The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

I am not one to call myself a history buff, even though I dominated the subject but when I was more of a scholarly lad. I leave history to Keith Norman and his excellent blog.

But growing up in the Great Lakes region it was hard not to find a maritime museum with an exhibit on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Thirty five years ago on Tuesday a brutal November storm sunk the 729-foot steamer near Whitefish Point, Mich. All 29 men aboard went down with the ship. The cause of the sinking remains a mystery to this day.

Regionally for me, this is important because the ship was hauling Wisconsin iron ore.

Musically for you, this is important because here your chance to hear the Gordon Lightfoot song that helped propel the shipwreck to one of the most infamous ever on the Great Lakes. Take the time to enjoy this great song.

Because Gordon Lightfoot sings differently and sometimes is tough to understand here are the lyrics.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche 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
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go it was bigger than most
With a crew and the Captain well seasoned.

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ships bell rang
Could it be the North Wind they’d been feeling.

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,
T’was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane West Wind

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it’s too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it’s been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his 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 her.

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 ruins of her ice water mansion
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 29 times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.

On Tuesday at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point, there was a memorial where a bell with the 29 sailors’ names rang 29 times in remembrance of the crew. It also rang one other time for those other sailors lost on the Great Lakes.

2 thoughts on “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

  1. I’ve known of (and occasionally sung) this song for years now. Recently a friend of mine talked about a Warren Zevon version. I’ve had a look around and while I can see references to this version I’d like to come up with a recorded version – preferrably on a CD. Don’t know where or when or if Zevon ever recorded his version – any help would be greatly appreciated.


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