The Mighty Fitz

(myfoxtwincities.com)
(myfoxtwincities.com)

By: Wayne Brown

(Writer’s Note: In August of 1976, Canadian singer/songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot, release the song, “Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald” commemorating the loss of the big iron ship and its crew on Lake Superior during a November storm of 1975. The song tells a great story and relates very well to the facts of this true occurrence. I thought it might be interesting to lay out the lines of verse contained in the song and correlate them to what was happening in the real life tragedy that occurred on that fateful day of 10 November 1975.)

(amazon.com)
(amazon.com)
(minnesotapublicradio.org)
(minnesotapublicradio.org)

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

As written by: Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down

Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee


A subset of the Chippewa Indian tribe settled near the shores of the Great Lakes specifically in the Michigan and Wisconsin regions. These bands were Ojibwa Indians. Their folklore and legends incorporate stories which relate to the lakes. The Ojibwa referred to one large body of water as Lake Gichigami . French explorers had labeled the lake as La Superier . The term Gichigami translates to English as “Big Water”. It was first seen in writings by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in “The Song of Hiawatha” written as “Gitche Gumee ”. The French reference to “La Superier” is thought to point to the fact that this particular body of water rests above the other lakes.


(ask.com)
(ask.com)


The lake it is said never gives up her dead

When the skies of November turn gloomy



The Great Lakes and especially Lake Superior have become legend for swallowing up ships and boats in the winter storm season. More than 300 shipwrecks are estimated to reside in the deep waters of the lakes most finding their way there due to conditions encountered on the lakes in the winter storm season. Lake Superior covers a land mass approximately the size of the State of South Carolina measuring roughly 350 miles by 160 miles in dimension. Superior is over 1300 feet deep in some areas and can easily swallow a vessel so deeply that it cannot be salvaged. Superior is the largest fresh water lake in the world although not the deepest. Even at summer time temperatures, the average water temperature is 40 degrees F. In the winter months, the water temps drop significantly and become very unforgiving to any poor souls entering the water for even short periods of time.


(discussions.mnhs.org)
(discussions.mnhs.org)

With a load of iron ore – 26,000 tons more

Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty

 

The Edmund Fitzgerald was put into service in 1958 as an iron ore transporter on the Great Lakes.  Iron ore or taconite is pelletized for shipping in large bulk quantities.  The Edmund Fitzgerald was a classic bulk freight design looking somewhat similar to an oil tanker with most of the hull area configured into compartments for the bulk materials.  There were individual accesses to each of these large cargo bays on the top deck of the vessel and walkways below the deck which allowed interior access to each bay.  The pilot house and controls were placed forward on the keel of the vessel with the cargo bays distributed from the keel to the stern in order to balance the center of gravity of the vessel and provide for maximum visibility for piloting the ship. The Edmund Fitzgerald was capable of hauling 26.6 tons of dry bulk ore as configured.  Fully loaded, the ship sailed at just over 40 tons of gross weight.

 

(mediawiki.org)
(mediawiki.org)
(underworldtales.com)
(underworldtales.com)

That good ship and crew were a bone to be chewed

When the gales of November came early

The Edmund Fitzgerald was commissioned for build by the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. It seems the company’s president at the time was the son of an old sea captain and thus he guided the insurance company to invest in a great lakes freighter. The ship was aptly named after the old sea captain, Edmund Fitzgerald. The stipulation at the time of build was that the ship would be the biggest or among the biggest freighters on the lake. Certain restrictions set forth for governance of the St. Lawrence waterway would define the limits of the ships size. The ship measured 729 feet long, 75 feet wide, and had a depth of 39 feet. It was powered by a Westinghouse 2 cylinder steam driven turbine, coal-fired engine driving a 19.5 ft. single propeller. The engine created over 7500 horsepower. The pilot house was located forward on the keel and the engine house was located rearward to the stern. The area in between was designated as the cargo hold made up of multiple water-tight compartments. The Edmund Fitzgerald was capable of speeds under load of 14 knots. In 1972, the ship was retrofitted to burn fuel oil rather than coal as its source of power. The ship required 29 crewmembers for operation and true to plan was at one time the largest freighter on the Lakes. The Great Lakes begin to see the heavy impact of winter normally by late November into early December. By this time, large winter storms which have been brewing over Canada begin to drop down onto the lakes bringing heavy ice, snow, gale force winds, and heavy seas. Some sailors describe it as the wind-swept torrents of hell. The Edmund Fitzgerald had set out on this shipping leg in the afternoon of November 9th. It was early in the month thus the storm season was not yet expected although the National Weather Service was predicting a storm would pass that night to the south of the Great Lakes but really posed no threat to shipping.


