Anniversary of the Edmund Fitzgerald (November 10, 1975)

Edmund Fitzgerald

I am from Upper Michigan and I remember this day. I have a replica of this ship.

is42-1256227088-22344.jpeg

Edmund Fitzgerald, St. Mary’s River, 1975. Photo by Bob Campbell

The legend of the Edmund Fitzgerald remains the most mysterious and controversial of all shipwreck tales heard around the Great Lakes. Her story is surpassed in books, film and media only by that of the Titanic. Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot inspired popular interest in this vessel with his 1976 ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

The Edmund Fitzgerald was lost with her entire crew of 29 men on Lake Superior November 10, 1975, 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point, Michigan. Whitefish Point is the site of the Whitefish Point Light Station and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) has conducted three underwater expeditions to the wreck, 1989, 1994, and 1995.

At the request of family members surviving her crew, Fitzgerald’s 200 lb. bronze bell was recovered by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society on July 4, 1995. This expedition was conducted jointly with the National Geographic Society, Canadian Navy, Sony Corporation, and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The bell is now on display in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum as a memorial to her lost crew.

The Fateful Journey

The final voyage of the Edmund Fitzgerald began November 9, 1975 at the Burlington Northern Railroad Dock No.1, Superior, Wisconsin. Captain Ernest M. McSorley had loaded her with 26,116 long tons of taconite pellets, made of processed iron ore, heated and rolled into marble-size balls. Departing Superior about 2:30 pm, she was soon joined by the Arthur M. Anderson, which had departed Two Harbors, Minnesota under Captain Bernie Cooper. The two ships were in radio contact. The Fitzgerald being the faster took the lead, with the distance between the vessels ranging from 10 to 15 miles.

Aware of a building November storm entering the Great Lakes from the great plains, Captain McSorley and Captain Cooper agreed to take the northerly course across Lake Superior, where they would be protected by highlands on the Canadian shore. This took them between Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula. They would later make a turn to the southeast to eventually reach the shelter of Whitefish Point.

Weather conditions continued to deteriorate. Gale warnings had been issued at 7 pm on November 9, upgraded to storm warnings early in the morning of November 10. While conditions were bad, with winds gusting to 50 knots and seas 12 to 16 feet, both Captains had often piloted their vessels in similar conditions. In the early afternoon of November 10, the Fitzgerald had passed Michipicoten Island and was approaching Caribou Island. The Anderson was just approaching Michipicoten, about three miles off the West End Light.

Captain Cooper maintained that he watched the Edmund Fitzgerald pass far too close to Six Fathom Shoal to the north of Caribou Island. He could clearly see the ship and the beacon on Caribou on his radar set and could measure the distance between them. He and his officers watched the Fitzgerald pass right over the dangerous area of shallow water. By this time, snow and rising spray had obscured the Fitzgerald from sight, visible 17 miles ahead on radar.

At 3:30 pm that afternoon, Captain McSorley radioed Captain Cooper and said: “Anderson, this is the Fitzgerald. I have a fence rail down, two vents lost or damaged, and a list. I’m checking down. Will you stay by me till I get to Whitefish?” McSorley was checking down his speed to allow the Anderson to close the distance for safety. Captain Cooper asked McSorley if he had his pumps going, and McSorley said, “Yes, both of them.”

is78-1256224847-91061.jpeg

“The Wreck Site II” by David Conklin Available online in the Shipwreck Coast Museum Store.

As the afternoon wore on, radio communications with the Fitzgerald concerned navigational information but no extraordinarily alarming reports were offered by Captain McSorley. At about 5:20 pm the crest of a wave smashed the Anderson’s starboard lifeboat, making it unusable. Captain Cooper reported winds from the NW x W (305 ) at a steady 58 knots with gusts to 70 knots, and seas of 18 to 25 feet.

According to Captain Cooper, about 6:55 pm, he and the men in the Anderson’s pilothouse felt a “bump”, felt the ship lurch, and then turned to see a monstrous wave engulfing their entire vessel from astern. The wave worked its way along the deck, crashing on the back of the pilothouse, driving the bow of the Anderson down into the sea.

“Then the Anderson just raised up and shook herself off of all that water – barrooff – just like a big dog. Another wave just like the first one or bigger hit us again. I watched those two waves head down the lake towards the Fitzgerald, and I think those were the two that sent him under.”

Advertisements

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fife Photos and Art
    Nov 12, 2015 @ 09:05:00

    A fascinating and well written post 🙂

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Life Plan

Make Some History

MakeItUltra™

Psychology to Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

Savingchamps

Saving money toward financial freedom

Joshi Daniel Photography

Images of People Photoblog

Cooking with a Wallflower

Cooking. Baking. Crafting. Writing.

Olivia Lane Photography

Maryland based photographer. Lifestyle. Beauty. Portraiture. Boudoir. (For women. By a woman)

A Teller of Stories

Tales of life through words and images

Bedlam & Daisies

Seeking the beauty in the midst of chaos

%d bloggers like this: