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The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Inspired by the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot 1976

Since commercial shipping began on the Five Great Lakes, there have been 6,000 shipwrecks. Half have never been found. There are three storms the sailors still talk about:

The Great Storm of 1913 claimed
250 lives and 12 ships.

The Storm of 1940 claimed
100 lives and two ships.

The Storm of 1975 claimed
only one ship...

November 10 ,1975
Edmund Fitzgerald - 29 lost

"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"

From THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITGERALD
by Gordon Lightfoot
Her Crew

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


She is shown here unloading at Great Lakes Steel on Zug Island - in a photograph which has been documented as the last photograph ever taken of "The Fitz" before her untimely loss on Lake Superior.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was a giant ore tanker sailing Lake Superior on a fateful day in November 1975. One of the worst storms recorded lashed the Lake into a frenzy. Only one ship was lost - this is her story.  

November 10, 1975 the bulk freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior with all hands.  The Fitzgerald cleared Superior, Wisconsin, on her last trip on November 9, 1975, with a cargo of 26,116 tons of taconite pellets consigned to Detroit. Traveling down Lake Superior in company with ARTHUR M. ANDERSON of the United States Steel Corporation's Great Lakes Fleet, she encountered heavy weather and in the early evening of November 10th, suddenly foundered approximately 17 miles from the entrance to Whitefish Bay (47 North Latitude, 85 7' West Longitude).  Captain McSorley of the "FITZ" had indicated he was having difficulty and was taking on water. She was listing to port and had two of three ballast pumps working. She had lost her radar and damage was noted to ballast tank vent pipes and he was overheard on the radio saying, "don't allow nobody (sic) on deck." McSorley said it was the worst storm he had ever seen. All 29 officers and crew, including a Great Lakes Maritime Academy cadet, went down with the ship, which lies broken in two sections in 530 feet of water.

Surveyed by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1976 using the U.S. Navy CURV III system, the wreckage consisted of an upright bow section, approximately 275 feet long and an inverted stern section, about 253 feet long, and a debris field comprised of the rest of the hull in between. Both sections lie within 170 feet of each other.  The EDMUND FITZGERALD was removed from documentation January, 1976.

The National Transportation Safety Board unanimously voted on March 23, 1978 to reject the U. S. Coast Guard's official report supporting the theory of faulty hatches. Later the N.T.S.B. revised its verdict and reached a majority vote to agree that the sinking was caused by taking on water through one or more hatch covers damaged by the impact of heavy seas over her deck. This is contrary to the Lake Carriers Association's contention that her foundering was caused by flooding through bottom and ballast tank damage resulting from bottoming on the Six Fathom Shoal between Caribou and Michipicoten Islands.  The U.S. Coast Guard, report on August 2, 1977 cited faulty hatch covers, lack of water tight cargo hold bulkheads and damage caused from an undetermined source.

Quick Facts on the Edmund Fitzgerald
Built by Great Lakes Engineering works as Hull 301 at its yard at Ecorse, Michigan. The vessel was launched on June 7, 1958.
Gross Tonnage: 13,632 Registry Number: US 277437
Length: 711.2 Engines Steam Turbine 2 cylinder - 7,500 SHP
Breadth: 75.1 Engine Builder: Westinghouse Electric Corporation
Depth: 33.4  

Her History in more detail:

EDMUND FITZGERALD, US.277437, Lake Bulk Freighter built in 1958 by the Great Lakes Engineering Works, River Rouge, MI as Hull #301. Her keel was laid in August, 1957. Launched June 7, 1958 as a) EDMUND FITZGERALD for the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. (Columbia Transportation Co., Cleveland, OH, mgr.). 729'loa, 711'lbp x 75'x 39'; 13,632 GRT, 8713 NRT, 26,600 dwt. Powered by a 7,500 shp Westinghouse Electric Co. double reduction geared, cross-compound steam turbine, and two coal-fired Combustion Engineering water tube boilers, with a total heating surface of 13,288 sq.ft. Engine and boilers built in 1958. Rated service speed: 14 knots (16.1 mph). Sea trials occurred on September 13th, and she was commissioned on September 22nd. The FITZGERALD's first cargo of taconite pellets was loaded September 24, 1958 at Silver Bay, MN. for Toledo, OH. A Bird-Johnson diesel powered bow thruster was installed in 1969 resulting in a decrease in net registered tonnage to 8686. The FITZ collided with the Canadian steamer HOCHELAGA at the mouth of the Detroit River, May 1, 1970, suffering slight damage at hatches 18 and 19. During the 1971-72 winter lay up at Duluth, MN., she was converted from coal to oil-fired boilers which were automated at that time, and the fuel tanks were installed in the space that was occupied by the coal bunkers. Also a fire fighting system and a sewage holding tank were installed at that time. Minor cracking at the keelson to shell connection was repaired by installing additional stiffening on the keelson in 1970 and additional welding was required in 1973-74. The EDMUND FITZGERALD foundered on Lake Superior during a severe storm November 10, 1975 at approximately 7:10 pm about 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point, MI at position 470'N by 857'W in Canadian waters. The FITZGERALD was running downbound loaded with 26,116 tons of taconite ore pellets from Superior, WI for Detroit, MI. During the height of the storm in 70 knot winds, 25 foot waves combed her deck decreasing her normal 12 feet of freeboard. Several times tons of water washed over her deck and challenged her buoyancy. Her sinking was so quick that no radio message was given though she had been in frequent visual and radio contact with the steamer ARTHUR M. ANDERSON. The FITZGERALD disappeared from sight in a furious snow squall and then from radar. Captain McSorley of the "FITZ" had indicated he was having difficulty and was taking on water. She was listing to port and had two of three ballast pumps working. She had lost her radar and damage was noted to ballast tank vent pipes and he was overheard on the radio saying, "don't allow nobody (sic) on deck." McSorley said it was the worst storm he had ever seen. All 29 officers and crew, including a Great Lakes Maritime Academy cadet, went down with the ship, which lies broken in two sections in 530 feet of water. Surveyed by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1976 using the U.S. Navy CURV III system, the wreckage consisted of an upright bow section, approximately 275 feet long and an inverted stern section, about 253 feet long, and a debris field comprised of the rest of the hull in between. Both sections lie within 170 feet of each other. The EDMUND FITZGERALD was removed from documentation January, 1976. The National Transportation Safety Board unanimously voted on March 23, 1978 to reject the U. S. Coast Guard's official report supporting the theory of faulty hatches. Later the N.T.S.B. revised its verdict and reached a majority vote to agree that the sinking was caused by taking on water through one or more hatch covers damaged by the impact of heavy seas over her deck. This is contrary to the Lake Carriers Association's contention that her foundering was caused by flooding through bottom and ballast tank damage resulting from bottoming on the Six Fathom Shoal between Caribou and Michipicoten Islands. The U.S. Coast Guard, report on August 2, 1977 cited faulty hatch covers, lack of water tight cargo hold bulkheads and damage caused from an undetermined source.

 

Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot 1976

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 big 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 big 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.

http://www.boatnerd.com/fitz/

http://www.crh.noaa.gov/mqt/fitzgerald/fitz.htm

http://www.mhsd.org/photogallery/fitzcal.htm


Copyright Gordon Lightfoot and Warner Brothers, Inc.
 Gordon Lightfoot  - click on his name