Skip to comments.Lightfoot ballad helps keep alive memory of Edmund Fitzgerald- Ship sinks 30 years ago today
Posted on 11/10/2005 1:43:45 PM PST by apackof2
DETROIT (AP) It has been described in many ways: Haunting. Comforting. Powerful. Educational.
But one thing is certain. Gordon Lightfoot's song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," has kept alive the memory of 29 men who lost their lives on Nov. 10, 1975 when the ore carrier plunged to the bottom of Lake Superior during a nasty storm.
"In large measure, his song is the reason we remember the Edmund Fitzgerald," said maritime historian Frederick Stonehouse. "That single ballad has made such a powerful contribution to the legend of the Great Lakes."
Three decades after the tragedy, the Fitzgerald remains the most famous of the 6,000 ships that have gone down on the Great Lakes.
Many owe their awareness of the Fitzgerald's fate to Lightfoot, whose own initial knowledge of the sinking came from a magazine.
Lightfoot read about the Fitzgerald in a Newsweek article and used it as the inspiration to pen what would become one of his signature songs.
Clocking in at 6 1/2 minutes, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" appeared on the 1976 album "Summertime Dream" and eventually made it to No. 2 on the pop charts.
The song remained on the charts for 21 weeks and has never really gone away. Lightfoot still performs it at concerts, including a show at Detroit's Fox Theatre over the summer.
Meeting him backstage that day was Ruth Hudson, whose son Bruce was working as a deckhand on the Fitzgerald when it went down. Lightfoot and Hudson have become friends over the years.
Hudson, who lives in North Ridgeville, Ohio, and saw Lightfoot perform near Cleveland the year the song was released, said the song has been therapeutic to the families of the crew.
"It's meant a lot. It's kept the men and the memorial to the men alive," she said. "I think it's been good for the families. They have felt comfort in it. I have talked to just about all of them, and I haven't talked to anyone who didn't like the song."
Lightfoot declined to be interviewed for this story, but he told The Associated Press in 2000 that "Wreck" is "a song you can't walk away from."
"You can't walk away from the people (victims), either," he said. "The song has a sound and total feel all of its own."
The structure of the song is simple: 14 verses, each four lines long, and the 450-plus words are carefully chosen and accompanied by a haunting melody.
The song tells the story of the Fitzgerald's fatal voyage, which began Nov. 9 in Superior, Wis., where it was loaded with 26,116 tons of iron ore and ready to set sail for Detroit.
A day later it was being pounded by 90-mph wind gusts and 30-foot waves.
Ernest McSorley, the ship's captain, radioed a trailing freighter, the Arthur M. Anderson, and said that the Fitzgerald had sustained topside damage and was listing. At 7:10 p.m., he told the Anderson: "We are holding our own."
A short time later, the ship disappeared from radar without issuing an SOS. After a few days, a vessel with sonar was able to locate the Fitzgerald only 15 miles from the safe haven of Whitefish Bay.
But Lightfoot's song does more than tell the story, it transports the listener on board the Fitzgerald that fateful night:
"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."
And then the crescendo:
"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."
Several memorial events are planned to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the sinking, including a ceremony at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point and a service at the Mariners' Church of Detroit.
And undoubtedly "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" will be heard and discussed.
"Any bit of literature, prose or poetry that magnifies the loss of loved ones is so dramatic. That is comforting to those people. That means that someone else is sharing your grief. We bear one another's burdens, so that helps," said Bishop Richard W. Ingalls of the Mariners' Church. Ingalls tolled the church bell 29 times the morning after the sinking.
"Gordon Lightfoot's song definitely has given it a life that seems not to end."
whenever I hear the song on the radio it almost always sends a chill down my spine.
This a-shole had the nerve to attack my mother in 1971.
At seven PM the main hatchway gave in, he said 'fellas it's been good to know ya!'
God rest their souls!
I don't quite follow?
I lived in Marquette MI right on Lake Superior, a few years after the wreck....they were still talking about it then.
Me too, haunting
Bush did NOTHING to help those people on that sinking ship.
Agreed. It puts you right in the middle of the scene.
It's one of the best pieces of song writing - ever.
Was there an investigation? I hate to even ask, but I'm curious..
"Does anyone know where the love of God goes/when the waves turn the minutes to hours?"
I've had my share of those times when bluewater sailing, and that song always runs through my head.
How so? Just curious...was it physical or verbal abuse? (If you don't want to expand, that's okay...)
I think the song is a masterful work, very evocative, but I know absolutely nothing about him, other than he does kind of look like the kind of guy you would see playing his guitar in a coffee joint in Burlington, Vermont.
I have the CD in my car. It's one of my favorite songs of all time.
yes, I believe that the conclusion was that the hull split when huge waves lifted the bow and stern, leaving the center of the ship unsupported.
I've heard the hatch-open theory too.
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