The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sinks 17 miles from the entrance to Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior, taking all 29 crew members with her.
At the time of its launch in 1958, the 729-foot-long freighter was the largest and fastest ship on the Great Lakes. The Edmund Fitzgerald began its last journey on November 9, 1975, carrying 26,116 tons of iron-ore pellets. The next day, the ship and her crew met a storm with 60 mph winds and waves in excess of 15 feet. Captain Ernest McSorley steered the ship north, heading for the safety of Whitefish Bay, but the ship’s radar failed, and the storm took out the power to Whitefish Point’s radio beacon, leaving the Fitzgerald traveling blind. In the heavy seas, the vessel was also taking on a dangerous amount of water. Another ship, the Anderson, kept up radio contact with the Fitzgerald and tried to lead it to safety but to no avail.
Just after 7 p.m. on November 10, the Fitzgerald made its last radio transmission. Presumably, the ship, which was taking on water, was forced lower and lower into the water until its bow pitched down into the lake and the vessel was unable to recover. None of the 29 men aboard survived.
The Edmund Fitzgerald now lies under 530 feet of water, broken in two sections. On July 4, 1995, the ship’s bell was recovered from the wreck, and a replica, engraved with the names of the crew members who perished in this tragedy, was left in its place. The original bell is on display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point in Michigan.
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.
For 17 years Fitzgerald carried taconite iron ore from mines near Duluth, Minnesota, to iron works in Detroit, Toledo, and other Great Lakes ports. As a workhorse, she set seasonal haul records six times, often breaking her own previous record. Captain Peter Pulcer was known for piping music day or night over the ship’s intercom while passing through the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers (between Lakes Huron and Erie), and entertaining spectators at the Soo Locks (between Lakes Superior and Huron) with a running commentary about the ship. Her size, record-breaking performance, and “DJ captain” endeared Fitzgerald to boat watchers.
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 (11 m) high. Shortly after 7:10 p.m., Fitzgerald suddenly sank in Canadian (Ontario) waters 530 feet (160 m) deep, about 17 miles (15 nautical miles; 27 kilometers) from Whitefish Bay near the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario—a distance Fitzgerald could have covered in just over an hour at her top speed. 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 exact cause of the sinking remains unknown, though many books, studies, and expeditions have examined it. Fitzgeraldmay have been swamped, suffered structural failure or topside damage, been shoaled, or suffered from a combination of these.
The disaster is one of the best-known in the history of Great Lakes shipping. Gordon Lightfoot made it the subject of his 1976 hit song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” after reading an article, “The Cruelest Month”, in the November 24, 1975, issue of Newsweek. The sinking led to changes in Great Lakes shipping regulations and practices that included mandatory survival suits, depth finders, positioning systems, increased freeboard, and more frequent inspection of vessels.
Edmund Fitzgerald in 1971
|Name:||SS Edmund Fitzgerald|
|Owner:||Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company|
|Operator:||Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton Company of Cleveland, Ohio|
|Port of registry:||United States|
|Ordered:||February 1, 1957|
|Builder:||Great Lakes Engineering Works of River Rouge, Michigan|
|Laid down:||August 7, 1957|
|Launched:||June 7, 1958|
|Christened:||June 7, 1958|
|Maiden voyage:||September 24, 1958|
|In service:||June 8, 1958|
|Out of service:||November 10, 1975|
|Identification:||Registry number US 277437|
|Nickname(s):||Fitz, Mighty Fitz, Big Fitz, Pride of the American Side, Toledo Express, Titanic of the Great Lakes|
|Fate:||Lost in a storm on November 10, 1975, with all 29 crewmembers|
|Notes:||Location: Coordinates: |
|Beam:||75 ft (23 m)|
|Draft:||25 ft (7.6 m) typical|
|Depth:||39 ft (12 m) (moulded)|
|Depth of hold:||33 ft 4 in (10.16 m)|
|Propulsion:||Single 19.5 ft (5.9 m) propeller|
|Speed:||14 kn (26 km/h; 16 mph)|
|Capacity:||25,400 tons of cargo|