Monday, November 10, 2008

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Thirty three years ago today, the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald went down in the waters of Lake Superior during a massive November storm. The ship had battled through the storm all day and was only 17 miles from the entrance of Whitefish Bay when it sank with 29 crew on board.

I remember reading about the tragedy in the newspaper and then in the following year, Gordon Lightfoot did what folksong writers have always done. He passed history down through words and music so that the story would never be forgotten.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call 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 - 26,000 tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good 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 Wisconson
As the big freighters go it was bigger than most
With a crew and the 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 ships bell rang
Could it be the North Wind they'd been feeling.

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T'was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane West Wind

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it's too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it's been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the words turn the minutes to hours
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd fifteen more miles behind her.

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 ruins 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 29 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 say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.


KGMom said...

I can hear the music in my head as I read the words.
This wreck has long fascinated me.

rach :) said...

This is one of my dad's favorite songs, and I was probably a teenager before I knew it was a true story. All day I've walked around wondering why Nov 10 seemed so familiar... I believe you answered my question.

Ruth said...

I thought it was longer ago that that. I was married the same year and obviously oblivious to the news. The Great Lakes are really inland seas and can be very dangerous.

Kathiesbirds said...

Beth, I've never heard that song or that story. It's amazing! And I used to go to Bible camp right on the shores of lake Ontario. Thanks for posting this. Oh, and BTW, I've given you an award on my blog. Come by to pick it up, if you'd like!

Anonymous said...

The documentary about the recovery of the ship's bell was very interesting and I always liked that song. Thanks for the memory.

beckie said...

Beth, I have watched this story several times on the History ar Discovery channels. I find it fascinating and so sad. But I don't think I've ever heard the song. And I didn't realize today was the anniversary.

Jayne said...

I can't even imagine having battled the storm all night and thinking maybe, just maybe, you could get to safety.... so sad.

NCmountainwoman said...

My husband worked for more than 20 years at Northwestern Mutual. When we first visited, I was so surprised to see a picture of Edmund Fitzgerald (the person) for whom the ship was named, among the former CEOs.

I've seen several good documentaries outlining the fate of the Edmund Fitzgerald and her crew. When we lived in WI, we made it a point to watch the ringing of the bell by family members for each of the crew members that were lost.

Weather Boy said...

I remember hearing Roy Firestone sing the national anthem to the tune of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". Just sing the words "O say can you see by the dawn's early light" to the tune and beat of "The legend's been told from the Chippewa on down", and you'll never hear either song the same again. Promise.