Many of us from the Midwest grew up hearing about the freighter, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. However, most of us may not know the history behind her last and fateful voyage on Lake Superior. Lake Superior is the top most lake that touches the borders of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Edmund Fitzgerald tragedy is an intrinsic part of Midwestern history and one that truly endears us to these beautiful Great Lakes.
On November 10, 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald, captained by Ernest McSorley, was carrying a load of iron-ore pellets weighing more than 26 thousand tons across Lake Superior. The most treacherous weather on these lakes occurs from October through January, resulting in some deadly storms. On would would be her 18th and final voyage, the Fitzgerald left the Burlington Northern Railroad Dock No. 1 in Superior, Wisconsin on the afternoon of the 9th. She was then joined by the freighter SS Arthur M. Anderson, captained by Jesse B. Cooper.
A severe and violent winter storm quickly developed and both captains planned on taking shelter in Whitefish Point, Michigan. The Fitzgerald was taking on water quickly and she had both of her pumps running. The situation was made worse when the Fitzgerald lost her radar and the storm caused Whitefish Point’s radio beacon to lose its power--leaving the Fitzgerald in a desperate position. Unfortunately, Cpt. Cooper lost contact with the Fitzgerald and never re-established it. Many researchers theorize that the she sank bow-first due to fast and powerful flooding, taking all 29 of her men with her.
Once the fastest and largest ship on the Great Lakes, the Edmund Fitzgerald’s grave is now 530 feet below the surface of Lake Superior and she is broken in two pieces. Her original 200 lb. bronze bell was recovered in July of 1995 and placed for memorial display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point, Michigan. There's a rare audiotape between the Coast Guard and the Anderson's Cpt. Cooper discussing the weather conditions and the Fitzgerald’s dire situation. Listening to this audio is absolutely chilling. Like other tragedies of this nature, there are many different opinions and theories on precisely how the Fitzgerald sank.
The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is an important piece of Midwestern history. Like the Titanic, her story both fascinates and saddens us. To learn more about the Edmund Fitzgerald, visit Michigan and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. You’ll discover a multitude of other fascinating facts as well as great spots to visit in Michigan, Wisconsin and around the lake.