VALPARAISO | The story of two young Northwest Indiana women — and a tree that became a boat — made its debut at the Porter County Museum of History Sunday afternoon.
The museum hosted the opening of “Lake Michigan in a Dugout,” a new exhibit that chronicles the story of Mary Catterlin and Amy Lukas, who circumnavigated the lake last summer in an 11-foot homemade dugout canoe.
The exhibit, on display in the museum's east wing until June, features the canoe and its sail, narratives, photos, video and artifacts that illustrate the women’s 93-day voyage in “Mekeba,” the 300-pound boat.
Catterlin carved the canoe from a donated cottonwood tree during four years of summer and winter college breaks. But before the huge tree was cut and hauled to her family’s backyard, Catterlin said she asked her father’s permission.
“He immediately said, ‘Yeah, I want to see this,’” said Catterlin, of Michigan City.
Featured in the exhibit is the adze Catterlin used to carve the canoe, along with video of the trip the women captured from a waterproof camera mounted on the boat.
On their 1,200-mile voyage, the two women stayed close to the shoreline and never traveled in rough weather, Catterlin said.
“We spent 30 of the 93 days sitting still and waiting for the weather,” she said. “But that gave us a chance to explore the towns.”
Before their journey, Lukas and Catterlin were Michigan City High School soccer teammates and shared similar interests.
“We grew up on the lake,” said Catterlin. “We grew up surfing and fixing Hobie Cats and were really into water sports but didn’t have much canoeing experience besides day trips.”
Catterlin said the 93-day journey toughened them even further.
“I’ve never had so much upper body strength,” she said.
Catterlin and Lukas dubbed the boat “Mekeba” for Miriam Mekeba, a calypso singer and civil rights activist who campaigned against South African apartheid. The name also incorporates an homage to Jacques Cousteau and his famous research vessel, Calypso.
In the museum’s west wing, museum director Kevin Pazour hosted the “soft opening” of “We Are Porter County,” the museum’s first exhibit about the county’s history. The opening was a prelude to the official exhibit opening in April.
Pazour said he jumped at the chance to allow Lukas and Catterlin to highlight their journey at the museum, which builds excitement for the Porter County exhibit.
“Their story is incredible,” Pazour said. “We knew their story would bring people in the doors and that they would stay to see what else is going on.”