of the ship, learn enough so they will be a useful crew member on the next ship they are on, enough that when they read a sea account it really starts meaning something. If somebody gets that after a month on board, that’s a lot. After a week on board they get an impression, but the real specifics, no. I think two weeks is probably the minimum break-even where the energy it sucks out of the crew to teach people the routines starts coming back in terms of how much labor gets done. No matter how well intentioned or intelli­gent or hard working people are, there is so much we have to put into them, before they can become part of the ship.

It’s like having au the instruments for a symphony orchestra, but starting out with people who have never played anything before – you are going to be doing very very well to get Mary Had a Little Lamb out of it by the end of the day. If you keep changing the group, you’re only ever going to hear Mary Had a Little Lamb. If you want to hear the Star Spangled Banner, it takes a little more rehearsal time. If you want to hear Beethoven, it takes years of rehearsal time.

What about the value of the Niagara as living history?

I think that’s the greatest value of the ship and it’s almost in a tiered level in terms of the value of the participation has to do with how much effort gets put in. At the lowest level, you get perhaps a mi1lion people in a year who see a spot of the ship on television, become aware of its existence. It’s of passing interest, perhaps it flicks on a light bulb about the Battle of Lake Erie or the War of 1812, but it’s very superficial. If we get into publications and films and documentaries, you’ll catch another few hundred thousand who will watch for a half-hour or an hour.

On the next level you’ll get one hundred thousand people a year who will come to Erie to visit the ship or see it in various ports. If they get a good tour, where they’ve had a good look at the ship and some interpretation, they might spend an hour on board. They have really learned a bit about the ship as opposed to someone who just looked at a program or looked at a little spot or saw a picture in a magazine. Then you have people you take out on day sails as guests who spend four or five hours on board and see the process of sails going up and down and all of the work that’s involved in handling line and doing any evolution on this ship. That’s another level of interpretation where they are getting a closer grip on it, but that’s only a few hundred people who have a day in on it. Then you get another hundred people who are your volunteers who show up in the course of a year and rotate in and out. Those people have invested twenty, forty, fifty hours of volunteer time. At that level of investment they are beginning to learn something about it. They’re beginning to become functional crew members. Then you have people who put the whole summer in, or people who have two or three years in – it’s a whole different level of what they can get out of it. People like myself, the mates, and the professionals on board have quite a few years in. You need that many years in before you can even start appreciating the nuances.

In Halifax [Nova Scotia], a visitor asked if we ever brought the ship to Harrisburg. Although the question amused those of us who know the Susquehanna River, it points out an inherent problem of interpreting a historic ship in a state that has little coastline. The Niagara is called the “ship of state,” but outside of a circuitous route to Philadel­phia, we don’t have the option of taking this ship to different towns and cities in Pennsylva­nia. How do you get the people of Pennsylvania to 1eel any kind of ownership in this ship? And if you can’t, how do you educate them when you can’t take the ship to them?

I think there’s two things about that. One is to look at things the ship can do for the state that are not strictly within the usual mandate of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. I’m talking about promotion of tourism, awareness of Pennsylvania as a place to visit. I think the Department of Com­merce has supported it to some extent, but I would hope that would grow in the future because in a lot of ways that’s one of the things the ship can do best. The way the ship gets known is by doing things, showing up in other places.

The experience itself is historically a very important part of our culture. For hundreds of years, the primary link between cultures is maritime and it’s hard for us to realize today how important water-borne commerce was, even to people who lived further inland, even on a river.

In terms of interpreting the ship to people in Pennsylvania, I think film is actually the best medium for that, to develop a program, whether it’s on television or goes to schools, where you have an outreach from the ship that goes to inland sections of the community. I think some of that is footage of the ship sailing, some footage of historic reenactment.

In schools there are [potential] curriculum packages, whether it’s for history, for sea literature, for math, for engineering. I think there is a tremendous opportunity to develop that.

The programmatic focus is a whole other project which is a much bigger circle. How do you represent the ship, how do you get people to know about it, what do you want them to know about it? It can be so much broader than just the number of visitors who will come to Erie. And in all, you see, we have this opportunity, we have this ship that allows us to have this kind of experience, which then we need to share as best as possible with other people.


The Niagara will be at home in Erie this summer, and will be available for day sails on Sundays and Mondays in July and August [1993]. From Friday through Monday, September 10-13 [1993], the Niagara will be visiting Put-in-Bay, Ohio; from Friday through Sunday, September 17-19 [1993], she will be in Sandusky, Ohio. She will return to Erie on Friday, September 24 [1993]. For additional information, write: The Flagship Niagara League, Post Office Box 862, Erie, Pennsylvania 16512; or telephone (814) 452-2744.


For Further Reading

Beirne, Francis F. The War of 1812. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1949.

Dobbins, W. W. History of the Battle of Lake Erie. Erie: Ashby and Vincent, 1876.

Gilpin, Alec R. The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1959.

Knoll, Denys W. Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie. Erie: Erie County Historical Society, 1980.

Rosenburg, Max. The Building of Perry’s Fleet on Lake Erie, 1812-1813. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1987.

Valle, James E. “The Battle of Lake Erie: A Victory for Commodore Perry.” Pennsylvania Heritage. 14, 4 (Fall 1988).


The editor wishes to thank Mongerson Wunderlich Galleries of Chicago for graciously lending Battle of Lake Erie, September 10, 1813, to illustrate this interview.


Diane B. Reed is chief of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Publications and Sales Division. An avid lover of ships and the sea, she spent three weeks aboard the Niagara during its East Coast voyage. Her previous contributions to this magazine include “The Magic of Mount Gretna: An Interview with Jack Bitner” in the spring 1992 edition, and “Steel on the Susquehanna” in the summer 1990 issue.