(allwoodships.com)
(allwoodships.com)

The ship was the pride of the American side

Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin


As indicated above, the Edmund Fitzgerald, also known as the “Mighty Fitz”, “Big Fitz” and “The Fitz” was owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. It was operated by the Columbia Transportation Division of Oglebay Norton Company which was headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. The ship was registered in the United States. The Fitz had departed the Burlington Railroad Docks, Superior, Wisconsin at 2:15 PM on November 9, 1975. On this trip, it was headed to drop a load of taconite at a steel mill located at ZugIsland near Detroit, Michigan. The leg would require an overnight transit so The Fitz would be expected to arrive at ZugIsland on the 10th of November 1975.


As big freighters go, she was bigger than most

With a crew and the Captain well seasoned.


As stated above, when commissioned The Fitz was the largest freight on the Great Lakes. By 1975 other large freighters had gone into service but the Fitzgerald was still among the largest of that inventory. When the ship departed Superior, Wisconsin, it was under the command of Captain Ernest M. McSorley along with an experienced crew of 28 seamen ranging in age from 20 to 63. McSorley was a Canadian by birth but had moved as a child to the United States with his parents residing in Ogdensburg, New York which is located on the banks of the St. Lawrence Waterway. McSorley basically grew up dreaming of becoming a ship captain and he made the dream come true as he entered his adult years. By the time that he assumed command of The Fitz in 1972; McSorley had captained nine different ships and had over 40 years of experience as a mariner. McSorley had just turned 63 years of age and was sailing his last season on The Fitz. He was a man of few words yet viewed by most of his contemporaries and his crew as a skilled seaman and capable captain. He had a highly respected reputation for taking on bad weather upon the seas and dealing effectively with it.

(findagrave.com) Captain Ernest M. McSorley
(findagrave.com) Captain Ernest M. McSorley


Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms

When the left fully loaded for Cleveland



In this case, Lightfoot adopts the concept of poetic license, in that The Fitz was departing Superior Wisconsin loading from the Burlington Northern piers. Its destination on the 10th of November was a steel mill located on ZugIsland in Lake St. Clair near Detroit Michigan. Technically, in order to arrive there, The Fitz would indeed have to set a course that was in the direction of Cleveland. First it would depart on Superior eastbound heading to the waterway locks at Sault St. Marie. At this point, the ship would transition from Lake Superior to Lake Huron and sail to the southeast and south toward Port Huron Michigan of the shores of Lake Huron. At that point, it would enter the St. Clair River and sail southbound into Lake St. Clair and then into ZugIsland. For the entire transit of Lake Huron, the ship would be pointed in the direction of Cleveland thus the poetic license on the part of Lightfoot. Also, the headquarters offices for the vessel’s operating company were located in Cleveland. The Fitz did depart on the afternoon of 9 November 1975 with a load of iron ore (taconite) pellets weighing in at just over 26,000 tons thus she was fully loaded.

(englishexercises.org) Lake Superior shown in the map above.  Note that that the leg between Superior WI and the locks at Sault Ste. Marie would have taken The Fitz the entire breadth of Lake Superior.
(englishexercises.org) Lake Superior shown in the map above. Note that that the leg between Superior WI and the locks at Sault Ste. Marie would have taken The Fitz the entire breadth of Lake Superior.
(michiganrailroads.com) Zug Island Michigan located just east of Detroit  The Fitzs destination.
(michiganrailroads.com) Zug Island Michigan located just east of Detroit The Fitzs destination.

And later that night when the ship’s bell rang

Could it be the North Wind they’d been feeling?


The Fitz had departed the Burlington Railroad Docks at Superior Wisconsin at 2:15 PM on 9 November 1975. After departure, The Fitz joined up with another vessel, “The Arthur Anderson” which was sailing out of Two Harbors, Minnesota heading to Gary Indiana. The Fitz and The Anderson would sail along the same route through the locks at Sault St. Marie and southward finally splitting as they neared their individual destinations. Weather was not anticipated to be a significant factor on the voyage as the National Weather Service was predicting that a storm would pass to the south of Lake Superior by the 7:00 AM hour on the morning of 10 November. This storm was expected to clear the normal sailing channels before either The Fitz or Anderson entered into Lake Huron. The Fitz had trailed the Anderson until after midnight on the 9th. Capable of higher speeds, The Fitz took the lead position around 1:00 AM in the early morning hours of 10 November. By this time both ships were encountering a massive winter storm with heavy snow, winds near 60 mph with gusts to 100 mph, and waves on Lake Superior reaching heights of 35 feet. Visibility was getting poorer by the minute and McSorley was also having difficulty keeping The Fitz at top speed. The Weather Service issued a gale force bulletin for Superior and both ships altered course toward the Canadian shore in the hopes of gaining some relief from the storm. No doubt, at this point, they were feeling the north wind.



