Upper Peninsula Stories and Tips

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Commemorative Plaque Photo, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

"The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin.
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned."
Lyrics from the song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot (1976)

The Edmund Fitzgerald was put into service in 1958 as an ore freighter working the North American Great Lakes. Owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, she was named after their president and was the largest ship at the time she was launched. She had made many large hauls in record time across the Great Lakes.

Her final trip out of Superior, Wisconsin started like any other on November 9, 1975. Unfortunately, the early winter storms kicked up on Lake Superior causing her to sink approximately 17 miles from Whitefish Point, Michigan in over 500 feet of water. She remains at rest at the bottom of the lake, along with the 29 souls whose lives were taken that fateful night of November 10, 1975.

As ship wrecks go on the Great Lakes, this one is most legendary because of her reputation. While not of "Titanic" proportions as being unsinkable, the reputation of "Big Fitz" as she was affectionately called, was that she was a solid performer hauling a significant tonnage of iron ore pellets frequently breaking her own records.

She was so popular that people would gather at ports and locks along the way to catch a glimpse and perhaps a photo of her. In the early years, the Fitzgerald was under the command of Captain Peter Pulcer. Known as the "DJ Captain" he frequently would entertain those who would come out to see her as she pass through the locks from waterway to waterway. He enjoyed playing music loudly and using a bullhorn to provide narration about his vessel to on-lookers on shore. This served to add to the legend and fond memories of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

When storms on Lake Superior took her to the bottom, Captain Ernest M. McSorley of Toledo, Ohio was in command. Other members of the crew were from as far away as California and Florida, with most being from Ohio and Wisconsin. Today they remain with their ship in the cold Canadian waters.

Several search teams and divers have been to the wreck. In 1995, the bell was recovered and is now on display in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, Michigan. In its place in the wreckage is a new bell with the names of the 29 lives lost engraved on its surface. It will remain in eternity as a memorial to those who perished with her.

There is so much to read and learn about this workhorse of the Great Lakes. While a very sobering history lesson, I find myself fascinated by the Edmund Fitzgerald and her legacy. If interested, I hope others will take some time to read about her history and accomplishments . . . as well as the events of her final day on Lake Superior. A visit to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum should be on your itinerary if you are planning a trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula!

Here is the link to a wonderfully produced YouTube video that includes Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" along with images of the freighter and a memorial tribute to the 29 men lost with her in Lake Superior . . . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgI8bta-7aw .

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