34 years ago today, on the cold blue waters of Lake Superior, the Edmund Fitzgerald sank for disputed reasons to the very bottom in a ferocious November storm. On board were 29 sailors, boyfriends and sons and fathers and brothers and friends, etc. This was a shocking development to all of the people who sailed the lakes, worked hand in hand with the lakes, and lived around the lakes. The Edmund Fitzgerald, having been afloat for only 17 years, was the largest and most respected of the ships that plied the North American Great Lakes. Its sinking was similar in impact to that of the Titanic, except that no one has made a crappy movie about it.
There are differing accounts as to how the great ship went down; there are no survivors and no one actually witnessed the sinking. A nearby ship was in contact with the stricken Fitz as they made their way towards safety in Whitefish Bay at the far eastern end of the lake, and was even tracking it on its radar. When the blip disappeared there was nothing but silence. Of the many theories of how the boat was sunk, including the one that the Coast Guard eventually subscribed to. I've read the entire Coast Guard report on the sinking, it's long and dry and boring. But basically what they decided was that leaking hatch covers that were improperly latched down caused the boat to take on excess water in the 30+ ft seas that were occurring that night. The added weight of the water and the added weight of the now water-logged Minnesota iron ore pellets in its hold eventually drug the ship to the bottom, taking all those men with it.
The thing about the Edmund Fitzgerald and its sinking is that it is by far the most publicised of all the ships that have sunk on the Great Lakes, and believe me there are a lot. There are tons and tons of wrecks littering the bottom of the lakes; you can actually take tours and see them. There are lots of books written about them. Many, many men and women have lost their lives at the hands of these dangerous but beautiful and vital waterways. So while we remember those 29 souls as the bell from the Fitz rings 29 times in the Maritime Museum in Detroit, we should also take time to remember the other men and women who have sunk to a similar watery grave in similar or worse circumstances. Men and women, who like the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald, gave their in service of creating a bigger and better society for us all. Take a moment of silence for it all please.