The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound

And a wave broke over the railing


The winds had reached gale force with gusts nearing 100 mph. The waves driven by the winds were growing size. Around the cargo deck surface of The Fitzgerald, the deck rails were formed by cables strung tightly through posts placed at intervals along each side of the deck. The heavy wind gust would create howling sounds as it passed between the cables. Soon waves were breaking over the railings which stood close to 40 above the water level of the ship. Both the amount of wind and the high seas driven by it were very unusual for this early time of November. Those listening to the radio frequencies knew that it had to be bad when McSorley agreed to alter course for relief in that the captain was known to take his storms head on most of the time.



And every man knew as the Captain did too

T’was the witch of November come stealing


These were seasoned sailors who knew clearly what they were encountering. The season weather which came to the Great Lakes in late November had showed up early. In fact, one captain who had departed the same docks as The Fitz had already seen enough to head for the north shores of Superior for protection from the storm. McSorley and company had seen and encountered this type of weather before. It was not something they were incapable of dealing with but they needed the vessel to remain sturdy in the process. The witch of November was the big Canadian storms seen on the lakes every year.



The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait

When the gales of November came lashing


By 7:00 AM on the morning of 10 November, the skies were still dark as Lake Superior was under what the National Weather Service was now classifying as a storm with sustained winds of 58 MPH and rough seas. Both The Fitz and Arthur Anderson had altered course to move toward the Canadian shoreline in the hope of gaining some relief from the storm whose center lay more to the south of their position. By this time McSorley had brought all the hands off deck. The vessel was secured for passage in rough seas. By this time, the Soo Locks at Sault St. Marie were closed due to the rough seas. The ships would have to wait out the storm, then head south toward Whitefish Point and then begin their approach for locks passage. The storm was moving rather slowly and skies remained overcast well into the day.



When afternoon came, it was freezing rain

In the face of a hurricane West Wind


By 3:00 PM, McSorley knew the Fitzgerald was in trouble. He reported on the radio that he was taking on water and the ship was listing to port or the left side. His bilge pumps were running in an effort to stay ahead of the water. There was no indication that anyone knew the source of the water although some speculate that broken hinges on some of the cargo bay doors may have allowed water from waves passing over the deck to invade the dry cargo holds creating the listing in the vessel. McSorley had reduced the RPM level of his engine as he reported that his ship was working very hard. He indicated to The Anderson captain that he was having trouble keeping under the current conditions referring to the effects of winds, seas, and the listing of the vessel due to unknown factors. The freezing rain added addition hazards associated with weight. Given enough ice loading on the high structure of the ship with the high winds and capsizing could become a reality. McSorley gave the order, “Don’t allow nobody on deck!”



When supper time came the old cook came on deck

Saying fellows it’s too rough to feed ya


The storm was relentless and continued into the evening of the 10th. All activities were shutdown on The Fitzgerald including cooking and eating. The waters were just too rough to safely allow it. McSorley had things buttoned down and he planned to remain in that configuration until they could gain some relief from the storm. The listing continued to the port side and now McSorley was reporting that he had lost his radar capability thus was sailing blind. He requested that the Arthur Anderson move within range and use its radar to help guide The Fitz toward the northern shore.



At 7 PM the main hatchway caved in

He said fellows it’s been good to know ya


By 5:00 PM, McSorley, with the assistance of The Arthur Anderson, had The Fitzgerald on a course running toward the Whitefish Point light beacon. The light was operating but the radio beacon was still out as a result of the storm. By this time, McSorley was reporting that both of his radars were out and that he was witnessing seas like he had never seen before. The Edmund Fitzgerald never issued a distress call and McSorley broadcast his last know transmission about 7:10 PM on the 10th when he reported, “We are holding our own.” At that point, The Edmund Fitzgerald essentially disappeared from the radar of other vessels and no longer responded to radio queries. Lightfoot goes to the obvious and assumes the crewmembers said their goodbyes to each other.



The Captain wired in he had water coming in

And the good ship and crew was in peril


As stated above, by 5:00 PM on the 10th, The Fitz was reporting a heavy list to the left, water entering the cargo bays, inoperable radar, and seas which in the words of Captain McSorley nothing like anything that he had ever seen in his life. Though the captain was not declaring an emergency, it is easy to see that the ship and crew were indeed in peril.



And later that night when his lights went out of sight

Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald


Based on communications the Edmund Fitzgerald broke up on the surface and sank approximately 17 miles from Whitefish Point on Lake Superior in 530 of water. This must have occurred shortly after McSorley’s last radio transmission at 7:10 PM on the 10th.

(squidoo.com)  a chart depicting the position of The Fitz once the wreckage was discovered. Note the position of Whitefish Point and the entry way to the Sault St. Marie locks.
(squidoo.com) a chart depicting the position of The Fitz once the wreckage was discovered. Note the position of Whitefish Point and the entry way to the Sault St. Marie locks.

 

Does anyone know where the love of God goes

When the waves turn the minutes to hours?

 

This is my favorite line in the entire song.  This line is in reference to the amount of time that it took to get some help on the scene of The Fitz’s loss.  The Captain of the Arthur Anderson first sent out a distress call on the ship’s radio at 7:39 PM after losing all contact with The Fitzgerald.  He received no response to his call.  By 8:32 PM, the captain was on the radio pleading with anyone within the range of his voice to assist.  He was trying to convince the U.S. Coast Guard that The Fitzgerald was indeed missing from the surface and gain a response.  At the time, elements of the Coast Guard in the local area were assisting in another emergency due to the storm.  Coast Guard officials later indicated that they took the report seriously but did not classify it as an emergency at that point.  Considering the rough seas, the freezing rain, and the possible low water temperature, it was obvious by this time that a sailor in the water was doomed by potential exposure or drowning.  Thus if there were survivors, they must have decided that God had surely abandoned any effort to rescue them in the short term.  The search was left to the freighter traffic in the area as the Coast Guard did not have sufficient equipment in the area for this type of rescue.  By 10:00 PM, the Coast Guard had launched a fixed-wing search aircraft to assist in the search.  By 1:00 AM on the morning of the 11th, a helicopter was added to the search as well.  Hours were passing rapidly with no sign of life in the water.

(greatlakesfreighters.com)
(greatlakesfreighters.com)

The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay

If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her


The Edmund Fitzgerald sank in deep waters some 17 miles (15 nautical miles) off of Whitefish Point. Had McSorley been able to acquire the lighthouse reference on the point, The Fitz may have been able to sail into Whitefish Bay and gain some relief from the storm. Instead the large freighter broke up and rapidly sank to a deep water grave in Lake Superior.



They might have split up or they might have capsized

They may have broke deep and took water


While there is considerable speculation as to why The Fitz sank, no one is totally sure of the cause. The best estimates based on visits to the wreckage by underwater submersible vessels state that The Edmund Fitzgerald broke up on the surface and sank in two pieces to a depth of 530 feet coming to rest on the floor of Lake Superior. This breakup could have been caused by the weight of the additional water and ice taken on board in the storm or it could have been the result of other incidents which created damages in the ship. At the time of the loss, the ship was valued at $24 million dollars. The financial loss still stands as the largest to ever occur on the Great Lakes.



And all that remains are the faces and the names

Of the wives and the sons, and the daughters


There were no survivors from The Edmund Fitzgerald. There were no bodies recovered from the seas so the speculation is that the breakup occurred so rapidly that none of the crew was able to escape the main body of the ship. All 29 crewmembers went to the bottom of the lake to remain in a dark watery grave at 530 feet below the surface. The only real evidence of their lives is the relatives they left behind who were waiting at home for their return.



Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings

In the walls of her ice water mansions

Old Michigan seems like a young boy’s dream

The islands and bays are for sportsmen


The upper Great Lakes have a personality all their own ranging from the frequently rough waters of Huron and the beauty and sport of Michigan to the icy waters of Lake Superior which even in summertime seldom rise above 40 degrees F. Given the beauty and recreational appeal of the lakes and the area surrounding them, one must be reminded that this is also an area of potential danger especially in terms of stormy weather for water vessels. Death lurks just beneath the surface.



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


The dangers of these waters are ever present in the minds of the mariners who sail them aboard the iron boats hauling taconite and other materials between ports on the lakes. There is reverence for those who have died and respect for the immense power of the water and the weather in combination in this area. This respected is further focused on the area where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down as 240 of the 300 shipwrecks occurring on the Great Lakes have occurred in the area near Whitefish Point.



In a musty old hall in Detroit they pray

In The Maritime Sailor’s Cathedral

The church bell chimed, ‘til it rang 29 times

For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald


Although Lightfoot refers to “The Maritime Sailor’s Cathedral”, this is simply poetic license to describe the “Mariner’s Church of Detroit”. This church operates under the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. The church was established in 1842 and for a time during the Civil War was a stop on the Underground Railroad which transported fleeing slaves to freedom in Canada. The church is a limestone structure equipped with a bell tower. Each spring the church blesses the fleet as they began operations on the Great Lakes. In November of 1975, upon hearing of the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald and its crew, the church bell housed in the bell tower was rang 29 times as an acknowledgement of the 29 lives lost on board the vessel.


