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Posts Tagged ‘Edmund Fitzgerald’

Well, that’s over.  Of course, I’m referring to the 2012 election.  As you may know, my wife and I live in Iowa, which in recent times has been one of the swing states.  That means our TV, radio, mail, and phones were inundated with reasons to vote for a candidate and reminders to vote.  At 6:30pm on Tuesday night, the last political ad aired on one of the local TV stations.  It was cause for celebration.

Other than the election, the airwaves have been dominated by talk of Hurricane Sandy.  The havoc it caused on the East Coast and the destruction it left in its wake are sobering reminders of weather’s power.  In the Midwest, we are accustomed to tornadoes and the awesome force they possess.  But hurricanes are on a different level, particularly with the rainfall and storm surges they bring in tow.

With these thoughts of foul weather, I am reminded of the Great Lakes Storm of 1913.  On November 9, 1913, a pair of powerful low pressure systems collided over the Great Lakes, creating a monster blizzard-storm with hurricane-style attributes.

Storms on the Great Lakes in November are not all that uncommon.  “November Gales” (as they are often called) happen rather frequently.  We’ve actually talked about it before.  If we quickly fast-forward sixty-two years and one day, we’ll be at November 10, 1975, the day the Edmund Fitzgerald was lost in a very similar (though somewhat less powerful) storm.

The November 1913 storm, however, is considered the grand-daddy of Great Lakes storms.  Most storms blow in, knock things around for a couple of hours, and depart.  This particular storm did its worst damage over the course of sixteen hours.  Snowfall around the Lakes was measured in feet, paralyzing numerous communities.  Ice and wind took down power lines, leaving many of those folks in the dark and cold.

But the greatest disaster was on the Lakes themselves.  Hurricane-force winds of 80 miles per hour created 35-foot waves that battered ships and crews without respite.   Nineteen ships were sunk or destroyed with another nineteen stranded.  More than 250 lives were lost.

Recommended Reading: Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald – The most famous of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes.

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The Edmund Fitzgerald went down with all hands on November 10, 1975.  Having left port with 26,000 tons of taconite the day before, she was crossing Lake Superior to Detroit (and then to winter rest in Cleveland) when she ran into a ferocious winter storm.  Superior is known for its squalls, but this one was bad even by “Great Lake” standards, with winds reaching 60mph, heavy snow, and powerful waves more than 30 feet high.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was built for lake crossings, and one would have expected the boat to withstand even this foul weather.  What’s more, she had been practicing her craft for nearly 20 years, and had proven herself more than capable.  So there’s mystery concerning what actually happened just after 7pm that night.  Some have speculated that the cargo hatches didn’t properly close,  allowing water (which was constantly washing over the decks) to fill the boat and drag it down.  But there was no distress call of any kind…the boat was floating (with some difficulty and both bilge pumps running) and then, 10 minutes later, it was gone.

Others have stated that rogue waves, which were in the area that night and large enough to give off a radar return, acted in concert with the defective hatches.  The water slowly dragged the boat down and a massive rogue wave simply washed it below the surface, where it broke in two and sank, giving no one any real chance to cry for help.  Whatever the exact cause, the boat took twenty-nine men down with her.

Under normal circumstances, I suppose that this sinking, like the more than 300 on Superior before it, would have made the local and regional news for a couple days, and then faded away, leaving only the rusting hulk sitting in 530 feet of water and grieving families on land.  But normal circumstances wouldn’t have accounted for Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot, whose 1976 release of the song concerning the wreck was not only relatively accurate historically (as songs go), but was incredibly popular as well.  The song still gets airtime more than 30 years later, bringing the intrigue and mystery of Gitche Gumee (as well as a bit of history) to another generation of listeners.  But discussing Gordon Lightfoot too much is getting ahead of ourselves just a bit.  We’ll talk more about him in very short order.

Recommended Reading: Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald

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