USA TODAY International Edition
40 years later, a wreck remembered
Forty years ago, on Nov. 10, 1975, the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank during a ferocious storm on Lake Superior, killing all 29 men aboard.
The shipwreck was soon to be made famous in the haunting song by Canadian songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which was released the year after the sinking.
In the song, the disaster was blamed in part on the “Witch of November,” which is the source of memorable and fierce storms on the Great Lakes.
“When the witch angrily stirs her cauldron, no ship, no matter how large, is safe on the Great Lakes,” according to a 1998 article in Weatherwise magazine by meteorologist Steve Horstmeyer and geographer Mace Bentley. The Edmund Fitzgerald remains the largest of all the ships wrecked or sunk by bad weather in the Great Lakes.
Incredibly, in the past 300 years, about 30,000 people have died in 10,000 shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, the Rev. William Fleming told the Detroit News. Fleming is the pastor of the Mariners’ Church of Detroit, which was mentioned in the Lightfoot song.
The Edmund Fitzgerald was loaded with about 26,000 tons of taconite pellets on Nov. 9, 1975, at Superior, Wis., and was bound for Detroit. The pellets are a product in iron mining.
As the season shifts toward winter, the polar jet stream begins to shift south and can stir up storms that produce howling winds and gigantic waves in November on the Great Lakes. This makes it the most dangerous time of year for shipping, according to Bentley, now a professor at James Madison University.
On Sunday, a service was held at the Mariners’ Church to remember victims from all tragedies on the Great Lakes, including the Fitzgerald — one that even 40 years later, has been kept alive by some indelible lyrics:
“The wind in the wires made a tattle- tale sound
When the wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too
‘ Twas the witch of November come stealin.’ ”
— Gordon Lightfoot