(michigan.org) The Mariners Church of Detroit (note bell tower)
(michigan.org) The Mariners Church of Detroit (note bell tower)

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

 

True to the long living Indian legends regarding the lakes, most of those who die there remain there in the deep, dark waters.  For the first time in the song, Lightfoot also acknowledges the tie between Lake Superior and the name Gitche Gumee.   The Edmund Fitzgerald is of but one example of the many mariners and others who have perished in the icy waters when the storm season arrives without warning.

 

 

 

The Edmund Fitzgerald Crew:

 

Armagost, Michael E., age 37, Iron River, Wisconsin serving as Third Mate.

Beetcher, Fred J., age 56, Superior, Wisconsin, serving as Porter.

Bentsen, Thomas D., age 23, St. Joseph, Wisconsin, serving as Oiler.

Bindon, Edward F., age 47, Fairport Harbor, Ohio, serving as 1st Assist. Engineer.

Borgeson, Thomas D., age 41, Duluth, Minnesota, serving as Maintenance Man.

Champeau, Oliver J., age 41, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, serving as 1st Asst Engineer.

Church, Nolan S., age 55, Silver Bay, Minnesota, serving as Porter.

Cundy, Ransom E., age 53, Superior, Wisconsin, serving as Watchman.

Edwards, Thomas E., age 50, Oregon, Ohio, serving as 2nd Asst. Engineer.

Haskell, Russell G., age 40, Millbury, Ohio, serving as 2nd Asst. Engineer.

Holl, George J., age 60, Cabot, Pennsylvania, serving as Chief Engineer.

Hudson, Bruce L., age 22, North Olmsted, Ohio, serving as Deck Hand.

Kalmon, Allen G., age 43, Washburn, Wisconsin, serving as 2nd Cook.

MacLellan, Gordon F., age 30, Clearwater, Florida, service as Wiper.

Mazes, Joseph W., age 59, Ashland, Wisconsin, serving as Special Maint. Man.

McCarthy, John H., age 62, Bay Village, Ohio, serving as First Mate.

McSorley, Ernest M., age 63, Toledo, Ohio, serving as Captain.

O’Brien, Eugene W., age 50, Toledo, Ohio, serving as Wheelsman.

Peckol, Karl A., age 20, Ashtabula, Ohio, serving as Watchman.

Poviach, John J., age 59, Bradenton, Florida, serving as Wheelsman.

Pratt, James A., age 44, Lakewood, Ohio, serving as 2nd Mate.

Rafferty, Robert C., age 62, Toledo, Ohio, serving as Steward.

Riippa, Paul M., age 22, Ashtabula, Ohio, serving as Deck Hand.

Simmons, John D., age 62, Ashland, Wisconsin, serving as Wheelsman.

Spengler, William J., age 59, Toledo, Ohio, serving as Watchman.

Thomas, Mark A., age 21, Richmond Heights, Ohio, serving as Deck Hand.

Walton, Ralph G., age 58, Fremont, Ohio, serving as Oiler.

Weiss, David E., age 22, Agoura, California, serving as MarinerAcademy Cadet.

Wilhelm, Blaine H., age 52, Moquah, Wisconsin, serving as Oiler.

 

(myfoxtwincities.com)
(myfoxtwincities.com)

©Copyright WBrown2010.  All Rights Reserved.

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Comments 39 comments

kookoo88 profile image

kookoo88 6 years ago from Cripple Creek

Really, really interesting article. I've liked that song for a long time. Thank you for publishing this. :)


samiaali profile image

samiaali 6 years ago

You have given us a real history lesson here Wayne Brown. I find stories about the sea, mysterious and interesting. The pics you've used are beautiful as well!


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@kookoo88...Glad you found the subject interesting. I have always been fascinated with it from the time that I first heard the song. The song is an incredibile piece of work and really makes you want to know of the story. Thanks for the good words! WB

@samiaali...History it certainly is although I don't know that it is well known history. I think the song may be better known that the actual incident but that speaks to the power of the song which was pheonomenal! Thanks for your great comments! WB


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

GREAT job, Wayne. Last November, I wrote a Hub about some memories surrounding the Edmund Fitzgerald. And the question, "Does anyone know where the love of God goes. . ." remains fascinating & worthy of meditation.

Rated up & awesome.


TimBryce 6 years ago

Wow. Excellent work Wayne. You need to get this published elsewhere as well.

