On November 10th, 1975 — 36 years ago today — the SS Edmund Fitzgerald — also known as the "Titanic of the Great Lakes" — sank in Canadian waters approximately 17 miles from the entrance to Whitefish Bay, at the mouth of Lake Superior. Although the Fitzgerald had reported being in difficulty earlier in the evening, no distress signals were sent before she sank. Her crew of 29 perished in the 535-foot-deep water, with no bodies ever recovered.
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank while carrying 26,000-plus long tons of taconite ore pellets and was bound for the steel mill on Zug Island, downriver from Detroit, before a planned winter docking in Cleveland, Ohio. At Zug Island, the taconite ore pellets would be turned into steel for eventual use in building cars.
The story of the Edmund Fitzgerald was later immortalized in song by Gordon Lightfoot. "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" would eventually reach the second-highest spot on the Billboard pop chart for two weeks in 1976.
Although the bells at Detroit's Mariner's Church will ring today in commemoration of the disaster, they now only toll eight times — five times for the five Great Lakes, a sixth time for the St. Clair and Detroit rivers, a seventh for the St. Lawrence Seaway and an eighth time for military personnel who've lost their lives — rather than the 29 times mentioned by Lightfoot.
But it's also why we've provided the above video — which features the song and was made as a tribute to the 29 men who lost their lives — so that they don't go forgotten, clumped together with other Great Lakes mariner disasters.
Because it's hard to hear, here's the text of what's said in the above video — along with the lyrics to the Gordon Lightfoot song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald":
Announcer (0:04): An air and sea search is continuing for possible survivors of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a 729 foot ore carrier, which apparently broke apart and sunk last night on Lake Superior. The ship and its 29-man crew vanished in a storm with 80 mile-an-hour winds and wave heights up to 25 feet. All that has been found is an oil slick and some debris.
song begins at 0:17
Radio Transmission (3:11): "We last had contact with 'em, the mate had talked to him ... at about 10 minutes after 7, 19:10, and he said he was going along fine and no problem."
Radio Transmission (3:21): "But it looks from the information that we have that it's, uh, fairly certain that the, uh, Fitzgerald went down."
Radio Transmission (4:04): "Uh, no, I didn't have him, uh, visually, I had him on radar; he was, uh, exactly 10 miles ahead of us. I asked him how he was making out with his problems and he said he was holding his own, but I, uh, lost contact after that."
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee"
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that big ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the Gales of November came early
The ship was the pride of the American side
coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
with a crew and good captain well seasoned,
concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship's bell rang,
could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
and a wave broke over the railing
And ev'ry man knew, as the captain did too
'twas the witch of November come stealin'
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
when the Gales of November came slashin'
When afternoon came it was freezin' rain
in the face of a hurricane west wind
When suppertime came the old cook came on deck sayin'
"Fellas, it's too rough t'feed ya"
At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in; he said,
"Fellas, it's bin good t'know ya!"
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
and the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when 'is lights went outta sight
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
if they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'er
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters
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
In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
in the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
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"
Photo Credit: United States Army Corps of Engineers