November 10, 1975 – On The Big Lake They Called “Gitche Gumee”

It was 47 years today that the Edmund Fitzgerald went down in Michigan’s Lake Superior. The wreck inspired Gordon Lightfoot to write “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” a song which will no doubt play on some of the local stations throughout the day today.

I don’t think they ever really taught much about it in school growing up and All I really ever knew about the wreck was because of the lyrics of the song. It wasn’t until 1999 that I learned much more about it – and got to see a piece of it up close and personal.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum can be found in Paradise, Michigan. It is a small museum, but was absolutely fascinating. I truly enjoyed my visit there. Their website (www.shipwreckmuseum.com) says this about the Fitz:

The legend of the Edmund Fitzgerald remains the most mysterious and controversial of all shipwreck tales heard around the Great Lakes. Her story is surpassed in books, film and media only by that of the Titanic. Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot inspired popular interest in this vessel with his 1976 ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

The Edmund Fitzgerald was lost with her entire crew of 29 men on Lake Superior November 10, 1975, 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point, Michigan. Whitefish Point is the site of the Whitefish Point Light Station and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) has conducted three underwater expeditions to the wreck, 1989, 1994, and 1995.

At the request of family members surviving her crew, Fitzgerald’s 200 lb. bronze bell was recovered by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society on July 4, 1995. This expedition was conducted jointly with the National Geographic Society, Canadian Navy, Sony Corporation, and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The bell is now on display in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum as a memorial to her lost crew.

There was a movie showing in the museum about the Edmund Fitzgerald that told the story of the wreck. It made looking at the bell even more real.

According to the museum’s Facebook page, there will be a live stream later today as they “pay our respects and remember the 29 men who were lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald 47 years ago. Join us live at @shipwreckmuseum.com and our stream will be on our front page starting at 7pm (est).”

Here is the Gordon Lightfoot classic:

The last radio communication from the Fitz took place at 7:10 p.m.

Jessie B. Cooper, the captain of the nearby cargo ship the SS Arthur M. Anderson, asked how the Fitzgerald was weathering the storm and Captain Ernest M. McSorley replied, “We are holding our own.”

It is believed that the Fitzgerald then sank suddenly at about 7:15 p.m. without sending out any distress signals.

After conducting an initial futile search of the area for survivors, the Anderson sought safe harbor in Whitefish Bay in the early hours of Nov. 11, according to records.

The U.S. Coast Guard then requested the Anderson to reverse course and assist in conducting another search for the Fitzgerald, according to USCG records. They also asked U.S. vessels William Clay Ford, Armco, Roger Blough, Reserve, Wilfred Sykes and William R. Roesch; Canadian vessels Hilda Marjanne, Frontenac, John O. McKeller, Murray Bay and fishing tug James D.

No survivors were found nor any bodies recovered.

The Anderson sighted one piece of a lifeboat at 8:07 on Nov. 11 about 9 miles east of where the Fitzgerald disappeared and an hour later sighted the 2nd damaged lifeboat about 4 miles south of the first one.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was later found in Canadian waters 530 feet below the surface of Lake Superior. The ship had broken into two pieces.

One line from that Lightfoot song reads “Superior, they said, never gives up her dead” and the bodies of the 29 were never recovered.

They are:

Michael E. Armagost, 37, Third Mate from Iron River, Wisconsin

Fred J. Beetcher, 56, Porter from Superior, Wisconsin

Thomas D. Bentsen, 23, Oiler from St. Joseph, Michigan

Edward F. Bindon, 47, First Asst. Engineer from Fairport Harbor, Ohio

Thomas D. Borgeson, 41, Maintenance Man fromDuluth, Minnesota

Oliver J. Champeau, 41, Third Asst. Engineer from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Nolan S. Church, 55, Porter from Silver Bay, Minnesota

Ransom E. Cundy, 53, Watchman from Superior, Wisconsin

Thomas E. Edwards, 50, Second Asst. Engineer from Oregon, Ohio

Russell G. Haskell, 40, Second Asst. Engineer from Millbury, Ohio

George J. Holl, 60, Chief Engineer from Cabot, Pennsylvania

Bruce L. Hudson, 22, Deck Hand from North Olmsted, Ohio

Allen G. Kalmon, 43, Second Cook from Washburn, Wisconsin

Gordon F. MacLellan, 30, Wiper from Clearwater, Florida

Joseph W. Mazes, 59, Special Maintenance Man from Ashland, Wisconsin

John H. McCarthy, 62, First Mate from Bay Village, Ohio

Ernest M. McSorley, 63, Captain from Toledo, Ohio

Eugene W. O’Brien, 50, Wheelsman from Toledo, Ohio

Karl A. Peckol, 20, Watchman from Ashtabula, Ohio

John J. Poviach, 59, Wheelsman from Bradenton, Florida

James A. Pratt, 44, Second Mate from Lakewood, Ohio

Robert C. Rafferty, 62, Steward from Toledo, Ohio

Paul M. Riippa, 22, Deck Hand from Ashtabula, Ohio

John D. Simmons, 63, Wheelsman from Ashland, Wisconsin

William J. Spengler, 59, Watchman from Toledo, Ohio

Mark A. Thomas, 21, Deck Hand from Richmond Heights, Ohio

Ralph G. Walton, 58, Oiler from Fremont, Ohio

David E. Weiss, 22, Cadet from Agoura, California

Blaine H. Wilhelm, 52, Oiler from Moquah, Wisconsin

For more on the famous shipwreck – check out this article:

https://www.mlive.com/news/2020/11/wreck-of-the-edmund-fitzgerald-photos-of-the-great-lakes-most-famous-ship.html

8 thoughts on “November 10, 1975 – On The Big Lake They Called “Gitche Gumee”

  1. Great post Keith, and ‘great minds’… I was very close to re-running a piece on that today on my music blog , I saw it was the anniversary of its sinking. Tragic story but incredible song – we actually studied it as modern poetry, I guess, in English class in grade 7 or 8. I saw a doc on the real ship a few years back, it was quite interesting, I think the one thing that stood out was how unbelievably BIG that ship was. That museum does look worth a visit if you’re around those parts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There was a Rob Chismar that created his own video & posted it on FB. I got a copy of it in 2018 during a blog challenge.

    https://cosmic-observation.com/2018/12/12/30-day-song-challenge-day-12/amp/

    I would love to see that museum. Being from NC, with our graveyard of the Atlantic, we are quite familiar with shipwrecks. I was also lucky enough to see Gordon Lightfoot play his song, live…March 14, 1994.

    https://www.concertarchives.org/bands/gordon-lightfoot?page=76#concert-table

    Excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

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