All the Best,

Tim


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 6 years ago

Wayne, what a fascinating hub and a wonderful new direction for you. You never cease to amaze me. Voted up and awesome.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@Ken R. Abell...Your piece came out a couple of months before I showed up here at the hub. I will have to go back and find it for a read. This is a fascinating subject and the song associated with it is just incredible. Thanks Ken! WB

@TimBryce...Do you want me to sing the song on your show? LOL! The last time I performed it was for the prisoners down at Gitmo...as a favor to Dick Cheney. He said they needed something more effective than waterboarding! LOL! Thanks for the good words Tim. WB

@breakfastpop...I have always been fascinated with various subjects in our history. Lightfoot did such a wonderful job on this song that I was immediately drawn to this story. I keep revisiting it over the years and learning a bit more each time. Glad you liked it and I am glad that I can continue to entertain! WB


American Romance profile image

American Romance 6 years ago from America

Wayne, this was really interesting, I never knew the story and enjoyed the read, adding it to music was evern better!..........so do you sing along with shaving and yard work too? LOL


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@American Romance...Oh yeah, I will sing along with just about anything! LOL! Once you know the story, the song is all the more fascinating. Lightfoot really found the mood of somberness necessary to tell this tragic story. Glad you enjoyed it! WB


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

What an interesting story you have shared with this hub, Wayne. I lived for years in a city next to one of the Great Lakes (Lake Michigan) but never heard about The Fitz before.

Thank you for your excellent research and amazing details.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@drbj...I was the same way. I heard the song back in the late 70's for the first time but just assumed that it was a story made up for the lyrics. Once I found that it was a true story, I really became intrigued to know more about it. So I decided to share my perspective on it. Glad you enjoyed it! WB


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Wayne being a Canadian we are all very aware of this tragedy that took place on the mighty Superior, I have driven the Canadian side hundreds of times over the years both in cars and my 18 wheeler and every time I drove it I would recall the tragedy and the tribute song sung by Gordon Lightfoot.

I grew up in Montreal and left for Western Canada in 1973 but before I did, I had the oportunity to go and see Gordon Lightfoot live at a concert in Montreal, he had not released the Edmund Fitzgerald at that time, however his show was excellent.

I have heard the song since he published it many many times and each time it brings me back to my drives over the Superior Hwy 17.. There are various versions of what might have caused the sinking. Three are as follows.

1. The hatches were not secured properly that held the cargo

2, The rivets were not tight enough on the sidewall of the ship, causing water to leak in slowly and quite possibly made it heavy in the water.

3. A rogue wave, Lake Superior in parts and with a northern wind waves tend to raise pretty darn high.

I have witnessed the high waves as I drove along the shores and parked to watch them. The winter winds that come across the Superior causes road blocks and often I was pulled over waiting for snowplows to clear the highway for us to proceed.

From what I have read and seen on t.v...what most likely happened is the cargo was too heavy and brought the ship down below the safe water level and when the storm came up a rogue wave may have sank her, she went down pretty quickly.

Great hub Wayne, you did some fantastic research and the pics and videos are awesome. I rate it way UP there and some more.


sueroy333 profile image

sueroy333 6 years ago from Indiana

Wow. I loved how you broke this up for those of us with ADD. :O)

I started reading because I found it interesting, then found I had goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes. You brought us there with the crew.

Excellent writing, as always. Voted up and all that good stuff. I'll also share this one on facebook as I think they'll all find this interesting as well.

Awesome stuff.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@saddlerider1...Yes, Ken, there was evidence that the deck vent on the cargo holds were only partial clasped and that some of the clasps were damage which speculation say was the only ones attached when they encountered the storm. One captain testified that it was not unusual to depart the port with only part attachment on the vents and they would bind everything down once they were cruising. I doubt the crew of the Fitz had much time to do that. The front cap of the keel had also been entirely replace and one time and rather than rivet it back on, they had simply tack welded it. It had been described as a "loose keel" and even McSorley had stated that the boat made a lot of noise in rough waters. The measurements made between the two pieces on the ship as it lies on the lake indicate that the break up took place on the surface. Had the break up occurred when the keel or stern hit the floor the pieces would have been closer together on the floor. There was also some speculation that the ship encounter a reef protusion that was uncharted. Apparently there was damage on the reef but it could not be correlated to damage on the ship. Since McSorley had been taking on water ever since entering they storm, I think one or more of the cargo holds had some kind issue or the loose vent clasp allowed the rain and snow to accumulate in the hold faster than the bilge could remove it...especially after the waves began to come across the deck at over 35 feet. The captain of the Arthur Anderson reported at least two and possible three rogue waves that hit his ship in the same area around that time so that could certainly be a factor. McSorley's assessment that he had never seen conditions like he was encountering in his life speaks volumes as to how rough it must have been. With water already in the cargo hold, a list to the left as a result, and freezing rain accumulating on the upper structure, it is easy to see how the weight of the ship could have expanded expotentially in a short period of time. It was a very tragic circumstance. Thanks for the good words. WB


