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The Dossin: Inside a Surprisingly Non-Boring Boat Museum

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Photography by Chris and Michelle Gerard

Before renovations finished up last year, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum was the sort of place you'd visit during a middle school field trip—pleasant enough, but no more thrilling than say, mowing the lawn. Without a serious overhaul since opening in 1961, even the museum's senior curator admitted the place wan't exactly pulse-quickening, calling it "pretty dusty" and "long in the tooth."

But that was $2M ago. Now, you don't need a passion for freshwater shipping or a signed permission slip to spend an intriguing afternoon at the Dossin.
Like so many things in Detroit, the Dossin has a history that doesn't quite make sense. It starts with the old wooden schooner called the JT Wing. Built in 1921, the ship made trips to Africa, shipwrecked off the coast of Florida, smuggled liquor during prohibition, and eventually became famous as the last full-rigged commercial vessel still sailing the great lakes in the late 1930s.

The JT Wing on Belle Isle [DetroitYes]

Somehow, the vessel was later beached on Belle Isle and converted into a museum in 1948. Less than ten years later, the city declared the boat to be a fire hazard, closed the museum, and burned the whole thing down.Today's museum opened in 1961 right where the JT Wing used to be.

Inside the Dossin, colorful new exhibits compliment the main attractions: bits of ships. There's the gothic smoking lounge salvaged from the SS City of Detroit III, a lavish sidewheeler steamboat built in 1911. There's the anchor of the ill-fated Edmund Fitzgerald, as well as the pilot house of the SS William Clay Ford, one of the first ships that went out to look for the Fitzgerald's survivors.

· Dossin Great Lakes Museum [Official]
· Renovated Dossin Great Lakes Museum to reopen Saturday [Freep]