The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald (Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum)

“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”

This video tribute is AMAZING !! Of course you can guess what the soundtrack is.

I remember loving this haunting ballad when I was a kid.  We all know the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot, but I certainly never knew what it meant when I listened to it growing up.  Even up until recently I knew it referred to a famous shipwreck, but I didn’t know much more about it than that.  A trip to Sault Ste. Marie and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan certainly changed my perspective. Even though The Great Lakes most infamous maritime accident happened over 35 years ago, the story is still a tragic one.

The first known shipwreck of a commercial vessel ironically was The Invincible in November of 1816.  Since then and up to the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald approximately 320 lives have been lost in over 300 shipwrecks on Lake Superior.

A visit yesterday to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum was such a highlight of my visit to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The museum is located in Whitefish Point, in the remote Northeast corner of the Peninsula on Whitefish Bay.  The Edmund Fitzgerald sank 17 miles Northwest of here (if I heard the very informative and nice woman at the museum correctly)  There’s a huge amount of information about all of the shipwrecks that have happened in this area. This part of the world has become known to many as “The Graveyard of the Great Lakes”

The Edmund Fitzgerald sank on November 10, 1975.  The crew of 29 men all perished and their bodies were never found.

From the Marine Historical Society of Detroit’s Great Lakes Ships

On February 1, 1957, the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, entered into a contract with Great Lakes Engineering works for the construction of the first “maximum sized” Laker ever built. The builder laid the keel of Hull 301 at its yard at Ecorse, Michigan, on August 7, 1957, and the vessel was launched on June 7, 1958. On September 22, 1958, EDMUND FITZGERALD was delivered to her owner. She was operated for her entire career under charter to the Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton Company, Cleveland.

EDMUND FITZGERALD made a name for her self by setting a number of cargo records over the years. She was an extremely handsome boat and was well known to both casual and serious shipwatchers, notably as a result of the antics of her longtime master, Capt. Peter Pulcer, who did his best to entertain anyone who might be watching his vessel.

The only major work, apart from some stiffening of hull members, ever done on the FITZGERALD was the installation of a bowthruster in 1969 and conversion to oil fuel and the fitting of automated boiler controls over the winter of 1971-72.

The EDMUND FITZGERALD is, unfortunately, best known today for the tragic and violent manner in which she met her untimely demise. She 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. Had she been able to manage those last few miles, she would have achieved the safety of calmer waters. All 29 of her crew, including Capt. Ernest McSorley who had commanded her since 1972, were lost and not one body has ever come ashore from the wreck. The broken hull of the steamer was located in 530 feet of water, the bow and stern sections lying close together.

The cause of the sinking is still a matter of controversy but, shocking as it is, the fact remains that the “FITZ” is gone. Her mangled lifeboats, mute testimony to her violent end, can be seen aboard the museum ship VALLEY CAMP at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

The brave men who were lost that night:
Captain Ernest M. McSorley Michael E. Armagost Fred J. Beetcher Thomas D. Bentsen
Edward F. Bindon Thomas D. Borgeson Oliver J. Champeau Nolan S. Church
Ransom E. Cundy Thomas E. Edwards Russell G. Haskell George J. Holl
Bruce L. Hudson Allen G. Kalmon Gorden Maclellan Joseph Mazes
John H. McCarthy Eugene O’Brien Karl A. Peckol John J. Poviach
James A. Pratt Robert C. Rafferty Paul M. Rippa John D. Simmons
William J. Spengler Mark A. Thomas Ralph G. Walton David E. Weiss
Blaine H. Wilhelm

This was another one of those unexpected finds that I was so glad I discovered.  The Edmund Fitzgerald Captain and the Captain of The Arthur Andresen (the ship that was shadowing the Fitzgerald once they knew she was in trouble) were in constant contact during the storm which produced 30 foot waves and 90 mph winds!

Timeline Of The Event

November 10, 1975

1:30 PM Radar Tracking and Positions.

3:30 PM – Captain McSorley (C.M.) to Captain Cooper (C.C.):

C.M.: “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 til I get to Whitefish?”

