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The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Edmund Fitzgerald

The Edmund Fitzgerald

A song of the ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald which sank on Lake Superior, 10 November 1975. When launched in 1958, the 711.2' x 75.1' x 33.4' freighter S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, US flag, O/N 277437, GRT 13,632, was the largest ship on the Great Lakes. See our Shipbuilding history page and the entry in our ship database.

  • February 1, 1957: Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, contracted with Great Lakes Engineering Works for the first maximum sized Laker ever ordered. She was engined with steam turbine of 7,500 SHP by Westinghouse Electric Corporation.
  • August 7, 1957: keel of Hull 301 laid at Ecorse, Michigan
  • June 7, 1958: launched
  • September 22, 1958: delivered to owners. She was chartered to the Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton Company, Cleveland for her entire career.
  • She was lost around 7 pm on November 10, 1975 in very bad weather; Captain Ernest McSorley and his entire crew went down with her. Exact causes have never been ascertained, but faulty hatch covers or damage from touching bottom some hours prior to her sinking, have been suggested.

The song

Music and words by Gordon Meredith Lightfoot; born November 17, 1938, in Orillia, Ont., Canada; attended Westlake College of Music, 1958; multiple Canadian Juno Awards, Singer of the Year, Decade etc; Order of Canada, 1970; Vanier Award by Canadian Jaycees, 1977; named to Juno Hall of Fame, 1986. He passed away at the age of 84 on May 1, 2023.

The legend lives on, from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitchee 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
Comin' back from some mill in Wisconsin.
As the big freighters go, she was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned.
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And late that night when the ship's bell rang
Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?

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
'Twas the Witch of November come stealin'.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin'.
When afternoon came it was freezin' rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind.

When supper time came, the old cook came on deck
Sayin' "Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya".
At seven p.m., the main hatchway caved in,
He said "Fellas, it's been good to know ya".
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
And the good ship and crew was in peril,
And later that night when its lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'em.
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 rooms of her ice water mansions.
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 twenty nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitchee Gumee.
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.



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Naval Marine Archive
The Canadian Collection

Revised: 23 May 2023