Today is November 10, 2012. On this day in 1975, twenty nine crew members of the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior's chilly waters, leaving behind many loved ones. Canadian folk/rock singer Gordon Lightfoot wrote and performed an eerie ballad in tribute to those who died. It remains probably the best ballad ever written, and a true testament to the writing and singing skills of Lightfoot.
This column will do something I have long thought about doing: telling the story in prose that Lightfoot tells in his lyrics. Where possible, I try to use Lightfoot's highly descriptive words and terms. I do this because it is amazing how many people know the song but don't really know the story.
The Chippewa Indians called Lake Superior "Gitche Gumee." It is said that the lake never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy.
The merchant ship Edmund Fitzgerald was loaded with iron ore - carrying twenty six tons of ore more than the ship's own weight, empty. The ship was a bone to be chewed when the gales of November came early.
The ship was the pride of the Americans. It was on its way back from a mill in Wisconsin. It was a big freighter - bigger than most. It had a good crew and captain who were well seasoned. Fully loaded, it left for Cleveland. Later that night, as the ship's bell rang, it was likely a north wind they were feeling.
The wind in the wires made a whining sound as waves broke over the ship's railing. The captain and the men knew they were facing serious weather. Through high winds and freezing rain the ship continued.
The captain wired that he had water coming in, and that was the last heard of the ship. It sank in the storm, for reasons at the time speculated but unknown.
Where does God's love go when men are at sea, and when waves turn the minutes into hours? The searchers say they would have made it to port if they'd been able to put fifteen more miles behind them. The fate of the ship was unknown. It might have capsized. It might have broken deep and taken water. But one thing was sure. All that remained were the faces and the names of the loved ones whose husband or father would never come home.
Throughout the Great Lakes, the treachery of Lake Superior's gales of November is known. Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and Lake Huron each have their traits, but Lake Superior is the largest and most dangerous. Superior, it is said, never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy.
© 2012, Jim “Pappy” Moore,
All Rights Reserved.
Jim “Pappy” Moore is a native son of East Texas who still makes the piney woods his home. firstname.lastname@example.org