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BRONZE PLAQUE WILL COMMEMORATE TRAGEDY

Incandescent metal cascaded into a foundry mold Monday as University at Buffalo sculptors set about placing a legend at the Buffalo waterfront.

Eight hundred pounds of molten bronze were poured to create a lasting version of a poem commemorating a 19th century Lake Erie tragedy -- and an answer to German tourists who have wondered why the verses about Buffalo they learn in school are virtually unknown here.

Mayor Masiello and Guenther Samtlebe, the mayor of Dortmund, Germany, will lead a dedication of the cast plaque at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Erie Basin Marina.

The marker, to be installed later this week on the stone breakwater between the Hatch restaurant and the marina observation tower, bears low-relief sculptures and a translation of Theodor Fontane's poem about "The Legend of John Maynard."

"It deals with an event that happened a hundred years ago on Lake Erie," said Herman Endres of the Buffalo-Dortmund Sister City Committee. "It's taught in German schools."

Fontane's poem honors the self-sacrificing heroism and devotion to duty of a paddle wheel helmsman who lost his life by staying at the wheel until his burning vessel was safely aground on a Buffalo beach and its threatened passengers could reach shore.

So why doesn't Buffalo recall this bravery like Germany does?

For one thing, the poem touched deep emotional chords in 19th century Germany, which had sent waves of immigrants to America and across the Great Lakes to the heartlands. For another, Fontane used some poetic license and blurred the facts a bit.

His steamship "Swallow" was based on the Erie, which left Buffalo Harbor on Aug. 9, 1841 and was run ashore between Silver Creek and Dunkirk after heat from the smokestacks ignited turpentine stored on deck by painters. John Maynard was really Luther or Augustus Fuller, and the poem's celebration of the saving of all the immigrants packed aboard unfortunately wasn't true.

The loss of the Erie was just one of many tragedies in a time when steamship travel was a risky business. Just a decade later, for example, the steamer Atlantic left Buffalo and was rammed by a freighter, taking more lives and leaving a nearly intact wreck that is still being argued over in a salvage case inching its way through international courts.

Monday, though, professor Tony Paterson of the UB Sculpture & Casting Institute was ready to cast Fontane's version in metal, after a last-minute word of encouragement from Endres and Buffalo Arts Commission director David Granville.

"You can't rush these things," the leather-aproned sculptor noted as the bronze heated to 2,250 degrees.

The plaque, about four by four feet, was designed by Erica L. Endres, who is not related to the sister committee official. It includes two low-relief sculptures by former UB student and teacher Jeff Slomba -- one depicting the Erie and another in which "John Maynard is at the helm with the flames leaping around him," Paterson said.

The plaque features the poem in translation by Burt Erickson Nelson, publisher and editor of Der Volksfreund/People's Friend bilingual newspaper and a copy editor at The Buffalo News.

"We had four or five translations and Burt's was the best one that everyone agreed on," Endres said.

Mayor Samtlebe's delegation is scheduled to arrive Thursday as part of a 20th anniversary sister-city celebration that will include musical, art and sports programs.

A Dortmund woodwind ensemble is scheduled to perform works by Buffalo State College composer James Mabry at the dedication ceremonies. Classical, contemporary or jazz performances are scheduled for noon, 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Saturday at Buffalo State College, 11 a.m. Friday in front of City Hall, 8 p.m. Friday at the Tralfamadore Cafe, 3 p.m. Sunday at the Club Lorelei in Hamburg, 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the Colored Musicians Club, 7:30 p.m. Monday at Canisius College and 10:30 p.m. Monday at Merlin's, 727 Elmwood Ave.

Dortmund artists Dina Nur and Wilhelm Kronfeld will exhibit at 8 p.m. Saturday at Hallwalls, and Dortmund's square dancers will take part in several of the concerts and perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Lockport's UAW Hall, 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Brighton Community Building in the Town of Tonawanda and 7 p.m. Monday in the Amherst Community Church.

Sports events include Thursday tennis matches at the Buffalo Hilton, volleyball at Daemen College and soccer at Canisius College; Saturday tennis at Delaware Park and soccer at the Lancaster Sports Club; Sunday soccer at the Germania Sport Club and volleyball at Buffalo State College; and Monday tennis at the Hilton and volleyball at Canisius College.

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