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The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Today is the 40th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, lost with all hands on November 10, 1975.  One of my first LJ entries after years of lurking was about her on her 35th. She went down in Lake Superior in 535 feet of water, taking with her a crew of 29 and 26,116 long tons of taconite pellets made of processed iron ore.  The shipwreck was memorialized in Gordon Lightfoot's song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The video under the cut has the song plus a clip from the national news and Lake Superior storm footage.

The Fitz is the last and largest of hundreds of ships that have gone down in Lake Superior from the early 1800's.  More about some other famous wrecks can be found at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum where they keep the Fitzgerald's bell as a memorial. There is a site for the ship with a lot of information including a timeline.

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world if you go by surface area. It is incredibly deep for a lake and the water is extremely cold. It's cold enough to inhibit the bacteria present with normal decomposition and so the lake preserves and often keeps what sinks there. The song sings about how Superior never gives up her dead and that would be why. The lake is large enough that it impacts the local climate's temperature and snowfall totals. It can be placid like in the photo I took a couple of summers ago.

Or it can be really rough like in this photo taken by Greg Kretovic.

Growing up, I lived within an hour's drive of the Lake Superior shoreline. I was just a kid in 1975 and can't remember hearing about the Fitz sinking until later but I do remember the gale and the damage it did to buildings in our area at the time. The loss of the Fitz is one of those events that stays with the local people like the Kennedy assassination or the Challenger disaster. It comes complete with competing theories about why the ship went down. No one knows for sure except Captain McSorley and his crew of 28, may they rest in peace.

Fair winds and following seas to all those who work on the water.

...for the sea is so wide and our ship is so small


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 10th, 2015 11:21 pm (UTC)
I hadn't realized the Edmund Fitzgerald was that recent -- within my lifetime. Somehow I thought it was a 19th century tragedy.
Nov. 11th, 2015 01:32 am (UTC)
I think that part of the reason why it sticks with so many people is because it was a fairly modern ship at the time and that led to the assumption that it had modern safety features that would preserve it from disaster. Plus, it was on a lake, not an ocean, and it would seem as though the big ore freighters would be able handle what a lake could throw at it. When you saw them up close, even before they built them to handle the ocean, they were massive. Ships from the age of sail or steam are the ones that seem vulnerable. It was recent enough that my husband's older step-brother worked on the ship on some of it's earlier runs. Having it memorialized in the song makes it even more memorable. There is also the endless fascination and speculation about what specifically caused the ship to sink.

The lake can be harsh and unforgiving when teamed with bad weather. When I was in college, a Coast Guard bouy tender ran aground very close to my hometown and was so badly battered by the winter storms that it was unsalvageable and they sank it to use as a diving attraction.
Nov. 11th, 2015 03:37 am (UTC)
I've had that song in my head all day; I'm not old enough to remember the event, but I did learn the song as a kid, and I've always loved it. As much as one can love a song where everyone dies.
Nov. 11th, 2015 04:41 pm (UTC)
I think kids are really curious about disasters and accidents. For me as a kid, the song was about my lake and that added an extra attraction. I think anyone on the Great Lakes can claim it.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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