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Nov
10

Books recognize the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Photo of the hull

“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 freighter the Edmund Fitzgerald which sank 37 years ago on November 10.
You wouldn’t know it by today’s balmy weather that 37 years ago, Michigan was experiencing what are called the Gales of November. Winds across Michigan were treacherous, but especially those on the wide-open Great Lakes. 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 massive winds.

The Edmund Fitzgerald

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 and Mariners’ Church in Detroit has a memorial service, but it is at Whitefish Bay in the Upper Peninsula where the most touching ceremony is held each year.
The annual Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial ceremony will take place at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point today November 10, 2012. The program begins at 7:00pm and there is no cost to attend. This memorial, a tradition for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, remembers the 29 sailors that were lost on board the ill-fated Edmund Fitzgerald which sank 17 miles northwest of Whitefish Point on November 10, 1975.
The anniversary of the Fitz recalls numerous books detailing the sinking of the Fitzgerald. A recent one is “Requiem for the Toledo Express” by Raymond Ramsay M.Sc who was a member of the original design team at Great Lakes Engineering Works which built the ship. The book’s promotional blurbs say it has new evidence as why the ship sunk.

Fitzgerald lifeboat

Another book, “The Edmund Fitzgerald Hull Failure” written by Richard Orgel, a Toledo Ohio resident and himself a ship’s captain, made a strong case that the ship sank due to engineering and design issues and not any actions of the crew.

In his book, 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 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.
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” written by Kathy Jo Warjin and illustrated by Bath’s Gijsbert Van Frankenhuyzen. “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.
You could say: “the Legend lives on”. Read an excellent summary about the Fitzgerald’s history in the Detroit News by clicking here. Also today’s MLive provides some excellent material in today’s online newspaper here.