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September 22, 2009

Images of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 9:22 am

Edmund Fitzgerald

The Society recently acquired five prints and color slides of the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald shortly before it sank in Lake Superior taking the lives of all aboard in a terrible storm. These color slides were shot by vacationing tourists, Jerry and Marilyn Sexton, as the ship passed through the Soo Locks in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan in late July of 1975. The sharp and poignant images record the lives and activities of a ship soon to vanish.

At 729 feet, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest ship on the Great Lakes at the time of its christening in 1958. It was built by Great Lakes Engineering Works in River Rouge, Michigan and owned by the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. Distinguished for having set a number of cargo records over the years, the ship was also well known to both casual and serious ship watchers.

The final voyage of the Edmund Fitzgerald began November 9, 1975, when it left Superior, Wisconsin loaded with iron ore. Captain Ernest M. McSorley and his crew of 28 were soon joined by the Arthur M. Anderson, another ship that had departed Two Harbors, Minnesota under Captain Bernie Cooper.  Aware of a building November storm entering the Great Lakes the Captains agreed to take the northerly course across Lake Superior, where they would be protected by highlands on the Canadian shore. This took them between Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula. They would later make a turn to the southeast to eventually reach the shelter of Whitefish Point. The two ships were in radio contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald in the lead and the distance between them averaging a dozen miles.

The storm’s ferocity increased with winds gusting to 70 knots and seas 18 to 25 feet. At 3:30 in the afternoon of the 10th, Captain McSorley radioed Captain Cooper and said: “Anderson, this is the Fitzgerald. I have a fence rail down, two vents lost or damaged, and a list. I’m checking down. Will you stay by me till I get to Whitefish?” McSorley was checking down his speed to allow the Anderson to close the distance for safety. Captain Cooper asked McSorley if he had his pumps going, and McSorley said, “Yes, both of them.”

The two ships remained in close radio contact until their last communication at 7:10 p.m. Five minutes later, the pip of the Edmund Fitzgerald on the radar screen of the Anderson was lost again (high seas were interfering with radar reflection), but this time, did not reappear. The Anderson called the Fitzgerald at about 7:22 pm. There was no answer.

The Anderson turned out to be the primary vessel in the search, taking the lead. With the ship pounding and rolling badly, the crew of the Anderson discovered the Fitzgerald’s two lifeboats and other debris but no sign of survivors. Only one other vessel, the William Clay Ford, was able to leave the safety of Whitefish Bay to join in the search at the time. The Coast Guard launched a fixed-wing HU-16 aircraft at 10:00 that night and dispatched two cutters, the Naugatuck and the Woodrush. The Naugatuck arrived at 12:45 p.m. on November 11, and the Woodrush arrived on November 14, having journeyed all the way from Duluth, Minnesota. On November 14, a U.S. Navy plane equipped with a magnetic anomaly detector located a strong contact 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point. During the following three days, the Woodrush, using a side-scan sonar, located two large pieces of wreckage in the same area.

All 29 crew, including the Captain who had commanded the ship since 1972, were lost. No one has ever been recovered. The broken hull of the steamer was located in 530 feet of water, the bow and stern sections lying close together. The lack of survivors and eye witnesses to the wreck, coupled with the lack of clear evidence in subsequent underwater expeditions, leave a variety of theories for the ship’s sinking. And, although the Coast Guard conducted an extensive and thorough search, there is no definitive reason to date. It is one of the most controversial and emotional shipwreck stories in Great Lakes history, further immortalized by Canadian singer/songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot, in his 1976 ballad, ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s Split Rock Lighthouse has been a retired lighthouse since 1969, but every November 10th, at dusk, the beacon at Split Rock Lighthouse is relit in memory of those men, that famous ship, and all the sailors lost on other Great Lakes shipwrecks. The Split Rock Lighthouse Visitor Center will open at noon on November 10th and will feature information on Lake Superior gales and shipwrecks, and a film on the tragic last trip of the Edmund Fitzgerald will be shown in the Visitor Center Theater.  At 4:30 the lighthouse will be temporarily closed to allow for a brief ceremony on the lighthouse steps.  The ceremony, called the “last muster”, will include the reading of the names of the men lost on the Fitzgerald and, the ringing of a ship’s bell for each name, plus a thirtieth for all other victims of Great Lakes shipwrecks.  At the conclusion of the ceremony the lighthouse beacon will be lighted, the lighthouse will be reopened, and visitors may climb the interior stairs to the lantern room for a rare, close-up view of the lighted, 3rd order Fresnel lens.

Diane Adams-Graf, Sound & Visual Curator

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6 Responses to “Images of the Edmund Fitzgerald”

  1. Edmund Fitzgerald Service Says:

    November 10 – Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Service
    . A memorial service for the men lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald will be held on November 10 at Dr. Henri Belanger Park in River Rouge, Mi. The service will be held near the Mariners Memorial Lighthouse beginning at 6:00 p.m. The tug boat will be on hand to take out a wreath to be placed on the river. The service will feature a plaque presentation, bell ringing, lantern lighting, and refreshments will be served. For more information call Roscoe Clark at 810-519-2148 or Dolores Swekel 313-842-7822.

