Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Edmund Fitzgerald

On this day in 1975, one of the United States' most tragic maritime disasters occurred on Lake Superior.

The Supertanker Edmund Fitzgerald was lost at sea with all hands. 29 men died in what would be one of the most mysterious Great Lake shipwrecks of all time.

Lake Superior, known for its rough seas and terrible winter storms, claimed the Edmund Fitzgerald in 80 mile an hour winds and 25-foot high waves. The supertanker was not unlike the Titanic as far as the notion of "it's too big to be lost at sea". It sank fast, without sending out a single distress call. This wasn't 1875 but 1975 and the suddenness of the tragedy surprised everyone. The ship was equipped with state of the art everything...radar, sonar, communications. To this day not one body has been recovered.

The ship, discovered at the bottom of the lake a few days later, sits a silent tomb. Home forever for the crew of 29 that perished so suddenly and horribly that November night. The Son of the Late Great Jacques Cousteau, Jean-Michel, brought The Calypso to Lake Superior and were the first crew to use a submersible to dive to the ship, in 1980.

What made the wreck so mysterious was the circumstances of how it sank so fast without sending a distress call. Not one SOS. It was so weird that people came up with every theory under the Sun including Alien Abduction.

It has been determined in the intervening years that the hatches were insufficiently closed and that water poured through them, compromising the ship. One thing led to another and within minutes, all were gone. The Captain, Ernest M McSorley, was a veteran seaman. It probably surprised the hell out of him, too.

In 1995 the beautiful golden Bell, engraved with the ships name, was brought to the surface. It is now housed reverently at The Great Lakes Shipwreck museum.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is home to an entire exhibit for the Fitz. Be forewarned - "The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald" is on a loop. (God Bless Gordon Lightfoot!) If you can't handle the song...wear earplugs. But go. Whitefish Point, Michigan is as beautiful and wild a place in all of North America and it's AWESOME. We don't even have words to describe accurately the majestic views of Lake Superior.

The museum is hosting it's annual Edmund Fitzgerald tribute later today that always concludes with a prayer and a ringing of the original Bell 29 times, once for each man lost.

For those of you old enough to have FINALLY gotten the Gordon Lightfoot tribute song out of you head...sorry... Here it comes again. It's a friggin classic!

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call 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 - 26,000 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 the 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 ships bell rang
Could it be the North Wind they'd been feeling.

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T'was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane West Wind

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it's too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it's been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does anyone 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 her.

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 ruins 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 29 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 say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.
© 1976 Moose Music, Inc.

Wiki article on the Edmund Fitzgerald

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