Wednesday, Sep 19, 2018
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Monday Memories

Remembering the Edmund Fitzgerald


It’s curious how the ships we most remember are often ones that have met with disaster: The Santa Maria, the Titanic, and the Lusitania among them.


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Then there’s the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, pictured dockside in Toledo in the 1960 Blade archive photo above.

Most people around the world know the ship because of Gordon Lightfoot’s 1976 hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” It sank in storm-tossed waters on Lake Superior in 1975.

All 29 crewmen perished, many of them from Toledo.

Launched in 1958, the Edmund Fitzgerald was one of the largest freighers on the Great Lakes, carrying thousands of tons of iron ore from the mines outside Duluth, Minn., to the iron works in Detroit.

There was no radio communication with the ship after its captain, Toledoan Ernest McSorley, reported on Nov. 9, 1975, that the ship was listing and taking on water, that its radar wasn’t operating, and that the ballast tank vent pipes were damaged. “Don’t allow nobody on deck,” he commanded.

Did it hit an underwater mountan range? Was it felled by debris or damaged hatches? Even after multiple state and federal investigations, the only thing anyone could say for certain was that weather played a crucial role in the ship’s sinking.

Little was recovered of the wreck, which today lies in 530 feet of water 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point, Mich. Visitors can see an orange life raft and a round rescue ring from the vessel on display at the National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo.

Among the new regulations the tragedy prompted were mandatory survival suits, depth finders, and positioning systems on all Great Lakes freighters.

Go to​memories to purchase historical photos taken by our award-winning staff of photographers, past and present, or to purchase combinations of stories and photos.

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