    The service will be at River Rouge Michigan on the Detroit River next to where the ship was built at the slips and on the other side is where Zug Island is located. MAP

    A special Edmund Fitzgerald open house
    will be open to the pubic from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm at the River Rouge Historical Museum

    River Rouge Historical Museum
    10750 W. Jefferson Ave.
    River Rouge, Michigan 48218
    (Formerly Gallagher Funeral Home)
    MAP

  2. Edmund Fitzgerald Says:

    November 10 2010 – Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Service
    . A memorial service for the men lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald will be held on November 10 at Dr. Henri Belanger Park in River Rouge, Mi. The service will be held near the Mariners Memorial Lighthouse beginning at 6:00 p.m. The tug boat will be on hand to take out a wreath to be placed on the river. The service will feature a plaque presentation, bell ringing, lantern lighting, and refreshments will be served. For more information call Roscoe Clark at 810-519-2148 or Dolores Swekel 313-842-7822.

  3. Edmund Fitzgerald Service Says:

    PRESS RELEASE
    35th Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Service
    RIVER ROUGE, MICHIGAN — A memorial service is planned for Wednesday November 10, 2010 to remember the 29 men who died when the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975.

    The ceremony is set for 6 to 8 p.m. near the Mariners Memorial Lighthouse at Belanger Park, off Belanger Park Drive and Marion.

    The event is held in River Rouge because that’s the city where the vessel was built in 1957 and ’58.

    Several speakers will give their memories of the ship, including people who helped construct it and relatives of some of the deceased crewmen.

    Artifacts and photographs also will be on display.

    At 7:10 p.m. — the time the ship sank — a wreath will be tossed into the Detroit River. A bell will be rung 29 times in memory of each person who died.

    A plaque presentation and lantern lighting is planned. Refreshments will be provided at the end.

    Event organizer Roscoe Clark has a Web site devoted to the vessel, which contains several video clips, photos and new information about the ship, at http://www.ssEdmundFitzgerald.com

    Earlier in the day, an Edmund Fitzgerald open house will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. at the River Rouge Historical Museum, 10750 W. Jefferson Ave.
    http://www.RiverRougeMuseum.com

    For more information on either event, visit the Web site or call Clark at 1-810-519-2148 or Dolores Swekel at 1-313-842-7822.

  4. Hugh G. Says:

    i love it

  5. Edmund Fitzgerald Says:

    S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald 36 Year Anniversary
    November 10, 2011
    RIVER ROUGE — A memorial service is planned for Thursday November 10, 2011 to remember the 29 men who died when the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975.
    The ceremony is set for 6 to 8 p.m. and the heated tent open at 4:30 p.m. for viewing Edmund Fitzgerald artifacts, near the Mariners Memorial Lighthouse at Belanger Park, off Belanger Park Drive and Marion.
    The event is held in River Rouge because that’s the city where the vessel was built in 1957 and ’58.
    Several speakers will give their memories of the ship, including people who helped construct it and relatives of some of the deceased crewmen.
    Artifacts, photographs and videos also will be on display and you can talk to the Fitz Ship Builders, past Crew Members and Fitz Family Members.
    At 7:10 p.m. — the time the ship sank — a wreath will be tossed into the Detroit River. A bell will be rung 29 times in memory of each person who died.
    A plaque presentation and lantern lighting is planned. Food and Refreshments will be provided free of charge.
    Event organizer Roscoe Clark has a Web site devoted to the vessel, which contains several video clips and photos of the ship.
    Earlier in the day, an Edmund Fitzgerald open house will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. at the River Rouge Historical Museum, 10750 W. Jefferson Ave.
    This year, the service will be web cast free of charge for those viewers all across the US and Canada.
    For more information and location call Roscoe Clark at (810) 519-2148.
    This is a special program held each year and is free of charge.

  6. Edmund Fitzgerald Service 2012 Says:

    S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald 37 Year Anniversary
    November 10, 2011
    RIVER ROUGE — A memorial service is planned for Saturday November 10, 2012 to remember the 29 men who died when the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975.
    The ceremony is set for 6 to 8 p.m. and the heated tent open at 4:30 p.m. for viewing Edmund Fitzgerald artifacts, near the Mariners Memorial Lighthouse at Belanger Park, off Belanger Park Drive and Marion.
    The event is held in River Rouge because that’s the city where the vessel was built in 1957 and ’58.
    Several speakers will give their memories of the ship, including people who helped construct it and relatives of some of the deceased crewmen.
    Artifacts, photographs and videos also will be on display and you can talk to the Fitz Ship Builders, past Crew Members and Fitz Family Members.
    At 7:10 p.m. — the time the ship sank — a wreath will be tossed into the Detroit River. A bell will be rung 29 times in memory of each person who died.
    A plaque presentation and lantern lighting is planned. Food and Refreshments will be provided free of charge.
    Event organizer Roscoe Clark has a Web site devoted to the vessel, which contains several video clips and photos of the ship.
    Earlier in the day, an Edmund Fitzgerald open house will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. at the River Rouge Historical Museum, 10750 W. Jefferson Ave.
    This year, the service will be web cast free of charge for those viewers all across the US and Canada.
    For more information and location call Roscoe Clark at (810) 519-2148.
    This is a special program held each year and is free of charge. All new this year.



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