USS Niagara – Erie, Pennsylvania - Atlas Obscura

USS Niagara

A living maritime paradox still floats in the same lake where it was built and resurrected... or was it? 


The USS Niagara dates back to the War of 1812, one of only two still surviving ships from the battle, and she still sails on Lake Erie. However in a classic example of the Theseus paradox, some may question its authenticity since it has been restored with new wood and parts so many times it could be considered an entirely new ship. 

The USS Niagara was built in Presque Isle Bay in 1813 to help protect the shores of Lake Erie against the British. The ship played a pivotal role in the Battle of Lake Erie, commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry. After the war, the Niagara was sunk in 1820 in the same bay it was built in. Various attempts were made to raise and restore the ship to its glory, especially for the centennial celebration of the battle, but for many years the ship simply sat idle in varying states of disrepair.

However, in 1988 the ship was completely rebuilt with only some of the original wood salvaged and with modern equipment like backup engines and long range navigation, and was set back to sail on the lake. Now managed by the Flagship Niagara League, the ship anchors at the Erie Maritime Museum and can often be seen sailing on Lake Erie. With the complete restoration including its new parts and wood, this ship is a living example of the Ship of Theseus paradox, references the famed example of a ship that is repaired so many time that none of the original parts remain. Since most if not all of the USS Niagara’s parts are new, is it the same ship that sailed against the British in the War of 1812? Whatever your views on this question, the grand ship is still a sight to see when it sails among the modern fishing and sport boats on Lake Erie, and the public can sail on her for a day when the ship is in port.

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October 12, 2016

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