Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November 10, 1975

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 crew 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 steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship's 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 fellas it's too rough to feed ya
At 7 PM 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 were 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 rooms 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, it's said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.

- Gordon Lightfoot.

Although often overlooked in the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the crews of the freighters Arthur M. Anderson and William Clay Ford should be remembered, too. They were the closest ships when the Fitzgerald sank, and went back to look for survivors (there were none) in spite of the fact that the severe storm which had just sunk the Fitzgerald could have sent them to the same fate. The Anderson still sails the great lakes today, 57 years since she was launched and 34 years since the wreck of the Fitzgerald in the November, 1975 gale.


The Good Cook said...

My husband is from Michigan and knows all the lakes well.

Nice post and great factoids at the end!

Mari-Ann said...

I always liked the song (and Gordon, back in the day) but really didn't know the rest of the story. Isn't bravery an amazing thing? It certainly makes you wonder how you would act in a similar situation.

Chris said...

I always get shivers when I hear that song. I'm a native Clevelander - still am. I've always lived within a few hundred feet of Lake Erie.

The Mother said...

Anyone who doesn't live near the Great Lakes doesn't really understand how enormous they are.

We generally don't think about lakes having storms so enormous that they can sink a ship. Yet these lakes do.

Helen said...

I've always loved Gordon. I grew up five minutes from Lake Erie and spent my summers immersed in it as a kid. I knew it by heart.

Beautiful song, and an often-forgotten tragedy.

Lilorfnannie said...

I have never heard that song, I might have heard about it though. The lyrics are good :-) That was really interesting, thank you :-)

sew said...

Thank you. It's been years and years since I heard that though growing up outside Detroit, our teachers played it every November. How could I forget? Thank you for helping me remember.

I'm a new reader and love your blog!

ERP said...

I heard they recently finally pieced together what actually happened during that storm. They found the wreck and took the bell off the stern but of course left everything else alone, and did not publicly acknowledge the location to prevent treasure hunters from sullying the grave site.

Jadzia said...

Oh, you made me cry on a Tuesday morning. I was four years old and lived in the U.P. when this happened. I had nightmares about being a man on that ship for years afterwards. Such a tragedy.

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Sorry, Jadzia. Didn't mean to.

An Open Heart said...

Beautiful tribute.

Jadzia said...

Oh, Dr. Grumpy, it's all good. Facebook this morning is full of tributes from all my U.P. and Minnesotan friends.... Thank you for posting this.

Don Keefhardt said...

Between that song, and "MacArthur Park", the "biological urges" of radio disc jockey were accomodated. With time go wash up and get a cup of coffee, too.

(vet of the radio bizz in the 70's)

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Don- Just remember to bring the cake inside this time, in case you never have the recipe again.

Frantic Pharmacist said...

I always loved this song. An older relative in southern Ontario worked for a steel mill and remembers the Edmund Fitzgerald stopping there. It is amazing how many shipwrecks there are in Lake Superior.

pAula said...

Thank you for revisiting a musical piece that has always sent goose bumps all over my body. I hail from Wisconsin, somewhere along the Chippewa. Things like this always tug at your heart stronger iffin' you have some sort of connection to the tragedy.

Classof65 said...

To Don Keefhardt: My husband at that time was a disc jockey, too...and you left out Nadia's Theme. Those interludes were one of the reasons he became an ex...

Kimbra Kasch said...

Always loved the song - such a sad, sad story.

And, I don't think that I can take it
'cuz it took so long to bake it. . .

Anonymous said...

For more fantastic songs of tragedies and triumphs on the Great Lakes, check out the singer/songwriter Lee Murdock:

He's wonderful (been to lots of his concerts and have most of his CDs).

Anonymous said...

I've always likes this song, but now that I've read all the words it really hits home. Thanks for posting this, Dr. G.

Annie said...

Thank you for re-posting. I grew up in Minnesota, and still go to Duluth Harbor every summer to have lunch at Grandma's (the restaurant) and watch the ore boats come and go under the harbor lift bridge. It was one of my favorite things to do as a child, and now it is one of my son's favorite things to do. Having seen many of these ships up close, I cannot begin to imagine what it must have taken to sink her without a trace.

Anonymous said...

Agreed with another poster, that song always gives me goosebumps.

Unknown said...

Late to the party (my best friend just introduced me to your blog, and I'm catching up bit by bit). I just wanted to say thank you...this will be my ninth Mother's Day without my mom, and I really miss her.

And then, I see this. "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" was her favorite song. Thanks, Dr. Grumpy, for the teary smile and the memories.

(And no, I don't know why she loved a song about a shipwreck....)

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