Friday, November 26, 2010

788 The Wreck at 35

788 The Wreck at 35

Other more current events got in the way, and so we are a bit late this year in our annual remembrance of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This year's 29 bells remind us for the 35th consecutive year of what may be the most important and best known Great Lakes shipwreck of the 20th Century.

The tenth of November, 1975. That surprises a lot of people who thought all this was ancient history. If ever you had seen her between her launch on the eighth of June of 1958 and her final voyage 18 years later, you'd have no doubt about why they called her "the Mighty Fitz."

Mighty was an understatement. A teenager in 1958 wrote in his diary that "you are not human if you can stand next to this thing and not feel awe."

Those of us who grew up on the Atlantic maybe too often turn our noses up at the thought of a lake as a formidable body of water. Superior is the largest lake in the world. And it is the third largest by volume with 200 rivers feeding it from several angles. Put it anywhere else, add a little salt and you've got yourself a perfectly fine sea.

Standing on the dock and looking up, you could confuse the Fitz with a mountain or a skyscraper. Length? Bigger than anything else that floats or that you've been on. Seven hundred twenty nine feet. (The Titanic was 883.5, so only 150 feet or so longer.)

We know what killed the Titanic, the Andrea Doria, the General Slocum, the Lusitania, the Bismarck. We do not know exactly what killed the Edmund Fitz. A storm with hurricane force winds came suddenly and vanished. She overturned and broke up -- or broke up and overturned -- then went down, all so fast there wasn't time for a real SOS.

We can't exactly ask Capt. Ernest McSorley or any of the 28 others on board. But think about this: this vast ship, largest of its class and time, a bathtub the size of a city, carrying more than 52-million pounds of taconite, rocks with iron, falls 500 feet down and no one knows precisely why or how.

It took awhile to find the wreck. The US Navy did that with magnets. Much later, divers went down and got the ship's bell. Did that only in 1995. It's in the museum they built.

Fifteen thousand people were on hand for the launch in '58. Twenty nine were on board for the sinking in '75. And they remain on board, preserved in their final moments and probably in good condition at that. The freshwater doesn't destroy its victims as the ocean does.

As far as we know, all the crew members remain where they landed. The families don't want them brought up. That's the way they do it on the lakes. And this is the time of year we remember them.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009, 2010.

Here is the news report from ABC's Harry Reasoner, video, audio and the song from Gordon Lightfoot immortalizing this story. Harry got a lot of news into an 18 second "tell" story. And the accompanying video, much of it from 8mm amateur film taken years before the accident, and the accompanying sounds of ship to shore radio traffic are chilling.

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