How many of you remember the lake once called Gitche Gumee?
If it wasn’t for the song in 1976 by Gordon Lightfoot and his telling of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald sinking in June 1975, many of us would never have heard of this Gitche Gumee. Gordon’s song is reasonably accurate, but it is a folk song, so part of it is speculation. To tell a story was the goal of the music, not repeat a newsreel.
The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald launched June 7, 1958, and was the most giant freighter at its time and the largest to sink as well.
Back in 1913, a perfect storm hit the Great Lakes causing massive loss of lives and millions in destruction. The Chippewa Tribe believed a witch caused these storms through her gales and the lakes refused to give up anyone who died in their waters. The thinking was to build huge ships to combat dangerous storms during the November storm season.
Carrying taconite from Minnesota and was heading for Zug Island outside of White Fish Bay, this was a routine run for the Fitzgerald, who had a crew of 29, all seasoned with the waters and weather that surrounded them. A smaller freighter, Arthur M. Anderson, trailed behind the Fitzgerald. Gale winds over 50 knots attacked the lake causing waves over 10 feet high. The weather was so daunting, the authorities closed Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, leaving the Fitzgerald and Anderson to take cover near the Canadian borders.
At 7:10 pm, November 10, the Anderson lost transmission with the Fitzgerald; 15 minutes later, the Fitzgerald disappeared from Anderson’s radar. The November Witch sank the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald killing all 29 sailors on board.
Gordon Lightfoot had many haunting lines in his song, but this is the one that haunts me the most:
““Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?”
Thanks to Gordon Lightfoot, the memory of the 29 sailors lives on.