It was 40 years ago today that the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald last left port at 2:20 p.m. loaded with “26,116 tons of taconite pellets” and headed to Zug Island, which was located two whole lakes away in the Detroit River, according to S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online.
As the boat made its way across Lake Superior, the wind took a turn for the worse. The legendary “Gales of November,” that Gordon Lightfoot sings about, were about to sweep in from the west. The National Weather Service issued a gale warning. By 1 a.m. on November 10, the wind was 52 knots. The Edmund Fitzgerald had made it only part way across Lake Superior.
The wind blew all through the night, not letting up the next day. Lake Superior was whipped into a boiling cauldron of ocean-sized swells. The Edmund Fitzgerald was described as the “largest, fastest, and most expensive man-made object launched into fresh water,” by the Toronto Star. It was a ship that was designed, and fully expected, to bear the brunt of anything the Great Lakes, with Lake Superior being the most mighty among them, could throw at it.
The S.S. Arther M. Anderson was following about 10 miles behind the Edmund Fitzgerald on the same route when it was lost.
“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,” was one of the last radio transmissions broadcast by the Fitzgerald to the Anderson. Sometime about 7:30 p.m. on November 10, 1975, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald and the 29 people who were aboard seemingly vanished from the face of the Earth.
The wreck was found in 1976 and expeditions took place in 1980 and 1995. Several theories abound as to what may have happened to the ship and its crew. For many years, a theory that hatch covers were not properly secured, came loose and allowed water from the huge waves to enter the ship circulated, though this explanation is said to now be disproven, according to the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online.
Other theories involve the sheer force of nature involved and suggest that the Edmund Fitzgerald may have bottomed-out on Six Fathom Shoal. The Fitzgerald had been involved in minor accidents that may have caused structural damage in the months and years leading up to its sinking, which may have left it vulnerable to heavy seas, as well. Another theory contends that two large waves lifted both the bow and stern, leaving the mid-section of the long boat unsupported, causing it to break in half and to be found in the manner that it was on the floor of Lake Superior.
Gordon Lightfoot was reportedly in Whitefish Point, Michigan, to meet with family members of the victims of the Edmund Fitzgerald tragedy this evening, according to 9 & 10 News.
Gordon Lightfoot released his single, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in 1976. It went on to become a smash hit and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts. The song has also become inextricably linked to the actual events in quite an uncommon manner.
Lightfoot is adored by fans and audiences across Canada and the United States. In October, the City of Orillia, Ontario dedicated a statue immortalizing the Canadian folk legend, according to the Globe and Mail.
“When I found out they were working on it, I thought, ‘Why me? What have I done that is so great that I should deserve to have a statue, a very artistic work done?'” Lightfoot stated when asked about the statue. The widely known Canadian singer attributed his parents encouraging him to sing in a choir and take piano lessons as part of his success.
Though he hints that he doesn’t have any plans to record new material, Lightfoot maintains a busy concert schedule, according to his website. Other Gordon Lightfoot hits include, “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” and “Rainy Day People.”