Nov 10

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald

*Sometimes called the “Big Fitz” or the “Mighty Fitz”, the Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest American working vessel operating on the Great Lakes. She was used to carry iron ore from Duluth, Michigan to Detroit, Cleveland and various other industrial ports. This was, of course, during a time when the U.S. still manufactured automobiles and steel mills were in abundance. That part of America is now called the “rust belt”, since the factories and mills of the region have all been shuttered.

November 10th, commemorates the tragic events that resulted in the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. In 1975 the ship was only 17 years of age. The Edmund Fitzgerald had set many records for weight carried across the lakes.

Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes that share the border between the United States and Canada, is known for strong winds and heavy swells. In November of 1975, the winter winds blew early and according to a legend from the Chippewa tribe, Lake Superior “never gives up her dead”. This was certainly true in the case of the Edmund Fitzgerald. All 29 members of the ship’s crew were lost when she sank in hurricane force winds and swells that exceeded 35 feet (11 m.). Their bodies were never recovered.

Canadian singer / songwriter Gordon Lightfoot wrote a haunting ballad about the events of that fateful day.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
by Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called “Gitche Gumee.”
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy.

With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the “Gales of November” came early.

The ship was the pride of the American side
coming back from some mill in Wisconsin.
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
with a crew and good captain well seasoned.

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland.
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang,
could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
and a wave broke over the railing.
And ev’ry man knew, as the captain did too
’twas the witch of November come stealin’.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
when the Gales of November came slashin’.
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
in the face of a hurricane west wind.

When suppertime came the old cook came on deck
Sayin’ “Fellas, it’s too rough t’feed ya.”
At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in; *
he said, “Fellas, it’s bin good t’know ya!”

The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
and the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when ‘is lights went outta sight
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
if they’d put fifteen more miles behind ‘er.

They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
in the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams;
the islands and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below Lake Ontario
takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
with the Gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
in the “Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.”
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call “Gitche Gumee.”
“Superior,” they said, “never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early!”

*An important note about this maritime tragedy; It was initially thought that one of the crew members had forgotten to lock down the hatch. Leaving a hatch open during rough seas would allow water to invade the inner section of the ship, thus causing it to sink. This supposition was later disproved, much to the relief of the family members, who for many years had borne the burden that perhaps one of their loved ones had been responsible for the sinking of the ship and the subsequent death of all on board.


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