The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

SS Edmund Fitzgerald Underway

SS Edmund Fitzgerald Underway, photo via Wikimedia Commons

I went and bought all of the old newspapers, got everything in chronological order, and went ahead and did it because I already had a melody in my mind. It was from an old Irish dirge that I heard when I was about three and a half years old. I think it was one of the first pieces of music that registered to me as being a piece of music. That’s where the melody comes from, from an old Irish folk song.
~Gordon Lightfoot on The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

40 years ago today, Michigan’s most remembered shipwreck took place. A big part of this is certainly Gordon Lightfoot’s signature ballad The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The song – familiar to almost every Michigander – seems to memorialize more than simply the 29 men who perished in that horrible storm. There is certainly no better video of this song than this one crafted by Joseph Fulton featuring footage of the Fitz that you’ve probably never seen. It starts out with Walter Cronkite’s Harry Reasoner’s news report from November 11, 1975 and just gets better from there – definitely worth your time!

mLive has an article about how & why Gordon Lightfoot wrote ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ that you should check out. It includes a nice little video where he shares how he’s edited the live lyrics to reflect what’s been learned about the sinking of the ship. They got Lightfoot’s account of  the writing of the song from the songwriter’s Ask Me Anything on Reddit, an interesting look inside of the mind of a thoughtful and talented songwriter.

I made some minor corrections to today’s photo to get the colors a little closer to those of the Fitz. View it big as the Fitz and see more at Edmund Fitzgerald images at Wikmedia.

There more ships and more shipwrecks on Michigan in Pictures.

Lyrics to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called “Gitche Gumee”
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that big ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the Gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
with a crew and good captain well seasoned,
concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang,
could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
and a wave broke over the railing
And ev’ry man knew, as the captain did too
’twas the witch of November come stealin’
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
when the Gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
in the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came the old cook came on deck sayin’
“Fellas, it’s too rough t’feed ya”
At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in; he said,
“Fellas, it’s bin good t’know ya!”
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
and the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when ‘is lights went outta sight
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
if they’d put fifteen more miles behind ‘er
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
in the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams;
the islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below Lake Ontario
takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
with the Gales of November remembered

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
in the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine 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 said, “never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early”

10 thoughts on “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

  1. Thank you for sharing! I look forward to receiving my Michigan Pictures every morning.

    Just FYI, that’s Harry Reasoner of ABC News who opens the video, not Walter Cronkite.

    Thank you again for bringing Michigan to me every day!


    Sent from my iPad


  2. I will never forget my horror and sadness the day the mighty Edmund Fitzgerald succumbed to forces of nature. I’ve played Gordon’s song many times in remembrance of the men we lost and the harsh beauty of our precious Great Lakes.


  3. If you find the account of the wreck of the edmund fitzgerald in a newsweek article dated right after the sinking, you’ll find almost all of gordon lightfoot’s lyrics. it’s a one column article.


  4. Thanks for the great article. We can tell you are younger than 40 though, please change Walter Cronkite mention to Harry Reasoner, ABC Nightly News though. Harry is definitely not Uncle Walter (as Cronkite was referred to).


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