C.C.: “Charlie on that Fitzgerald. Do you have your pumps going?”

C.M.: “Yes, both of them

4:10 PM – The Fitzgerald radios the Arthur M. Anderson:

Fitzgerald: “Anderson, this is the Fitzgerald. I have lost both radars. Can you provide me with radar plots till we reach Whitefish Bay?”

Anderson: “Charlie on that, Fitzgerald. We’ll keep you advised of position.”

About 4:39 PM -The Fitzgerald cannot pick up the Whitefish Point radio beacon. The Fitzgerald radios the Coast Guard station at Grand Marais on Channel 16, the emergency channel. The Fitzgerald reestablishes contact on 22.

Between 4:30 and 5:00 PM -The Edmund Fitzgerald calls for any vessel in the Whitefish Point area regarding information about the beacon and light at Whitefish Point. They receive an answer by Woodard of the saltwater vessel Avafors. McSorley is informed that the beacon and the light are not operating.

Estimated between 5:30 and 6:00 PM -The Avafors radios the Edmund Fitzgerald:

Avafors: “Fitzgerald, this is the Avafors. I have the Whitefish light now but still am receiving no beacon. Over.”

Fitzgerald: “I’m very glad to hear it.”

Avafors: “The wind is really howling down here. What are the conditions where you are?”

Fitzgerald: (Unintelligible shouts heard by the Avafors.) “DON’T LET NOBODY ON DECK!”

Avafors: “What’s that, Fitzgerald? Unclear. Over.”

Fitzgerald: “I have a bad list, lost both radars. And am taking heavy seas over the deck. One of the worst seas I’ve ever been in.”

Avafors: “If I’m correct, you have two radars.”

Fitzgerald: “They’re both gone.”

Sometime before 7:00 PM – The Anderson is struck by two huge waves that put water on the ship, 35 feet above the water line. The waves hit with enough force to push the starboard lifeboat down, damaging the bottom.

7:10 PM – The Fitzgerald is still being followed by the Arthur M. Anderson. They are about 10 miles behind the Fitzgerald. The conversation between McSorley and the first mate of the Anderson:

Anderson: “Fitzgerald, this is the Anderson. Have you checked down?”

Fitzgerald: “Yes we have.”

Anderson: “Fitzgerald, we are about 10 miles behind you, and gaining about 1 1/2 miles per hour. Fitzgerald, there is a target 19 miles ahead of us. So the target would be 9 miles on ahead of you.”

Fitzgerald: “Well, am I going to clear?”

Anderson: “Yes. He is going to pass to the west of you.”

Fitzgerald: “Well, fine.”

Anderson: “By the way, Fitzgerald, how are you making out with your problem?”

Fitzgerald: “We are holding our own.”

Anderson: “Okay, fine. I’ll be talking to you later.”

They never did speak later…The 29 men onboard the Fitzgerald will never again speak with anyone outside of the ship.

Sometime between 7:10 and 7:30 PM

It is estimated that this was the time period when the ship vanished and sank.

7:15 PM – The Fitzgerald enters a squall while still on Lake Superior; the squall obscures the vessel from radar observation by the Anderson, this is normal when in a squall.

7:25 PM – Edmund Fitzgerald disappears from the radar of the S.S. Arthur M. Anderson

7:55 PM – The Anderson calls again and informs the Coast Guard that they have lost the Fitzgerald both visually and on radar.

***

In 1995 the Canadian government working with the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum mounted an expedition to recover the bell from the Fitzgerald. The 15 minute film they show at the museum is superb and I have to say I got pretty choked up watching it!  The bell from the Fitzgerald is on display at the museum.  The part that really got to me was that a replica of the bell was made, inscribed with the names of the 29 crewman and lowered to the site of the wreck allowing it to serve as a permanent resting place for the men lost at sea that day.

After I walked out of the museum I wandered along the shores of Lake Superior watching the freighters go by and wondering how many men ( and probably a few women) have sailed on freighters like these the last 200 or so years.  It was a pretty surreal experience and yes I couldn’t help myself I did listen to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on my ipod as I meandered on the lakes edge!

