Forty five years ago, on the night of November 10, one of the biggest boats* on the freshwater sea disappeared in a storm. The ore carrier S S Edmund Fitzgerald sank into the deadly cold waters of Lake Superior, taking with her all 29 men aboard.
It is easy to forget that the Great Lakes are deadly, even without “the Witch of November.” Lake Superior has claimed a number of vessels, as have Michigan, Huron, Ontario, and Erie. Storms, collisions, boiler explosions, groundings, there are lots of ways for a boat to vanish. Most are known only to those men (and women) directly involved, or their family and friends. But the Big Fitz was different, because she was immortalized in the coldest song Gordon Lightfoot ever wrote. Not cold in the emotional sense, but the words and the steel guitar combine to produce chills in the listener, even before the story unfolds.
The video below includes news reports and radio traffic related to the wreck.
The shipping museum in Duluth has a great exhibit about the ore and grain carriers, and the Big Fitz. If you get to watch one of the cargo ships entering or departing the harbor, it’s amazing to see. They are larger today than in 1975, but they are still prey and playthings for the Witch of November.
*All floating things on the Great Lakes are boats, even if they would be ships elsewhere. No, I don’t know if submarines are still boats or if they become ships when they pass through the Soo Locks [Sault St. Marie].