Monday, September 5, 2011


LAKE SUPERIOR  - As a teenager I didn't notice a lot of what was going on in the world. My world was busy doing teenager things. However, I do remember a story that caught my attention November 11th, 1975 on the CBS Evening news. A huge iron ore ship disappeared on Lake Superior with all of her crew aboard. She was the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald.

Last known photo taken at Great Lakes Steel, Detroit River - October 26, 1975

 On February 1, 1957, the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin entered into a contract with Great Lakes Engineering Works for the construction of the first "maximum sized" Laker ever built. I worked with a guy a few years ago who remembers walking by the ship yard as a kid and seeing this beautiful ship being built. He said it was amazing! The builders laid the keel of Hull 301 at its yard at Ecorse, Michigan, on August 7, 1957. Instead of construction from keel up, the Fitzgerald was built on the ground in prefabricated hull sections.  Over 900 people worked on the Fitzgerald and the vessel was launched on June 7, 1958. An estimated 10,000 people witnessed her launching and christening.  She was the biggest ship ever launched on the Great Lakes at that time, 13 feet longer than her nearest competitor. Some say that was the day the Fitzgerald was cursed.

September 22, 1958, EDMUND FITZGERALD was delivered and operated for her entire career under charter to the Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton Company, Cleveland


On November 9, 1975 at 7 p.m. the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a gale warning for Lake Superior. In a gale, the wind speeds range from 34-40 knots. The NWS predicted east to northeasterly winds during the night, shifting to NW to N by the afternoon of November 10. At approximately 10:40 p.m. the NWS revised its forecast for eastern Lake Superior to easterly winds becoming southeasterly the morning of the 10th. At about 2:00 am November 10 the NWS upgraded the gale warning to a storm warning (winds 48-55 knots) with a prediction of "northeast winds 35 to 50 knots becoming northwesterly 28 to 38 knots on Monday, waves 8 to 15 feet". Around 2 a.m. the Captains of the Anderson and Fitzgerald discussed the threatening weather and decided to change their course to a safer route that would take them northward, toward the coast of Canada. The northern route would protect them from the waves that the storm generated.

Neither Captain had anticipated the wind shifting to the northwest. The gale let loose with winds at 42 knots and the waves came steady at 12 to 15 feet high.  The ships were no longer protected by the land giving them some buffer and were at the mercy of nature. The Fitz was traveling just ahead of the Anderson her lights visible, a steady object on their radar. At 7:10 p.m. on the 10th of November the Anderson saw the Fitzgerald crest a wave. Her lights never reappeared and she was gone from the radar.  The ship and her crew were gone.
Later it would be remembered that the bottle sent flying at the ship during her christening did not break.  Those who had built her would remember the many accidents that had occurred during her construction.  All would consider the many tragedies that seemed to happen during the month of November.  Whether these facts are merely hindsight or indicate the proof of a curse is hard to say.


by Gordon Lightfoot

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 words turn the minutes to hours
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd 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

Crew of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald

Captain - Ernest M. McSorley, 63
First Mate - John H. McCarthy, 62
Second Mate - James A. Pratt, 44
Third Mate - Michael E. Armagost, 37
Wheelsman - John D. Simmons, 60
Wheelsman - Eugene O'Brien, 50
Wheelsman - John J. Poviach, 59
Watchman - Ransom E. Cundy, 53
Watchman - William J. Spengler, 59
Watchman - Karl A. Peckol, 55
Chief Engineer - George J. Holl, 60
First Assistant - Edward E. Bindon, 47
Second Assistant - Thomas E. Edwards, 50
Second Assistant - Russell G. Haskell, 40
Third Assistant - Oliver "Buck" J. Champeau, 41
Oiler - Blaine H. Wilhelm, 52
Oiler - Ralph G. Walton, 58
Oiler - Thomas Bentsen, 23
Wiper - Gordon MacLellan, 30
Special Maintenance Man - Joseph W. Mazes, 59
AB Maintenance - Thomas D. Borgeson, 41
Deck Maintenance - Mark A. Thomas, 21
Deck Maintenance - Paul M. Riipa, 22
Deck Maintenance - Bruce L. Hudson, 22
Steward - Robert C. Rafferty, 62
Second Cook - Allen G. Kalmon, 43
Porter - Frederick J. Beetcher, 56
Porter - Nolan F. Church, 55
Cadet - David E. Weiss, 22

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