The Original Bell Retrieved in 1995 From The Edmund Fitzgerald

A Life Preserver From The Edmund Fitzgerald

A Tin Of Shoe Polish? Snuff?

A Fresnel Lens (Pronounced Fray-NEL) Originally Developed By French Physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel

A Freighter On Lake Superior

Vastness!

A Freighter Framed By Driftwood

This 150 Year Old Lighthouse Was Knocked Out By The Storm The Night The Edmund Fitzgerald Sunk. They Say It Would Not Have Saved The Ship But You Can't Help But Wonder

Me High On Top Of The Lighthouse

View From The Lighthouse

View From Inside The Lighthouse

The Light of The Lighthouse Which Was Supposed To Be Working. I Took The Picture And Ran Just In Case it Suddenly Fired Up!

Danielle Works At The Museum ( It's Her Summer Job) And Escorts You To The Top Of The 150 Year Old Lighthouse. Yesterday Was Her Fourth Journey To The Top. They Only Started Letting People Up There This Year Because So Many Visitors Asked. Very Cool Of Them To Let People Climb To The Top! The $4 Charge Goes To Help Restoration

Amazing That This Structure Is 150 Years Old!

Dedicated to Christopher Krol

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6 Responses to The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald (Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum)

  1. CRK June 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    Glad you had a good time! It brings back a lot of great (and very sad memories.

  2. Mar June 12, 2011 at 5:47 am #

    If you don’t check into “doing this for a living”, you’ll be doing so many a disservice.

    If not “this”, next career move…history professor. If there were more teaches that got this involved in their material, we’d all haved loveed the subject(s) so much more in high school….you can take the boy out of Edison….

    Excellent lesson, Professor Heft! Fantastic photos!

    Off to download Lightfoot.

  3. Ralph F. Gibout August 14, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

    The Ballad of The Edmund Fitzgerald has always been bitter sweat to me. I had sailed with many of her crew, mostly on the S/S Armco, the years before she sank. I was serving as a watchman on the Armco the night she sank. We were @10 hrs behind her and participated in the futile search the following morning. All hands on deck with eyes pealed, hoping against hope to find survivors. We found pieces of life boats, bunker C slimmed life rings, but nothing more. To think it was just the night before my watch mate, Bob Tilley and the Fitz 3rd Mate, Mike Armagost, had been talking on the radio and planning a get together over the winter to see each others recently acquired homes. I had sailed with Mike Armagost several years earlier on the S/S Middletown when he was a wheelsman.

    I had also sailed the beginning of the ’75’ season with 2nd Ass’t Engineer Tom Edwards on the Armco, he got off on vacation but was transferred to the Fitz after his vacation. I always called him Uncle Tom and used to wake him with a cup of coffee since his watch followed mine.

    I had the honor of having been ship mates with many of the Fitz crew. All good men. To think I had asked to be assigned to the Fitz that year but changed to the Armco before the season began. The Armco was to fit out latter due to her being lengthened and I had personal business I wanted to complete before going back to work. But for the grace of God….

    I’ve babbled on enough. Suffice to say I’ve never been to White Fish Point to see the museum but now that I’m retiring I’ll put it on my things to do list. I live in Menominee, MI so it isn’t all that far away.

    • halcyonhighway August 18, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

      Ralph! I’m speechless, thank you for sharing your story with me. I felt such a connection to that place, the song had always been a favorite of mine from when I was a kid and even now, it still is. I didn’t know exactly where the ship sank until I read about it in my guide book when I was touring around the U.P.

      It must be heart-breaking to have served with those men and to know they’re gone. It sounds like you were a good friend.

      It’s an amazing and hauntingly beautiful place. Go see it!

      Again, thank you for sharing your story and all the best to you

      Marc

  4. Barbra Moran November 30, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    In a Today article written in 2010, the diver that discovered the ship took a picture of one body in the ship. Thought this would be info you could use. No bodies were recovered per family requests of those on board. Loved your article.

    • halcyonhighway December 7, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

      Thank you for the update very interesting indeed!

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