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The Edmund Fitzgerald


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On November 10, 1975, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald broke in half and sunk in Lake Superior. The storm she was caught in reported winds anywhere from 35 to 52 knots, and waves anywhere from 10 to 35 feet high.

She was loaded with 26,116 tons of taconite pellets at the Burlington Northern Railroad, Dock #1. Her destination was was Zug Island on the Detroit River.

Her Route:


There were 29 crew members who perished in the sinking.

I found a really great site with loads of info. Here is the timeline of the Edmund Fitzgerald, from it's inception to it's demise. I was surprised to discovered what a string of bad luck the E.F. had before it's last voyage.

The last two days of the timeline, complete with transmissions transcripts, are chilling.

Her last voyage

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  • 5 months later...

I found these from a great website on the construction of the Fitzgerald. Beautiful.




Few realize that Edmund Fitzgerald was a real guy. Meet the guy.


The stern of the Fitzgerald clearing the locks.




This was the sailors quarters.


How to control the huge monster.


These instruments told the Captain how 'level' the boat was sitting in the water.


"And every man knew, as the captain did too, 'twas the Witch of November come stealin'."





"And later that night, as his lights went out of sight, came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"

The Fitzgerald was built 4 miles from my house.

One of the 2 lifeboats found on that blustery November 11th, 1975 morning.


That's one big propellor.


One last look at a mighty ship.


Written in 1860 after the Reverend William Whiting came

through a fierce storm. This is the official hymn of the

Naval Academy (US)

Eternal Father, strong to save

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave.

Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep

Its own appointed limits keep

Oh hear us when we cry to thee

For those in peril on the sea.

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard

And hushed their raging at Thy word

Who walked'st on the foaming deep

And calm amidst its rage didst sleep.

Oh hear us when we cry to thee

For those in peril on the sea.

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood

Upon the chaos dark and rude,

And bid its angry tumult cease

And give, for wild confusion, peace

Oh hear us when we cry to thee

For those in peril on the sea.

O Trinity of love and power

Our brethren shield in danger's hour

From rock and tempest, fire and foe

Protect them wheresoe'er they go.

Thus evermore shall rise to Thee

Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.


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  • 3 years later...

Just another example of "great minds think alike" Ken - I was just looking this up last night because I knew the anniversary was today...

A line-by-line explanation of the song, "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald"

"The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee"

Gitche Gumee translates roughly to "Shining Big-Sea-Water".

"The lake it is said never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy"

To put it rather bluntly, the reason so few bodies are recovered from off shore drownings

in Lake Superior is because the bodies first tend to sink (or are still on board a vessel) but

because of the depth and frigid temperatures, the victims do not naturally decompose.

Because of the lack of oxygen producing organisms, the bodies remain on the bottom.

"With a load of iron ore 26,000 tons more than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty"

When empty, the Fitzgerald weighed 8,686 net tons. The hold was filled with 26,013 tons

of iron ore pellets called taconite, used mainly for automobile production.

"That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed when the gales of November came early"

Lake superior is on average 533 feet deep with an extreme depth of 1333 feet. It is 400

miles long which, when the wind blows across it's length, the waves can build to greater

heights than found on less dense sea water, even in hurricane winds.

"The ship was the pride of the American side"

The Fitz was named after a Milwaukee banker and was launched into the River Rouge

basin in June 1958. The owner was Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of

Milwaukee and operated by the Columbia Transportation Company.

"Comin' back from some mill in Wisconsin"

Superior, Wisconsin.

"As the big freighters go it was bigger than most"

The ship was 729 feet long, 75 feet wide, 39 feet deep. She was the largest Great Lakes

steamer when launched in 1958, its size limited only by the largest lock on Sault St, Marie.

Larger 1000 ft. boats were possible after the construction of the Poe lock in 1969.

"With a crew and good captain well seasoned"

Captain Ernest R. McSorley, 62 years old, started sailing as a deckhand on ocean vessels

when he was 18 years old. After transferring to freshwater freighters, he made his way

through the ranks, eventually becoming the youngest to make captain.

"Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms when they left fully loaded for Cleveland"

The Fitzgerald was "downbound" to unload its cargo in Detroit and then continue on to

Cleveland to dock for the winter months.

"And later that night when the ship's bell rang could it be the north wind they'd bin feelin'"

The Fitzgerald and the Anderson, a second freighter following close behind, knew of the

gale warnings posted by the National Weather Service. They decided to alter their course

and head towards the North shore of Superior for shelter against the heart of the storm.

