Friday, November 12, 2010

The Edmond Fitzgerald--Remember That Old Song?

The Edmund Fitzgerald
 Every year around November 10, I hear something about the big ore
freighter, The Edmund Fitzgerald.  Some of you might remember that song written and sung by Gordon Lightfoot that went on and on for about 5 or 6 minutes telling the story of how it disappeared in Lake Superior during a terrible storm losing 29 lives.

I always think about our experiences with my dad every time I hear about this story.  When I was young Dad used to take us down to the docks in Milwaukee to look at the big Ore ships and oil tankers.  Even then they were huge and very impressive!  We would discuss how many stories tall those wheel houses were.  I remember us kids laughing about the unimaginative names of those big vessels, and wondering who the men were that they were named after.  It was kind of fun to be down there and I know it sounds pretty dorky but I'm glad Dad thought this was a fun and educational thing to do.

Today I am thinking that one of those huge ships was the Edmund Fitzgerald!  Lake Michigan is right next to Lake Superior up north and it is probable (and I even think in that long song he mentions something about leaving from Lake Michigan).  By the time the tanker went down, (I think 35 years ago) I was married and living in Walden where shipping news doesn't quite make it out to the ranches very quickly.  When the song came out, I was busy with babies and cooking for hay crews, etc. and didn't really listen to the whole thing very carefully.  I did say to myself, though, that it was pretty typical to have such a boring name for the ship! 

Now for the last few years the news stations have a piece on this story every year and it got me to thinking about it and bringing back fond memories of our family time down on Lake Michigan. You can probably tell that I am a history buff and now I am sorry I didn't memorize some of those names so I could really know I had actually seen this famous ship!

THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD is based on the real-life sinking of a giant ore freighter which went down with all hands on Lake Superior in November of 1975 (Gordon Lightfoot made it famous with his haunting ballad).

It reads like a Greek tragedy: they knew they were in trouble (but didn't know why) and that their only hope was reaching the safety of Whitefish bay.

The story follows three Captains: McSorley, Stigler and Cooper. Captain McSorley was the captain of the Fitzgerald and many have questioned why he did the things he did and what happened. Captain Stigler was his colorful mentor who taught him the survival skills he needed to face the third worst storm of the century.

Captain Cooper was master of the ship Arthur M. Anderson, which accompanied the Edmund Fitzgerald across Lake Superior on its final voyage. Cooper turned his ship around and went back into the worst of the storm to look for the Fitzgerald.

Throughout the fateful evening, the Edmund Fitzgerald began having problems as her radars went out, her ship began filling with water and she began to list to one side.

Nature conspired against her as well shutting down several Coast Guard stations, forcing the evacuation of communications towers and finally shutting down all power in Sault Ste Marie as it grew into one of the worst storms of the century.

In the summer of 1994, the writer, Chris Chabot was invited on an expedition to the ship where they found a crew member and made a lot of news. Word made its way back to the families that he had written this script.

He was tracked down by five family members who asked about the project. Each was sent a copy of the script. One by one they responded. Several said they cried for quite some time after reading it and each said it was a story that must be made!


  1. We sang that song in grade school. I'll alway remember it. I had a great time listening to it again on YouTube!

  2. I grew up listening to that song. My Mom was a big Gordon LIghtfoot fan, and the 70s was, well, an INTERESTING time to be alive anyway, so by proxy I grew up to be a big Gordon Lightfoot fan myself.