40 Years Ago Today, The Edmund Fitzgerald Sank with 29 Crew Aboard “When the Gales of November Came Early”

by Owen James Burke


Photo: AP/News Tribune files.

The Edmund Fitzgerald, a 729-foot iron ore carrier broke up and sank with all 29 crew aboard in 80 mph winds and 25 foot seas approximately 17 miles off Whitefish Point, Michigan in Lake Superior forty years ago today.

Watch an early news report on the tragedy followed by Gordon Lightfoot’s 1976 ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which he wrote two weeks later after he felt that the ship and her crew had been dishonored by an NPR piece which misprinted the the vessel’s name:

The Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest vessel on North America’s Great Lakes when she was built in 1958, and to this day, she remains the largest ship to have sunk there.

FWHY5c3 -- Courtesy Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. -- This photograph shows the Edmund Fitzgerald's pilot house. The ship's final resting place is 530 feet beneath the surface of Lake Superior, 17 miles off Whitefish Point on Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The ship now lies 530 feet beneath the surface of Lake Superior. Photo: Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum photo/News-Tribune files.

Four days later, she was discovered by submarine sonar, and while several dives have been made to the site, including several surveys–one conducted by Jean-Michel Cousteau and Co. from aboard the RV Calypso.

Any number of theories abound as to what exactly took the ship down, including her many structural faults–some from groundings previous–and the possibility of a rogue wave.

Divers do make the occasional trip down, but the ship and the souls of her crew are generally left alone.

Below are radio transmission clips between the United States Coast Guard and the SS Arthur M. Anderson, the last ship to make contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald, after she was reported missing.

To the great ship and her courageous crew, we at The Scuttlefish hope that you continue to rest in piece.


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