"The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound and a wave broke over the railing"

The two boats (great lake sailors prefer "boat" to "ship"), followed the Canadian shore to

the Caribou Island near "Six Fathom Shoals." The Anderson's captain Jesse "Bernie"

Cooper, remarks how close the Fitz is to the shoals. Crossing the lake in an attempt to

harbor the storm, the two make a course for Whitefish Bay Michigan. In heavy seas, the

Fitzgerald sustains topside damage and radios the Anderson, "Anderson, this is the

Fitzgerald. I have sustained some topside damage. I have a fence rail laid down, two vents

lost or damaged, and a list. I'm checking down. Will you stay by me till I get to Whitefish?"

"And every man knew as the captain did too, 'twas the witch of November come stealin'"

The Fitzgerald has two radar sets but both use a common antenna. The Fitzgerald calls on

the radio to the Arthur M. Anderson. "Anderson, this is the Fitzgerald. I have lost both

radars. Can you provide me with radar plots till we reach Whitefish Bay?"

"Charlie on that, Fitzgerald. We'll keep you advised of your position."

"The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait when the gales of November came slashin'"

Winds were 40 to 45 knots with waves to 20 ft.

"When afternoon came it was freezin' rain in the face of a hurricane west wind"

The Sault St, Marie Locks report winds of seventy knots, gusts up to eighty-two, about

ninety-five mph!

" When supper-time came the old cook came on deck sayin' "fellas it's too rough to feed ya"

Ironically, the "old" cook was suffering from bleeding ulcers and was unable to make the

last voyage. He is considered by some as "the sole survivor of the Fitzgerald".

"At seven p.m. a main hatchway caved in he said "fellas it's been good to know ya"

The Anderson reports being hit by two huge waves which go over the pilot house, 35 feet

above the water line.

"The captain wired in he had water comin' in and the good ship and crew was in peril"

Although McSorley told the Anderson he had developed a list and was, infact, taking on

water, his main concern was that because of the loss of radar and new reports of the

Whitefish Bay Lighthouse being broken down, the Fitzgerald was sailing blind and due to

the list, the Fitzgerald was pulling to the left. They had to rely on the Anderson for

guidance. When the Anderson radioed back later to ask how they were doing with their

problem, McSorley replied "We are holding our own". That was the last thing heard from

the Fitzgerald.

"And later that night when 'is lights went out of sight came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"

The tremendous waves on Lake Superior kept interfering with the Anderson's radar,

showing the Fitzgerald some 10 miles ahead of her. As the Anderson would dip with a

large wave, the Fitzgerald and all other boats in the area would disappear, showing up

again as the Anderson would crest. At 7:10 the Anderson rose above a wave and the

radar showed three blips, saltwater ships, the Navafors, the Avafors, and the Benfri about

20 miles downbound. But no Fitzgerald. In the span of just a few seconds, with no distress

call, the Fitzgerald was gone.

"Does anyone know where the love of god goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours"

The Anderson contacted the Coast Guard in Sault St. Marie. "Soo Control, this is the

Anderson. I am very concerned about the welfare of the steamer Edmund Fitzgerald. He

was right in front of us, experiencing a little difficulty. He was taking on a small amount of

water and none of the upbound ships have passed him. I can see no lights as before and I

don't have him on radar. I just hope he didn't take a nose dive!"

The air temperature at the time was 49 degrees and the water temperature was 40

degrees. Under these conditions a man would go into shock in 30 minutes.

"The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay if they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'er"

A floating debris field was found the next morning and a 1000 yard long oil slick about 13

miles from Whitefish Point. On later days, small objects were found near the Canadian

shore, lifevests and rings, bottles, splintered wood, the largest object being a crumpled raft

with the Fitzgerald's name.

"They might have split up or they might have capsized they may have broke deep and took water"

The wreckage is in two major pieces. The bow section is 276 feet long and upright. The

stern section is 253 feet long and upside down. The sections are 170 feet apart. About 200

feet of the midsection is disintegrated. Although there is no conclusive evidence pointing to

what the cause was, the most popular theory is that because the Fitz was taking on water,

the taconite cargo shifted toward the bow making it unbalanced, heavy to the front. When

the Fitz plunged into the valley between two large waves, she submarined to the bottom,

striking the lake's floor with enough force to break her in two.

"And all that remains is the faces and the names of the wives and the sons and the daughters"

There has been no attempt by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point,

which had made several exploratory expeditions down to the wreckage, to recover the


"Lake Huron rolls Superior sings

in the rooms 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"

There is estimated to be more than 6000 commercial shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, and

fewer than half of these have been located.

"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 ship went down in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 with 29 men on board.

"The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down

of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee

Superior they said never gives up her dead

when the gales of November come early"



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  • 2 months later...

West of my hometown, in the middle of the Detroit River, sits Belle Isle. Belle Isle is home to the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. A fascinating place to spend an afternoon. The Museum is also home to the anchor of the Fitzgerald, lost just west of Belle Isle 10 months before she sank. The museum also has a webcam to see the surrounding river/Detroit-Winddsor area. We visited last Saturday, this is my son Korey next to the anchor...



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