A new month means a new song.
A line-by-line explanation of the song, "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald"
posted by SirFlyalot, to the NewsGroup alt.music.lightfoot
added to and edited for display
"The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee"
Gitche Gumee translates roughly to "Shining Big-Sea-Water".
"The lake it is said never gives up her dead when the skies of november turn gloomy"
To put it rather bluntly, the reason so few bodies are recovered from off shore drownings
in Lake Superior is because the bodies first tend to sink (or are still on board a vessel) but
because of the depth and frigid temperatures, the victims do not naturally decompose.
Because of the lack of oxygen producing organisms, the bodies remain on the bottom.
"With a load of iron ore 26,000 tons more than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty"
When empty, the Fitzgerald weighed 8,686 net tons. The hold was filled with 26,013 tons
of iron ore pellets called taconite, used mainly for automobile production.
"That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed when the gales of november came early"
Lake superior is on average 533 feet deep with an extreme depth of 1333 feet. It is 400
miles long which, when the wind blows across it's length, the waves can build to greater
heights than found on less dense sea water, even in hurricane winds.
"The ship was the pride of the american side"
The Fitz was named after a Milwaukee banker and was launched into the River Rouge
basin in June 1958. The owner was Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of
Milwaukee and operated by the Columbia Transportation Company.
"Comin' back from some mill in Wisconsin"
"As the big freighters go it was bigger than most"
The ship was 729 feet long, 75 feet wide, 39 feet deep. She was the largest Great Lakes
steamer when launched in 1958, its size limited only by the largest lock on Sault St, Marie.
Larger 1000 ft. boats were possible after the construction of the Poe lock in 1969.
"With a crew and good captain well seasoned"
Captain Ernest R. McSorley, 62 years old, started sailing as a deckhand on ocean vessels
when he was 18 years old. After transferring to freshwater freighters, he made his way
through the ranks, eventually becoming the youngest to make captain.
"Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms when they left fully loaded for Cleveland"
The Fitzgerald was "downbound" to unload its cargo in Detroit and then continue on to
Cleveland to dock for the winter months.
"And later that night when the ship's bell rang could it be the north wind they'd bin feelin'"
The Fitzgerald and the Anderson, a second freighter following close behind, knew of the
gale warnings posted by the National Weather Service. They decided to alter their course
and head towards the North shore of Superior for shelter against the heart of the storm.
"The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound and a wave broke over the railing"
The two boats (great lake sailors prefer "boat" to "ship"), followed the Canadian shore to
the Caribou Island near "Six Fathom Shoals." The Anderson's captain Jesse "Bernie"
Cooper, remarks how close the Fitz is to the shoals. Crossing the lake in an attempt to
harbor the storm, the two make a course for Whitefish Bay Michigan. In heavy seas, the
Fitzgerald sustains topside damage and radios the Anderson, "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 till I get to Whitefish?"
"And every man knew as the captain did too, 'twas the witch of november come stealin'"
The Fitzgerald has two radar sets but both use a common antenna. The Fitzgerald calls on
the radio to the Arthur M. Anderson. "Anderson, this is the Fitzgerald. I have lost both
radars. Can you provide me with radar plots till we reach Whitefish Bay?"
"Charlie on that, Fitzgerald. We'll keep you advised of your position."
"The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait when the gales of november came slashin'"
Winds were 40 to 45 knots with waves to 20 ft.
"When afternoon came it was freezin' rain in the face of a hurricane west wind"
The Sault St, Marie Locks report winds of seventy knots, gusts up to eighty-two, about
" When suppertime came the old cook came on deck sayin' "fellas it's too rough to feed ya"
Ironically, the "old" cook was suffering from bleeding ulcers and was unable to make the
last voyage. He is considered by some as "the sole survivor of the Fitzgerald".
"At seven p.m. a main hatchway caved in he said "fellas it's been good to know ya"
The Anderson reports being hit by two huge waves which go over the pilot house, 35 feet
above the water line.
"The captain wired in he had water comin' in and the good ship and crew was in peril"
Although McSorley told the Anderson he had developed a list and was, infact, taking on
water, his main concern was that because of the loss of radar and new reports of the
Whitefish Bay Lighthouse being broken down, the Fitzgerald was sailing blind and due to
the list, the Fitzgerald was pulling to the left. They had to rely on the Anderson for
guidance. When the Anderson radioed back later to ask how they were doing with their
problem, McSorley replied "We are holding our own". That was the last thing heard from
"And later that night when 'is lights went out of sight came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"
The tremendous waves on Lake Superior kept interfering with the Anderson's radar,
showing the Fitzgerald some 10 miles ahead of her. As the Anderson would dip with a
large wave, the Fitzgerald and all other boats in the area would disappear, showing up
again as the Anderson would crest. At 7:10 the Anderson rose above a wave and the
radar showed three blips, saltwater ships, the Navafors, the Avafors, and the Benfri about
20 miles downbound. But no Fitzgerald. In the span of just a few seconds, with no distress
call, the Fitzgerald was gone.
"Does anyone know where the love of god goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours"
The Anderson contacted the Coast Guard in Sault St. Marie. "Soo Control, this is the
Anderson. I am very concerned about the welfare of the steamer Edmund Fitzgerald. He
was right in front of us, experiencing a little difficulty. He was taking on a small amount of
water and none of the upbound ships have passed him. I can see no lights as before and I
don't have him on radar. I just hope he didn't take a nose dive!"
The air temperature at the time was 49 degrees and the water temperature was 40
degrees. Under these conditions a man would go into shock in 30 minutes.
"The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay if they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'er"
A floating debris field was found the next morning and a 1000 yard long oil slick about 13
miles from Whitefish Point. On later days, small objects were found near the Canadian
shore, lifevests and rings, bottles, splintered wood, the largest object being a crumpled raft
with the Fitzgerald's name.
"They might have split up or they might have capsized they may have broke deep and took water"
The wreckage is in two major pieces. The bow section is 276 feet long and upright. The
stern section is 253 feet long and upside down. The sections are 170 feet apart. About 200
feet of the midsection is disintegrated. Although there is no conclusive evidence pointing to
what the cause was, the most popular therory is that because the Fitz was taking on water,
the taconite cargo shifted toward the bow making it unbalanced, heavy to the front. When
the Fitz plunged into the valley between two large waves, she submarined to the bottom,
striking the lake's floor with enough force to break her in two.
"And all that remains is the faces and the names of the wives and the sons and the daughters"
There has been no attempt by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point,
which had made several exploratory expeditions down to the werckage, to recover the
"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"
There is estimated to be more than 6000 commercial shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, and
fewer than half of these have been located.
"In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
in the maritime sailors' cathedral
the church bell chimed 'til it rang 29 times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald"
The ship went down in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 with 29 men on board.
"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"
Friday, October 31, 2008
A new month means a new song.
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