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Nov 10

the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Lake Superior Ice Water Mansion
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Winter at Lake Superior
"Ice Cover" by Viktor Posnov
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"The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call 'Gitche Gumee'
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early."

~ The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Gordon Lightfoot, 1976

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sank in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29. Shipwreck theorists continue to try to shed light on the causal factors of sinking of the Fitzgerald, which rests in two pieces in 530 feet of water on the lake bottom 17 miles north of Whitefish Bay. Every year in commemoration of the wreck, a ceremony is held at Mariners' Church in Detroit, Michigan. At the end of the service, families, friends or dignitaries ring the bell at the front of the chapel as the name of each crew member is called. A 30th ring has been added to commemorate the loss of the many other sailors lost in the 6,000 shipwrecks of the Great Lakes.

SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sank in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29. When launched on June 7, 1958, she was the largest ship on North America's Great Lakes, and she remains the largest to have sunk there.

Carrying a full cargo of ore pellets with Captain Ernest M. McSorley in command, she embarked on her ill-fated voyage from Superior, Wisconsin, near Duluth, on the afternoon of November 9, 1975.  En route to a steel mill near Detroit, Fitzgerald joined a second freighter, SS Arthur M. Anderson. By the next day, the two ships were caught in a severe storm on Lake Superior, with near hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 feet high. Shortly after 7:10 p.m., Fitzgerald suddenly sank in Canadian (Ontario) waters 530 feet deep, about 17 miles  from Whitefish Bay near the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.  Although Fitzgerald had reported being in difficulty earlier, no distress signals were sent before she sank; Captain McSorley's last message to Anderson said, "We are holding our own." Her crew of 29 perished, and no bodies were recovered.

The sinking of Edmund Fitzgerald was memorialized in Gordon Lightfoot's 1976 song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" which he composed after reading an article, "The Cruelest Month", in the November 24, 1975, issue of Newsweek. This tartan's name was taken from one of the verses of this song, which also inspired its design.

Many books, studies, and expeditions have examined the cause of the sinking with many different theories proposed, including  the group of three rogue waves, often called "three sisters," which was reported in the vicinity of Fitzgerald at the time she sank. The "three sisters" phenomenon is said to occur on Lake Superior as a result of a sequence of three rogue waves forming that are one-third larger than normal waves. When the first wave hits a ship's deck, before its water drains away the second wave strikes. The third incoming wave adds to the two accumulated backwashes, suddenly overloading the deck with tons of water.

The day after the wreck, Mariners' Church in Detroit rang its bell 29 times; once for each life lost.  The church continued to hold an annual memorial, reading the names of the crewmen and ringing the church bell, until 2006 when the church broadened its memorial ceremony to commemorate all lives lost on the Great Lakes.

For more spectacular photography of winter at the Great Lakes from photographer Viktor Posnov, click the cracked ice.