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@sueroy333....Great! So glad you liked it enough to stick with it. It's a great story and a great song as well. I would love to write a poem in this vain but I am not sure that I can do it a just due...might try though! Thanks for sharing! WB


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Wow! Lot of work Wayne! Thank you Sir! Gee! Fantastic hub. It's usual for you but still - wow!


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@Micky Dee...It didn't seem like so much work in terms of writing it, Micky...probably because I had gained a good bit of knowledge on the subject over many years now. It was just glueing in all the photos that took time but I figured that would put a face on the story. Thanks for you good comments! WB


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akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

My husband grew up in Marine City, Michigan and this song always brings back many memories for him of seeing the huge freighters going right by outside. I always loved this song and Gordon Lightfoot and you did a marvelous job of bringing it alive with the history. The pictures are totally awesome - I will have to have Bob take a look. Another of those sad things that happen but I always believe that by learning about it, we pay them our respects. Loved it, Wayne!


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@akirchner...There are still people who claim to not know this story and then there are those folks like you husband who grew up in the shadow of it. I think that is part of what separates as a people is that we have adequately shared each others tragedies and joys together! So glad you liked it Audrey and I hope that Bob as welll. WB


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

He did, Wayne. I visited there years ago and had the great pleasure of staying in a beautiful inn in Marine City which is on the St. Clair River. Watching the freighters passing through you get the sense of just how huge they are. Definitely made me realize the magnitude of the Edmund Fitzgerald tragedy.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

These are staggeringly interesting facts very well presented by you, Wayne. My hat off and a bow to you! So terribly sad – all those people who’ve died in such horrible circumstances. Another bow to you!


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@MartieCoetser...I believe Lightfoot created an eternal rememberance of those lost souls on The Fitz when he recorded the song. Without it, their story would have long since been lost in the turmoil of our days. Each time I hear the song, I am reminded of the tragedy of that event. Thanks for the kind words, Martie. WB


A.A. Zavala profile image

A.A. Zavala 6 years ago from Texas

I was just wathcing an episode regarding this ship and crew and the History Channel. Fascinating hub Wayne, thanks for sharing.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@A.A. Zavala...Doggoneit! I missed that replay. I would have like to have seen it again. Glad you liked it and hopefully this was a timely story to go with the program you saw. WB


Grandma's House 6 years ago

Wayne, I love how you put this together with the song lyrics! You did an incredible job blending the facts with the humanity and paced everything in a way that would make Lightfoot proud. By the time I read the list of sailors lost that day, it was as if I had been to a memorial service. Wow. Just wow.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@Grandma's House...Thank you Alexandra! This has long been a story close to my heart from the first moment that I hear Lightfoot's tribute. I felt that I could add something to the song by showing the great lengths that he went to in representing the event. The song is just wonderful in the somber mood that it sets and the reverence that it creates for those who were lost on that tragic day on Lake Superior. I am a huge fan of Gordon Lightfoot and I am so humbled that you would compare my work so highly. Thanks you ever so much and may we never forget the great legacy which Gordon Lightfoot created for a crew who might have otherwise been forgotten in the cold depths of Superior. What a wonderful thing to accomplish in life. WB


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

I agree with Grandma's House in the last comments. The format of mixing Lightfoot's song with your narrative is beautiful! I have never seen the Great Lakes. It seems unbelievable that an inland body of water can be so big with large waves and rough seas. Amazing tribute to the crew -- the youngest being 21. What a legend he has become.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@Truckstop Sally...I perform this song with my guitar...I am a great dude for breaking up a good party! LOL!....Always loved it from the first time...I'm a lyrics guy! WB


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

Hey lyrics guy, Do you write songs too? Any of them posted to your hub? Or even better a YouTube of you playing/singing?


