The October 2010 Super Storm made history this fall with record-breaking low pressure, high winds and huge waves on the Great Lakes. Although it took first place in storm-intensity rankings, no storm is more famous than the storm that sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald. Thirty five years ago the unsinkable ship sank in the waters of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975 in one of the strongest storms in Great Lakes history.
Although the Edmund Fitzgerald Storm was very intense with 60 mph winds with gusts to 100 mph and waves of 35 feet, it was not as intense as the Great Blizzard of 1978, the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940, the November 10 & 11 Storm of 1998, or the White Hurricane of 1913. It is actually only the sixth most powerful storm on record. There is a mystique shadowing the sinking of this great ship.
The Edmund Fitzgerald was a 729-foot steamer that was launched in June 1958 and was one of two of the largest carriers on the Great Lakes until 1971. The Fitzgerald departed from Superior, Wisconsin on November 9, 1975 with a full cargo of iron and 29 crew members. It was heading to a steel mill in Detroit. The weather forecast called for a typical Great Lakes storm but with no more than small craft warnings. As the ship traveled through Lake Superior, the winds picked up and the storm was upgraded to a gale. Heavy snow blanketed the ship and blinded its crew. The captain radioed another ship that afternoon at 3:50 pm to say its radar was not working and then at 5:30 pm to report, “We’re in a big sea. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.” A final message came in at 7:10 pm reporting that the captain and crew were “holding their own.” Experts estimate that the ship sank moments later.
The Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the most talked about, researched, filmed, and blogged about shipwrecks in modern history, only being surpassed by the Titanic. One of the reasons may be the mysterious song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” written by Gordon Lightfoot, continues to haunt people today.
“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.”
It may also be that experts still don’t know why the Fitzgerald sank that day. There was no distress signal and underwater research is inconclusive. The earliest theory was that the ship broke in half as it rode the crest of two 35-foot waves. The Coast Guard believes it was defective hatches which allowed water to fill the hull. Another theory is that the ship ran aground damaging the bottom of the boat without the crew knowing it.
We may never know the true story of the ship’s demise, but the public is still haunted by its memory. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum hosted a memorial service on November 10, 2010 honoring not only those lost in Edmund Fitzgerald but for all Great Lakes sailors lost at sea. The ships bell was recovered from the ship and is now on display as a memorial at the museum. The bell was rung 29 times during the memorial service, one ring for each crew member, plus a 30th ring for all Mariners lost on the Great lakes.