Our arrival in Ithaca and the two days we spent hosting the public was very special. Our mission is to "preserve and share the history and archaeology of the region" and in Ithaca we hit a Grand Canal Slam. Hundreds of people lined the entrance to our berth at historic Lookout Point and city fire trucks saluted us with an arch of water from each bank. When we tied up at the stone-faced canal pier, a large crowd of people came to check us out and talk history. But it wasn't until the next day that we realized we had awakened a sleeping fascination with Ithaca's maritime past.
Bruce Stoff and his crew from the Ithaca Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce had done such a good job of getting the word out about our arrival that a crowd began to form early Monday morning for a planned press event. On hand were our partners in this enterprise, Frank Dean of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and Carmella Mantello of the New York State Canal Corporation who joined Congressman Maurice Hinchey and a host of dignitaries to welcome the Lois McClure to Ithaca. We were even presented with a letter from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton which recognized one of the core strengths of this journey; "This epic undertaking [as] a cooperative endeavor involving federal, state and local governments, and communities and businesses from Buffalo to Burlington, Vermont" and closed by letting us know that "Your adventure is one we are all proud to share."
The outpouring of public interest really went to the heart of the journey's mission and the hopes and dreams of the partners for putting this traveling museum in motion. In a community with a population of 29,000, over the next two days we hosted more than 3000 people aboard and through the schooner. Most of the time we had a line of folks waiting to get on the boat and they kept on coming to the point where on Tuesday night, with a long line still growing, we simply had to close access to the boat and invite people to visit us at one of our other ports-of-call; it was after our closing hours and our crew was just plain exhausted.
We were also very well satisfied. The level of interest, enthusiasm, gratitude and affection was so plentiful that it reminded us of the special magic Lois works on the people who see her. A time machine - a 19th century truck - a mobile family home - an ambassador for shipwrecks - a traveling circus - a great watercraft - Lois was all of these things and more in Ithaca. The Lois McClure was the centerpiece in a community's rediscovery of their maritime roots. It was so glorious and satisfying I hated to leave and drive back to the museum for a Thursday night lecture on the American Revolution, but I did. Traveling home with my son Nathan, we were both exhausted from the canal travel and marathon interpretation, but as content as I can remember being in a long time.
I will return to the boat in Geneva and look forward to seeing how the rest of the 27-ports-of-call respond to our visit. If it's anything like the reception at Ithaca, I think we will have accomplished our mission and then some.