In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral The church bell chimed, ’til it rang 29 times For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee Superior, they say, never gives up her dead When the gales of November come early.
Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Today is the 42nd anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald which sent 29 mariners to a watery grave and was immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot in what was probably the most famous song about a workplace disaster. WXYZ in Detroit notes that “Of the more than 1000 ships in the graves under the icy waters of the Great Lakes, the Edmund Fitzgerald is still the largest to ever go down.”
The 729-foot freighter was caught in storm carrying hurricane-strength winds on Nov. 10, 1975, and sank as it carried a load of iron ore across Lake Superior. (H/T to Thurman Wenzl for the reminder.)
No one has ever figured out exactly what caused the ship to sink. The most reliable theory came from a Coast Guard report:
There has been speculation that the Edmund Fitzgerald broke in half on the surface as the bow and stern rode the crests of two large waves. However, the Coast Guard’s final report suggests the Fitzgerald instead nosedived into a large wave and was not able to recover and plunged to the bottom of Lake Superior in only seconds.
As the cargo of 26,116 tons of taconite pellets quickly shifted forward while the Fitzgerald was going down, the bow of the ship hit the bottom with such extreme force that the vessel snapped in two.
Lots of photos can be found here. For more reading, NPR did a story on the 30th anniversary here. Thurman Wenzl, who reminded me of the anniversary, links to some visuals with Gordon Lighfoot here.