The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Forty-eight years ago the Edmund Fitzgerald foundered on Lake Superior, about 17 miles from the entrance of Whitefish Bay. All 29 crew members passed away.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was christened on June 8, 1958 where more than 15,000 people attended its launch. The ship made regular routes between Duluth, Detroit, Toledo and other ports carrying up to 24,000 tons of taconite.

On Sunday, November 9, 1975 the Edmund Fitzgerald left from Superior, Wisconsin heading for Zug Island, near Detroit. The following day across Lake Superior there were reported winds of 60mph and waves of 35 feet. The Soo Locks had already closed. The Arthur M. Anderson had been trailing the Fitzgerald across Lake Superior and would eventually lose radio contact with the Fitzgerald.

Though my parents can recall the day the Fitzgerald sank, it was long before my life had begun. It became Godon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” that would leave a memory in my mind. The song was released in August 1976, not yet a year since the Edmund Fitzgerald sank. The song was supposedly influenced by a Newsweek article titled “The Cruelest Month”, which reported on the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

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 Wisconson
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.

Names of all 29 sailors on board

NameAgeOccupation On BoardHometown
Michael E. Armagost37Third MateIron River, Wisconsin
Frederick J. Beetcher56PorterSuperior, Wisconsin
Thomas D. Bentsen23OilerSt. Joseph, Michigan
Edward F. Bindon47First Assistant EngineerFairport Harbor, Ohio
Thomas D. Borgeson41Maintenance ManDuluth, Minnesota
Oliver J. Champeau41Third Assistant EngineerSturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
Nolan S. Church55PorterSilver Bay, Minnesota
Ransom E. Cundy53WatchmanSuperior, Wisconsin
Thomas E. Edwards50Second Assistant EngineerOregon, Ohio
Russell G. Haskell40Second Assistant EngineerMillbury, Ohio
George J. Holl60Chief EngineerCabot, Pennsylvania
Bruce L. Hudson22Deck HandNorth Olmsted Ohio
Allen G. Kalmon43Second CookWashburn, Wisconsin
Gordon F. MacLellan30WiperClearwater, Florida
Joseph W. Mazes59Special Maintenance ManAshland, Wisconsin
John H. McCarthy62First MateBay Village, Ohio
Ernest M. McSorley63CaptainToledo, Ohio
Eugene W. O’Brien50WheelsmanToledo, Ohio
Karl A. Peckol20WatchmanAshtabula, Ohio
John J. Poviach59WheelsmanBradenton, Florida
James A. Pratt44Second MateLakewood, Ohio
Robert C. Rafferty62StewardToledo, Ohio
Paul M. Riippa22Deck HandAshtabula, Ohio
John D. Simmons63WheelsmanAshland, Wisconsin
William J. Spengler59WatchmanToledo, Ohio
Mark A. Thomas21Deck HandRichmond Heights, Ohio
Ralph G. Walton58OilerFremont, Ohio
David E. Weiss22CadetAgoura, California
Blaine H. Wilhelm52OilerMoquah, Wisconsin

📷 The SS Edmund Fitzgerald in the St. Mary’s River in May, 1975. Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, by Bob Campbell, Grand Ledge, Michigan.