It looks like Erie, Pennsylvania’s population peaked in 1960 at 138,440. Ruth & I went there because I read that its population in 2018, when I was compiling a list of cities over 100,000 that we hadn’t yet visited, was 101,786. When we entered Erie’s Tom Ridge Environmental Center at the entrance to Presque Isle, I was asked why I was there. I told the man and woman at the welcome desk that we were visiting cities like Erie, which had more than 100,000 people. The lady winced. “Not any more,” she informed me, so I checked when I got home and found that she was right. Erie’s official population is now 97,369. Erie is an aging industrial city with bad weather that is getting smaller. It is, nevertheless, rather likable and Ruth & I had a fine time there despite the fact that it snowed until late afternoon in April as we were trying to see some of Erie’s attractions. After marrying, my mother’s sister Jeanne lived in Cleveland, Ohio. When anyone asked her about the weather there she would say, “We have 2 seasons. Winter and August.” Like Pennsylvania’s Erie, Ohio’s Cleveland is on Lake Erie. These cities are only 103 miles apart. Now I understand my aunt’s comment.
The Tom Ridge Environmental Center was terrific. It was also a bit misnamed. It is about the environment but it’s also a research facility, a place to view IMAX type films in its Big Green Screen Theatre, the Visitors’ Center for Erie and Presque Isle, a child’s delight, and a provider of information about the Great Lakes. I asked the couple at the main desk what was going on in the Joseph M. Thomas Research Center and was told by the lady that Lake Erie’s many shipwrecks were being studied and that plant pollination was ongoing. But then her voice trailed off as she said something about stuffed owls. The man told me that this foul-weather day was the start of trout season. Ruth & I watched award-winning Amazon Adventure, the true story of scientist-explorer Henry Bates, on Big Green before gaining an education about Lake Erie, the only Great Lake teacher Ruth had not yet experienced. I learned upstairs at Tom Ridge that the Great Lakes contain 6 quadrillion gallons of water.
I learned downstairs that Lake Erie is not like the other Great Lakes. It’s the shallowest of the 5 and, consequently, the first to freeze over. From late fall to early spring arctic and tropical air collide over it, generating high winds. Because of those shipwrecks, this area is known as the Graveyard of the Great Lakes. In the winter when ice lays thick on Lake Erie, ice dunes form thanks to freezing spray. The craters and peaks created protect the shoreline but also seem to cause population loss. I also learned what the history books left out about The War of 1812. I’ve often wondered why a major battle in this war was fought on Lake Erie. I now know that the Americans fighting the country that had set fire to the White House maintained 11 ships at the port of Erie, and that 9 of them fought in the Battle of Lake Erie. This major sea battle on a lake in 1813 helped the American forces defeat the British navy and caused the Brits to retreat to Canada.
That red, purple, and green blob above that looks a bit like a human head is inside the most popular children’s attraction in the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. Called an Augmented Reality Sandbox, it uses virtual sand to create a watershed, and I watched as a little girl played with it for what seemed like a long time.