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Remembering the Edmund Fitzgerald

SS Edmund Fitzgerald, October 26, 1975, in DetroitI was reminded by a report on NPR this afternoon that November 10 is also the anniversary -- this year, the 30th -- of the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior. As regular readers of Ionarts know, I grew up in the Great State of Michigan. Part of the report was an interview with author Michael Schumacher about his book Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The part that struck me was a series of interviews with staffers who work for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D - Mich., a fellow graduate from Michigan State University), who all remembered having to sing Gordon Lightfoot's song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald as schoolchildren, every year on the anniversary. As someone who grew up in Michigan in the 1970s and 80s, I remember singing that song a lot in school, too.

If you have never been to that part of the United States, you might not realize just how big the Great Lakes are and how big the ships are that travel on them. The shipping culture of the Great Lakes, although it has declined now, was significant. I grew up in the central part of the state, but I spent plenty of time on or near the lakeshores in the summers. I spent every summer as an undergraduate in the Upper Peninsula (Yah, you betcha!) and would go swimming in Lake Superior on trips to Marquette. Even in August, that lake is painfully cold, even in the shallows. I can only imagine what that stormy November night was like, in the freezing snowstorm that caused the ship to founder. As you can see in the picture, it was an immense ship, which was broken in half and sank far down to the lake floor. All 29 members of its crew perished. Requiescant in pace.


Anonymous said...

Dear Ionarts,

I wonder if you remember sitting in the grass at the Michigan Festival listening to Gordon Lightfoot about ten years ago? I heard the same story on NPR last night and it brought a tear to my eye. I believe it's something that might only effect us Michiganians. Perhaps we alone understand the beauty and awesome power of Lake Gitche Gumee.

My favorite line from the song is this, "The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy." Ahhhhhhhhh. Now that's poetry.


Charles T. Downey said...

Mimi, I do indeed remember that year at the Michigan Festival. There are many times that I feel like we should move back to Michigan as soon as possible. Then I go to a concert at the Library of Congress.

Anonymous said...

I hear you, Chuck. I got all teary yesterday when I remembered my beloved second grade teacher, Mrs. Schulteiss at St.Joe's who played "The Edmund Fitzgerald" for us on music day (on her guitar, of course, it was 1976 afterall). Imagine a chorus of 8 year old Catholic kids knowing all the words to what should be our state song! Let me know when you're moving back, I'll be right behind you. This Virginia place is for the birds - strip malls and no one knows how to play cards.

Charles T. Downey said...

"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."

Here's to Mrs. Schulteiss! Euchre at your place one of these weekends?