National Geographic : 1978 Jul
Yesterday Lingers on Lake Erie's Bass Islands ARTICLE AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY TERRY and LYNTHA EILER mT HAT'S ABOUT THE END of it," Sgruffed Charlie Mahler when Lyntha and I joined him on the tailgate of his faded blue 1954 pickup truck on South Bass Island. A continuous blast from a ship's horn cut through the late summer haze to sound the annual passing of the last tourist ferry from the Lake Erie islands to the Ohio mainland. "Another summer, and another bunch of tourists gone," declared the 82-year-old re tired commercial fisherman. "Minnow Charlie" has earned his nick name by supplying island anglers with live minnows and crusty comments, all for one fair price. As he kneaded his special mixture of oatmeal, flour, water, and tobacco juice into minnow bait on the dock, he peered at us over his thick glasses (page 92). "Commodore Perry came to these islands and beat the British," he said. "Rich people and Presidents came here for vacations, but they all went back to run the country. Young people with long hair and city folks have tried it, but they only lasted a couple of years. Now they're putting salmon into these waters, but they won't stay either. "Islanders, bass, and minnies," he said with a chuckle, "those are about the only things'll stay around these islands." Each summer more than a quarter of a million people visit South Bass, the best known of Lake Erie's islands. Like Middle Bass, Kelleys, and North Bass Islands, South Bass is inhabited year round. These are all public islands, and during the sum mer months hourly ferryboats carry 300 peo ple a day to their crowded isolation. There are seven smaller islands as well. Ballast, Rattlesnake, and Sugar are given over to private seasonal residences. Gibral tar is owned by Ohio State University. Green, Starve, and Mouse are uninhabited. All 11 islands seem to cluster around a granite column that rises 352 feet above the village of Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island (pages 90-91). This Doric monolith, erected in 1915, commemorates Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's victory over a British squad ron in these waters in the War of 1812. "We have met the enemy and they are ours: two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop"-that was the message Perry sent on September 10, 1813. Fresh as paint, a steamboat-Gothic house recalls 19th-century elegance at Put-in Bay, South Bass (above). Daniel K. MacBride (right), former commodore of the Inter-Lake Yachting Ass6ciation, looks back on a lifetime of freshwater sailing.