On a stormy November evening 42 years ago the crew of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, 29 men who thought they were on the last run of the season, made the last run of their lives.
Wheelsmen. Deckhands. Oilers. Engineers. Porters. Maintenance men. Cooks. Mates. Watchmen. Wiper. Cadet. Captain. Fathers. Brothers. Husbands. Grandfathers. Sons.
All hands were lost when the 729-foot freighter, loaded with iron ore pellets called taconite, was swallowed by Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 en route from Superior, Wisconsin (twin port city to Duluth, Minnesota), to Detroit.
After hours of sailing through the storm, at 7:10 p.m. the Fitzerald’s veteran Captain Ernest M. McSorley radioed the captain of the Arthur M. Anderson, an ore carrier trailing the Fitz by about 10 miles and said, “We are holding our own.”
There was no further communication from and no other sighting of the lake boat, the largest of its kind when it launched on the Detroit River in 1958.
Officially the reason for the sinking of the Fitzgerald in Canadian waters about 17 miles off the Upper Peninsula “remains a mystery,” according to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, where her bell is displayed.
In his 1976 ballad “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot referenced speculation that the crew had been at fault for not correctly battening down the hatches. But Lightfoot later changed that line of his lyrics because a Canadian documentary claims to have proven that the sinking was not the crew’s doing.
Books, videos, articles and additional websites about “Big Fitz” reflect the continuing fascination with the greatest modern shipwreck in U.S. waters; this website is an excellent resource.
In November of each year Great Lakers attend ceremonies that recognize not only the Fitzgerald but all mariners lost on Lakes Superior, Huron, Ontario, Erie and Michigan.
Click here to listen to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzerald” while reading about this year’s memorial events:
Annual tribute at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy of Northwestern Michigan College.
Working on Great Lakes Freighters in the 20th Century, East Lansing, 12:15 p.m.-1:30 p.m., Friday, November 10
The Michigan State University Our Daily Work, Our Daily Lives Brown Bag Series features Frank Boles, Clarke Library, Central Michigan University and Author of Sailing Into History: Great Lakes Bulk Carriers of the Twentieth Century and the Crews Who Sailed Them, at the MSU Museum Auditorium.
Lost Mariners Remembrance, Detroit – Dossin Great Lakes Museum, 6-8 p.m., Friday, November 10
The annual Lost Mariners Remembrance honors all those who have perished on the inland seas. In addition to the Edmund Fitzgerald tribute, this year’s program focuses on the loss of the tug Admiral and its consort tanker-barge Cleveco in Lake Erie in December of 1942.
There will be a lantern vigil at the Fitzgerald‘s anchor outside of the museum, and Great Lakes balladeer Lee Murdock will perform, followed by the solemn dispatch of a memorial wreath to the Detroit River. Admission is charged in addition to State Park vehicle fee.
NOTE: This program is SOLD OUT. Please contact Casie at 313.833.1801 for wait list information.
The seasonal Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum on Lake Superior reopens just for this annual tribute, with the main gallery open “by donation” from Noon-4 p.m., followed by the evening ceremony. Located north of Paradise at Whitefish Point, 17 miles from where the freighter went down, the museum contains the Fitzgerald’s bell, recovered from the deep-water site in 1995. At the bottom of the lake rests a replica of the bell, inscribed with the names of the lost seamen.
Annual Edmund Fitzgerald recognition at the Great Lake Lore Maritime Museum.
The 60-minute documentary will be screened at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum’s Fall Film Series.
The annual Great Lakes Memorial Service honors all lost on the lakes at the church on the Detroit River that is referenced in Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
Edmund Fitzgerald: What Really Happened? Detroit – 2 p.m., Sunday, November 19
Discover the story of the tragedy at The Outdoor Adventure Center on the Detroit Riverfront.
Program is included in the OAC admission fee.
The seasonal Split Rock Lighthouse opens for this annual tribute that includes a film about the freighter, a solemn ceremony and once-a-year opportunity to climb to the top of the tower after dark. Fee charged.
But wait, there’s more:
Read “The Legend Lives On,” Susan R. Pollack’s story in Experience Michigan magazine about the Edmund Fitzgerald and her encounter at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum with Fran Gabor, niece of one of the lost sailors.
For more about the Fitzgerald, spend time exploring the extensive information at S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online the website maintained by Timothy McCall.
Story and photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Kath Usitalo.