“By the Pail” Exhibit looks at floating post office, Great Lakes service vessels

Press Staff Writer

        The National Museum of the Great Lakes, located at 1701 Front St., Toledo, welcomed a new temporary exhibit on June 30 titled, “By the Pail: J.W. Westcott and Great Lakes Service Vessels.”
        The exhibit takes an in-depth look at the J.W. Westcott Co. and other vessels that serviced the sailors of the Great Lakes through the years, including bumboats, grocery providers and a butcher boat.
        “Most people don’t know the Detroit River is home to America’s only floating post office, which was the inspiration for the exhibit’s name,” said lead curator Carrie Sowden. “In the early days, a rope would be tossed to a waiting rowboat by a passing ship. While being towed along the ship's side, service boats would load correspondence and supplies into a bucket lowered by the ship’s crew. Long coined “mail-by-the-pail,” the system remains little changed today.”
        Life aboard a Great Lakes vessel can be isolating and lonely. A note or package from a loved one or access to personal items and food were real morale boosters. In 1948 the J.W. Westcott Co. began delivering mail to sailors passing by on vessels as an official postal service which still operates today under the ZIP code 48222.
        “By the Pail” uses images, video and artifacts to take a deeper look at service vessels including the J.W. Westcott II and the important role they played through the years.
        Exhibit admission is free for members and included with any museum admission purchase. The temporary exhibit will be open during regular museum hours through Sunday, Aug.14.
        Individuals can purchase same-day tickets at the door or online in advance. For additional information visit nmgl.org/events or call 419-214-5000.
        Founded in 1944, the Great Lakes Historical Society has been preserving our shared cultural history by publishing a quarterly journal Inland Seas since 1945; by operating a maritime museum since 1952; by offering educational programs to the general public since 1956; by conducting underwater archaeological research across the Great Lakes since 2001; and by managing the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship since 2014 and Museum Tug Ohio since 2019.


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