Friday, November 17, 2006

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

164 The Edmund Fitzgerald

They forgot something. The bell in Detroit? They only rang it eight times on November 10th of this year.

So, here are the rest of them:

9… 10… 11… 12… 13… 14… 15… 16… 17… 18… 19… 20… 21… 22… 23… 24… 25… 26 … 27… 28… 29.

There. That’s better.

Each November 10, the people at the Mariner’s Church ring the bell 29 times, once for each of the men who died in the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald ore carrier on 10 Nov 75.

Not this year. They rang it eight times, once for each of the Great Lakes, once each for two treacherous local rivers and one for people who died in the war. Nice sentiment, but the wrong day.

Everyone in Detroit and in the Great Lakes ports knew this monster ship, all 700-plus feet of her. That’s a couple of football fields, and 100 feet more for good measure. The singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot immortalized the Fitz in his story song which takes about one minute per 100 feet of boat length to perform. Seven minutes, pretty near.

She was carrying 26,000 tons of iron ore from Canada when she went down. And they’re still fighting about the cause.

But there’s one thing they’re not fighting about anymore. The bodies get to stay in the water. It’s what most of the families wanted; what the men would have wanted. Canada passed a law prohibiting “recovery,” as it should have.

The cause? Some say the hatches let the storm in – that they weren’t watertight.

The Fitzgerald was 25 years old in 1975. That is not old for a Great Lakes ore carrier. But it IS old for the rubber that’s supposed to seal the hatches. Or maybe the early November gale and cold just snapped the thing in half.

Now, more than 30 years later, you can go down there and look at the faces. The water’s cold all year. There’s no salt. There are no predators big enough to feed on the remains. They’re mostly naked. They’re wrinkled as can be. But they’re pretty well preserved. You’d know what you were looking at if you looked at them.

The Mariner’s Church has been around since 1842. It’s old grey-brown stones have seen many a shipwreck. But the Fitz is “its” wreck, and November 10th is its moment. This church is the keeper, a landmark building shepherding a nautical-mark event.

Capt. Ernest McSorley and the 28 others on board deserve better.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2006 WJR

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