“The lake it is said never gives up its dead…”
These words are from the famous song by Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot, written about the sinking of the freighter the Edmund Fitzgerald 33 years ago on November 10.
The haunting lyrics detail the fateful day when 29 crew members of the freighter ran into the gales of November. The song has been an important instrument in keeping the story of the ship’s sinking in everyone’s collective memory. The Edmund Fitzgerald was on its last run before winter set in on Lake Superior. It sank off of Whitefish Point in mile an hour winds.
The tale of the Fitzgerald has spawned numerous books detailing and analyzing the causes of the sinking. Each year, the Detroit Historical Society recognizes the death of the crew. This year, in addition to the Fitzgerald, the 50th Anniversary of the sinking of the Carl D. Bradley will be recognized. The Bradley sank in northern Lake Michigan and only two of the 35 member crew survived.
The anniversary of the Fitz arrives this year with an additional book detailing the sinking of the Fitzgerald. “The Edmund Fitzgerald Hull Failure” written by Richard Orgel, a Toledo Ohio resident and himself a ship’s captain makes a strong case that the ship sank due to engineering and design issues and not any actions of the crew.
Orgel says definitively that the crew was not at fault, but rather that the ship was poorly designed and engineered and was unable to withstand high seas.
The author, who actually served as the third mate crew member on the Fitzgerald in 1972, says that the Coast Guard and the shipping industry created a cover up by blaming “those who couldn’t speak for themselves”. Orgel is the first of many authors who have looked at the sinking to make a convincing case that the crew was not at fault.
One of the things that may have fueled Orgel’s interest was that he was ordered to testify in front of the Marine Board of Inquiry investigating the sinking. He was grilled about his experiences on the ship although only serving 30 days aboard the Fitzgerald. Orgel is a dedicated student of marine engineering and his belief stands that the Mighty Fitz, which at the time of its construction was the longest ship on the Great Lakes, was under engineered for safety.
In addition, to these and other adult books about the Fitzgerald including the notable “The Mighty Fitz” by Michael Schumaker there are numerous other books worth taking a look at
including: “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Frederick Stonehouse; “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Elle Andra-Warner; “Fitzgerald’s Storm: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald; “The Night the Fitz Went Down” by Hugh E. Bishop and Dudley Paquette and the “Gales of November:The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Robert J. Hemming.
Schumaker has also written an excellent new book on the sinking of the Bradley called “The Wreck of the Carl D”.
There have been a number of children’s books written about the legend of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald including “The Edmund Fitzgerald: The Song of the Bell” by Kathy Jo Warjin and Gijsbert Van Frankenhuyzen both Michigan residents. “The Gulls of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Tres Seymour is another admirable children’s picture book on the topic. An overall book on shipwrecks in the Great Lakes is “Great Lakes Shipwrecks and Survivals” by William Ratigan. Also Marlene Weir (Wilson) published her first book ”Where the Freighters Go” which is a children’s picture book on great lake freighters. Weir who is an educator grew up on the St. Clair River and became fascinated with the giant ships.
I guess you could say the Legend lives on.
Read an excellent summary about the Fitzgerald’s history in the Detroit News