As you may be aware, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Gordon Lightfoot, died earlier this week at the age of 84.  Lightfoot wrote and sang a great variety of songs, including labor ballads such as “Canadian Railway Trilogy about building the railroad across Canada,  and the 1976 hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” which told the story of the 1975 sinking on Lake Superior of a freighter with 29 crewmen aboard.

The New York Times ran a story yesterday about how the overly-long, historically accurate ballad about a workplace tragedy “defied Top 40 logic.” But the song spent 21 weeks on the Billboard charts and peaked at No. 2.

In memory of Lightfoot and the 29 men lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald, I’m reprinting a 2017 post I wrote about the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead…

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

lake deadToday is the 42nd anniversary of the wreck of he 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.
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.

One thought on “Gordon Lightfoot and the Edmund Fitzgerald. RIP”
  1. Thank you for that. I spent two + hours with Gordon Lightfoot songs last night. An amazing song, among may others.

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