The Story of the Edmund Fitzgerald
by Rita Goldner
I was plumbing the depths of my own fevered brain for a blog topic when I read my co-blogger Shanan Winters’ post about Girl Scout Cookies. I “devoured” it, since I’m a big fan (of Shanan and the Girl Scouts). Then I had the epiphany that a blog for this group doesn’t have to be about book publishing/marketing. Our contributors are all authors, so they and our readers appreciate interesting topics and research. They probably, as I do, fall into endless unrelated rabbit-holes of fascinating reads while doing research.
So I asked my husband, while driving, to think of a topic that he found interesting, and wished he knew more about it. He blurted out “The Wreck of The Edmond Fitzgerald.” I loved the brilliance and the spontaneity, although it might have been inspired by his favorite Gordon Lightfoot song of the same name, which was playing on the radio.
The Edmund Fitzgerald was the longest and most expensive ship ever built for lake use, up to that fateful day, and had set records for heaviest cargo and fastest runs. It leftWisconsin on November 9, 1975 with 26,226 tons of iron ore, headed for the Detroit steel mills that fed the car manufacturing industry. The ship had been in service for 17 years, and Captain Ernest McSorley was experienced and skillful. He was considered an excellent heavy weather captain by his contemporaries.
“The Fitz” began a two-day, 746 mile trip across Lake Superior, followed by Captain Bernie Cooper in the SS Arthur M. Anderson, lagging 10 miles behind. The goal was to get in one last run before the unpredictable lake turned treacherous in the winter months. The ship ran into trouble the first evening, and the Fitz’s 29-man crew fought through the night against 16-foot jagged waves and 50 MPH winds that gusted to 100 MPH.
The next day, the two ships headed north to hug the Canadian coast, but the giant waves continued to batter them, and by 4:30 in the afternoon, The Edmund Fitzgerald’s radar masts were down and she was taking on water. I wonder if Captain McSorley derived some comfort from the back-and-forth radio contact he still had with the Arthur Anderson. Captain Bernie Cooper lost contact with him at 7 PM, when the Fitzgerald was only 17 miles from her destination, White Fish Point. McSorley must not have realized the gravity of the situation, because he didn’t send out a distress signal, and his last words were, “We are holding our own.”
The Coast Guard and other rescue ships scrambled ASAP, during the storm, and found no wreckage, so it’s obvious that whatever happened, happened quickly. Theories abound, and several of them involve the ship snapping in two, caused by either rogue waves, shifting cargo, or scraping bottom on a shoal. It remains a mystery.
In the 1990s, divers took the ship’s bell from the submerged wreck and put it in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Museum. In its place on the sunken ship they put a new brass bell engraved with the 29 names of the crew. In July 1999, 24 years after the tragedy, the families finally had a sort of closure. The Mariners’ Church in Detroit held a beautiful service. It rang its bells 29 times and cast wreaths into the Detroit River. The families, members of the Coast Guard, and Gordon Lightfoot were all in attendance.
I can safely say that my journey with this authors’ blogging group, both in the reading and the writing of them, has been convoluted, multi-faceted, and very educational.
Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series. For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit OrangutanDay.com. To view additional illustrations and other books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook.