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Trio raising funds for lightship memorial

Nearly 100 years have passed since one of the most severe storms to strike Lake Erie sunk a U.S. Coast Guard lightship and its six-member crew, yet no monument nor memento has been erected to mark the spot of the marine disaster.

Three Ontario historians are trying to raise about $3,000 to install a plaque in Crystal Beach's Waterfront Park to memorialize Light Vessel 82, which disappeared near Point Abino during the vicious "white hurricane" in November 1913.

Rick Doan, Paul Kassay Jr. and John Robbins have raised about $1,000 but still need about $2,000 more, and they have issued a public appeal for money to finish their project by the end of this year, if possible.

Kassay and Doan said they have to raise the money privately because the U.S. Coast Guard says it has no money for such a project, and there is no Canadian money for a memorial for the U.S. ship.

Although Point Abino is in Canadian waters, it was guarded for many years by a U.S. lightship because of the heavy maritime traffic across Lake Erie to and from the Buffalo Harbor.

Light Vessel 82 was a ship fitted with lights, foghorns and bells, stationed off Point Abino, just west of Crystal Beach, to warn of the underwater hazards there. Point Abino juts out into the lake and its rocky, jagged shoals had sunk many a ship on their way to Buffalo, which was one of the busiest ports in the world around 1910.

Kassay and his partners in the fundraising drive said a "white hurricane" with snow, 80-mph winds and 35-foot-high waves descended on the Great Lakes between Nov. 7 and Nov. 12, 1913.

The storm sank 19 ships and killed 250 people, but the 95-foot-long steel-hulled Light Vessel 82 tried to stay on guard to keep ships out of the rocky shallows, Kassay said.

But the storm was too strong, and the lightship disappeared into the turbulent lake with all six members of its crew. The ship was found the following spring at the bottom of the lake nearly two miles east of its station. The only crewman's body to be recovered was that of Chief Engineer Charles Butler of Buffalo, who was found about a year later in the Niagara River off the foot of West Ferry Street in Buffalo.

The other crewmen were Capt. Hugh M. Williams of Manistee, Mich.; Mate Andrew Leahy of Elyria, Ohio; his brother, Assistant Engineer Cornelius Leahy also of Elyria, Ohio; Seaman William Jensen of Muskegon, Mich., and Cook Peter Mackey of Buffalo.

After almost two years, the ship was salvaged, transported to Buffalo and then to Detroit, where it was refitted and used until 1936 -- but never again at Point Abino. Two other lightships guarded those shoals until 1917, when Canadian authorities built the Point Abino lighthouse. The lighthouse still stands, though it has been decommissioned.

Donations for a memorial may be made by calling Kassay at (905) 894-1342 or Doan at (905) 894-0842.