fitzfrombluewater-geneocollection

Imagine a canoe going down in a storm. Imagine a fishing boat. Imagine a pontoon… so far I’m up to 20 ft. long watercraft. Let’s make it 18 times longer, right around 900 feet long. Now imagine that ship going down.

That’s what happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald on this day in 1975 on Lake Superior. It had left Duluth with a full load of iron ore, headed for a steel mill. It never made it out of Lake Superior. It went down with 29 men on board, none of whom were found. Scary event for sure!

And the theories abound. One is that the ship got caught between two waves – one at the bow, one at the stern, leaving the center with no water underneath It whatsoever, so it collapsed from the weight of a full load of iron ore in its hull. Another has the storm generating what has been called “The Three Sisters” .. .three huge waves that hit the ship simultaneously from different directions – that would take down any ship…. And then there’s a rogue wave that hit the Edmund Fitzgerald from the bow – a huge wave, that is … as it hit the ship, the weight of the water forced the entire ship into a steep angle from front to back, and then momentum took over – the stern lifted out of the water, the bow went under the water. The combination of the two forced the entire ship into almost a 90 degree attitude, almost standing on its nose … This may have happened in 300 feet of water, and if this is the case, over 600 feet of the ship was standing almost straight up above the water… that’s as tall as a 60 story building, folks .. and the imbalance of the weight broke it apart. One more theory: the lids of the holds had not been secured properly, so as the waves hit the ship, the water got into the holds and sunk the ship, plain and simple.`

No matter how you look at it, it was one huge catastrophic event.

I was in college at the time, my junior year. I don’t recall hearing the news at all, but later on, when the Gordon Lightfoot song came out, we all learned so much about that night and how it might have been on board the Edmund Fitzgerald. Those 29 men, all with specific jobs to do on board, some with so very little experience, some with a great deal of time as sailors. They must have been awestruck first as the storm came up – and then began to realize the severity they were facing. Their loss to their families is immeasurable.

And just a few things that connect me to the day –

A handful of years ago, the theatre department at the Central Lakes Community College in Brainerd did a play called TEN NOVEMBER. The script by Steven Dietz is based on thoughts and writings by and about the event, with a cast of ten men who play all 29 crew members… and then 3 singers, who sing original music by Eric Peltoniemi. I was cast as No. 9 – I had a few different speeches to deliver throughout the show – a very unique show, so interesting, with quality music to match. A year or two later, Wilma and I had a chance to a concert version of the show done professionally, with singers Prudence Johnson, Claudia Schmidt and Ruth McKenzie doing the music. Parts of the script were done by Kevin Kling. It remains as one of the most unique and moving live performances I have ever seen.

And in the last six years of my teaching career, the song THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD was part of the fourth grade curriculum in the music classes I taught. I will never forget how the students were so interested and excited to learn about the whole story, to learn the song (yes, all six verses) and to see some of the YouTube items and various other documents. Those kids still recall when we did that song.

A factual event – the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. A personal event – the families that were affected by the loss of the 29 men that made up the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald. A theatrical event – two different forms; as a play and as a concert piece with narration. An educational event – fourth grade students learning, singing and appreciating the event.

All this makes for quite a landmark in our culture. Let us remember the event.

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