November 10, 1975: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Forty years ago today the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank on November 10, 1975.  Launched in 1958, she was then the freighter was the largest ship on the Great Lakes and she remains the largest ship to have sunk on the Lakes.  For 17 years she transported taconite iron ore from Duluth to various ports on the Great Lakes.

The Fitzgerald left Superior on November 9, 1975 bound for a steel mill near Detroit.  She and a companion ship SS Arthur Anderson were caught the next day on Lake Superior in a very severe storm with near hurricane.  The Fitzgerald suddenly sank in 530 feet of water at 7:10 PM, 15 miles from the safety of Whitefish Bay.  All 29 members of the crew perished, none of their bodies ever recovered.

The reason for the sinking remains unclear, although I lean towards the theory that some of the cargo hatches were not securely fastened, and that water leaking into the holds imperceptibly led to the sinking once the tipping point was reached.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was written by Gordon Lightfoot after he read a story about the sinking.

 

 

The day after the sinking the Mariner’s Church in Detroit rang its bell 29 times, a tradition kept until 2006 when the memorial was broadened to remember all lives lost on the Great Lakes.

The crew who perished on the Fitzgerald:

Captain Ernest M. McSorley Michael E. Armagost Fred J. Beetcher Thomas D. Bentsen
Edward F. Bindon Thomas D. Borgeson Oliver J. Champeau Nolan S. Church
Ransom E. Cundy Thomas E. Edwards Russell G. Haskell George J. Holl
Bruce L. Hudson Allen G. Kalmon Gorden Maclellan Joseph Mazes
John H. McCarthy Eugene O’Brien Karl A. Peckol John J. Poviach
James A. Pratt Robert C. Rafferty Paul M. Rippa John D. Simmons
William J. Spengler Mark A. Thomas Ralph G. Walton David E. Weiss
Blaine H. Wilhelm

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5 Comments

  1. I was 12 when the Edmund Fitzgerald sank. My dad worked in Cleveland and it was a major news story.
    One has to stand next to one of those ships to appreciate the immense size of them. The storm that sunk her was certainly hurricane force, which is not unknown on the Great Lakes. I believe Superior and Erie are considered the most dangerous. Superior attracts dangerous storms and Erie is shallow, which makes it rough in heavy winds.
    40 years, has it been that long! Gordon Lightfoot’s song is haunting to this day.

  2. Feast of Saint Pope Leo the GReat

    Mr. McClarey, Thank you for a fine site, especially your “Pope Watch” which these days reminds one of why the sun once never set on the British Empire, and for the ‘Fitzgerald’ reminder.

    A great song, and fine enough to sustain excellent interpretations, of which I invite your review of that of Tony Rice, when this phenomenal guitarist still had a very fine and much-underrated voice and command. Please see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUfalY7d83o .

    Viva Cristo Rey, Viva!

  3. Thanks for the reminder! I was 8 years old at the time of the sinking, my brothers 7 and 11, and we’d already seen huge freighters up close on the St. Lawrence Seaway, so the story (and song) made a deep and lasting impression. Storms this time of year still have us muttering “Witch of November…”
    I recommend Dwight Bower’s entertaining books for anyone young or old interested in stories of ships and wrecks on the Great Lakes.

  4. Thanks for the post. Living here in Michigan, the loss of the Fitzgerald still echoes.

    Yes, the two main theories for the sinking remain bad hatch covers and hitting Six Fathom Shoal. The Fitz’s radar was knocked out, and she was not able to navigate as well. Also, the maps for the Shoal were inaccurate, and Bernie Cooper, Captain of the Arthur Anderson and the last man who spoke to the EF, was worried that she was too close to the shoal.

  5. I was in my junior year at Michigan Technological University, in the Upper Peninsula city of Houghton on the Keweenaw Peninsula, in November 1975. I remember the storm well, and its particular severity, particularly as reported in the eastern UP near Whitefish Bay in Lake Superior where she went down, as it is not unusual to get bad winter storms, even as early as October, in the UP. As I often listen to Gordon Lightfoot, the impact of that day, and the memory of the lives lost, will always be remembered.

    To put the severity of the winters in some context, the winter of 1975-76 saw a total snowfall, as recorded at the Houghton airport weather station, of 259 inches. It is not unusual for winter totals on the Keweenaw to be over 200 inches. The record snowfall was in 1978-79, at 355 inches.

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