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@Truckstop Sally....No, nothing like that yet. For all the poetry I can write, I do not seem to have that skill yet in the songwriting side. As much as it seems that it would be alike, it's still a bit different. I have added a recording device to my electronics so that I can play around some with it but have not yet attacked it seriously. Hearing myself perform may be what it takes to run me out of the music field! LOL! I will keep you posted on the progress in that area! WB


simcat 4 years ago

The phrase "waves turn the minutes to hours" is not a reference to "rescue time" (the Fitz didn't care, she was long gone) but instead to the intensity of the storm which seemed to make a few minutes feel like hours.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 4 years ago from Texas Author

@simcat...Your perspective has some validity in terms of the hopelessness of the aftermath. But, in terms of the individual mind of any sailor on that boat who might have spent just a wee bit of time in the water hoping to survive, if only for seconds, the struggle to survive seems to go on longer than it does. The waters were overwhelming...beyond the scope of human survival but the will to survive was no less. Remember, the question which preceded that line...."Does anyone know where the "love of God goes"? Obviously, there is some indication of the hope that maybe God loved them enough that a rescue could be forthcoming not knowing a that point that the ship would breakup. The struggle goes on for a few minutes and help does not come as the waves tortured the individual(s)....thus minutes to hours. "The Captain wired in there was water coming in and the good ship and men were in peril....I would say that it a call for help not submission. But you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Thanks for the comment. ~WB


Edmund Fitzgerald 4 years ago

S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald 37 Year Anniversary November 10, 2012

RIVER ROUGE — A memorial service is planned for Saturday November 10, 2012 to remember the 29 men who died when the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975. The ceremony is set for 6 to 8 p.m. and the heated tent open at 4:30 p.m. for viewing Edmund Fitzgerald artifacts, near the Mariners Memorial Lighthouse at Belanger Park, off Belanger Park Drive and Marion. The event is held in River Rouge because that’s the city where the vessel was built in 1957 and ’58. Several speakers will give their memories of the ship, including people who helped construct it and relatives of some of the deceased crewmen. Artifacts, photographs and videos also will be on display and you can talk to the Fitz Ship Builders, past Crew Members and Fitz Family Members. At 7:10 p.m. — the time the ship sank — a wreath will be tossed into the Detroit River. A bell will be rung 29 times in memory of each person who died. A plaque presentation and lantern lighting is planned. Food and Refreshments will be provided free of charge. Event organizer Roscoe Clark has a Web site devoted to the vessel, which contains several video clips and photos of the ship. Earlier in the day, an Edmund Fitzgerald open house will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. at the River Rouge Historical Museum, 10750 W. Jefferson Ave. This year, the service will be web cast free of charge for those viewers all across the US and Canada. For more information and location call Roscoe Clark at (810) 519-2148. This is a special program held each year and is free of charge. All new this year.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 4 years ago from Texas Author

@Edmund Fitzgerald....Thank you for posting this information on the memorial. Glad to have it available here with the story. I wish I were nearby, it would be awesome to attend. ~WB


Donna Lagergren 4 years ago

Awsome pics included in this website as well as valuable information regarding the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Thankyou


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 4 years ago from Texas Author

@Donna Lagergren....Thank you, glad you enjoyed the read and thanks for your comment. ~WB


Service 3 years ago

S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald 38 Year Anniversary

November 10, 2013

RIVER ROUGE — A memorial service is planned for Sunday November 10, 2013 to remember the 29 men who died when the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975.

The ceremony is set for 6 to 8 p.m. and the heated tent open at 4:30 p.m. for viewing Edmund Fitzgerald artifacts, near the Mariners Memorial Lighthouse at Belanger Park, off Belanger Park Drive and Marion.

The event is held in River Rouge because that’s the city where the vessel was built in 1957 and ’58.

Several speakers will give their memories of the ship, including people who helped construct it and relatives of some of the deceased crewmen.

Artifacts, photographs and videos also will be on display and you can talk to the Fitz Ship Builders, past Crew Members and Fitz Family Members.

At 7:10 p.m. — the time the ship sank — a wreath will be tossed into the Detroit River. A bell will be rung 29 times in memory of each person who died.

A plaque presentation and lantern lighting is planned. Food and Refreshments will be provided free of charge.

Event organizer Roscoe Clark has a Web site devoted to the vessel, which contains several video clips and photos of the ship.

Earlier in the day, an Edmund Fitzgerald open house will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. at the River Rouge Historical Museum, 10750 W. Jefferson Ave.

This year, the service will be web cast free of charge for those viewers all across the US and Canada.


Edward J. Palumbo profile image

Edward J. Palumbo 2 years ago from Tualatin, OR

Well written, with photos (and details) I've not seen before. I enjoyed reading it, and hope to read more of your work. Best wishes in the year ahead.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 2 years ago from Texas Author

@Edward J. Palumbo...Thank you for the read and the great comments . I was always fascinated with this story right from the first time that I heard Gordon Lightfoot's song about it. As with all good stories, this one has a lot of angles and "what ifs" that twist it and keep it alive. I am sure the spirit of those 29 men like something about that. ~ WB

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