The Legend of The Edmund Fitzgerald Lives On

On this day 35 years ago a great ship and her crew were lost at sea.  The Edmund Fitzgerald really was the “Pride of the American Fleet”.

The Edmund Fitzgerald

On February 1, 1957, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin contracted Great Lakes Engineering Works (GLEW), of River Rouge, Michigan, to design and build a taconite bulk carrier laker for Northwestern. The contract contained the stipulation that the boat be the largest on the Great Lakes. GLEW laid the keel on August 7 of that year, and some time between then and its christening and launch on June 7, 1958, Northwestern announced their decision to name the boat for its President and Chairman of the Board, Edmund Fitzgerald, whose father had been a lake captain.

The completed vessel had a capacity of 26,600 short tons (24,100 t). Its large cargo hold loaded through twenty-one watertight hatches, 11.6 by 54.1 feet (3.5 by 16.5 m) of 5⁄16-inch (7.9 mm) steel. The boat’s boilers were originally coal-fired, but would be converted to burn oil during the 1971–72 winter layup. With a length of 729 feet (222 m), it met the demanding stipulation of the contract and until 1971 was the largest boat on the Great Lakes.

More than 15,000 people attended the Fitzgerald’s launch. The event was troublesome. When Mrs. Edmund Fitzgerald christened the boat by smashing a champagne bottle over the bow, it took her three swings to break the bottle. The launch was delayed 36 minutes while the shipyard crew struggled to release the keel blocks. Upon launching sideways into the water, the boat crashed violently into a pier.  Was it an omen of the violent end of the ship?

(CNN) — The vicious, swirling storm that battered the Great Lakes region in late October inspired talk of a similar gale that brought about one of the great mysteries of the 20th century.

The mighty ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald, one of the largest ships on America’s inland seas, seemed invincible in its bulk and mass, but it was no match for a howling Lake Superior gale on November 10, 1975.

A day earlier, the 729-foot behemoth, operated by mineral company Oglebay Norton, had chugged away from port in Superior, Wisconsin, on a course that would take it across the length of Lake Superior, through the Soo Locks and down Lake Huron to Detroit, Michigan, a journey that should have taken about 48 hours.

With the storm bearing down on them the next morning, the Fitzgerald and another freighter, the Arthur M. Anderson, took a northerly route, hoping the Canadian shore would provide a buffer. Icy rain was driven sideways by hurricane-force wind and monstrous 25-foot waves crashed over the main deck, which rode less than 12 feet above the waterline.

Capt. Ernest McSorley, a 37-year veteran on his last sail before retirement, stayed in radio contact with the Anderson and another ship, the Avafors. At 3:30 p.m., he reported his ship had suffered minor damage and was listing, or leaning to one side, in the storm, according to the Coast Guard report on the accident.

Things only got worse as the afternoon dragged on.

“I have a bad list, lost both radars. And am taking heavy seas over the deck,” McSorley radioed around 6 p.m. “One of the worst seas I’ve ever been in.”

The Lost Fitzgerald Search Tapes

He tried to make a run for the safety of Whitefish Bay on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But about 7:10 p.m., the ship suddenly disappeared from radar and radio, without a call for help.

The Arthur M. Anderson made it to Whitefish Bay, but Capt. Bernie Cooper and his crew agreed to go back out into the maelstrom to search for survivors, as did the William Clay Ford. The searchers “went out and got the hell beat out of them,” one observer said, but all they found were two splintered lifeboats and a single, unoccupied life jacket.

Nearly a week later, a U.S. Coast Guard sonar ship found the Fitzgerald. It had been wrestled to the ice-cold lake bed 530 feet below, its steel hull ripped into pieces, its 26,000 tons of taconite pellets spilled, McSorley and his 28 crewmen entombed forever.

Not one body was ever recovered, and no one knows exactly what caused the Mighty Fitz to founder. The mystery grew into legend over the years, helped along by a National Geographic special and a haunting popular song by Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot.

Full Story

29 men lost their lives that night.  Each year on the anniversary of the wreck, the ship’s bell is rung in their memory.

The Crew:

Michael E. Armagost 37 Third Mate Iron River, Wisconsin

Frederick J. Beetcher 56 Porter Superior, Wisconsin

Thomas D. Bentsen 23 Oiler St. Joseph, Michigan

Edward F. Bindon 47 First Assistant Engineer Fairport Harbor, Ohio

Thomas D. Borgeson 41 Maintenance Man Duluth, Minnesota

Oliver J. Champeau 41 Third Assistant Engineer Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Nolan S. Church 55 Porter Silver Bay, Minnesota

Ransom E. Cundy 53 Watchman Superior, Wisconsin

Thomas E. Edwards 50 Second Assistant Engineer Oregon, Ohio

Russell G. Haskell 40 Second Assistant Engineer Millbury, Ohio

George J. Holl 60 Chief Engineer Cabot, Pennsylvania

Bruce L. Hudson 22 Deck Hand North Olmsted Ohio

Allen G. Kalmon 43 Second Cook Washburn, Wisconsin

Gordon F. MacLellan 30 Wiper Clearwater, Florida

Joseph W. Mazes 59 Special Maintenance Man Ashland, Wisconsin

John H. McCarthy 62 First Mate Bay Village, Ohio

Ernest M. McSorley 63 Captain Toledo, Ohio

Eugene W. O’Brien 50 Wheelsman Toledo, Ohio

Karl A. Peckol 20 Watchman Ashtabula, Ohio

John J. Poviach 59 Wheelsman Bradenton, Florida

James A. Pratt 44 Second Mate Lakewood, Ohio

Robert C. Rafferty 62 Steward Toledo, Ohio

Paul M. Riippa 22 Deck Hand Ashtabula, Ohio

John D. Simmons 63 Wheelsman Ashland, Wisconsin

William J. Spengler 59 Watchman Toledo, Ohio

Mark A. Thomas 21 Deck Hand Richmond Heights, Ohio

Ralph G. Walton 58 Oiler Fremont, Ohio

David E. Weiss 22 Cadet Agoura, California

Blaine H. Wilhelm 52 Oiler Moquah, Wisconsin

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Some time during today will you take a moment and say a prayer for the men of the Edmund Fitzgerald!

Lost but not forgotten!

By Findalis of Monkey in the Middle