The Haunting Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Gordon Lightfoot is a melodic singer songwriter from Canada that was popular in the 1970’s.  He was famous for his folksy almost country type music. One of my favorites is one called The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (1976). It is a story about a shipwreck that occurred on the Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, forty one years ago this week.

The Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest freighter ship on Lake Superior, originally launched in 1958. She carried taconite iron from the mines of Minnesota to places in Detroit, Toledo and other Great Lake ports. She was known for her quirky captain Peter Pulcer who acted as a D.J. to his men by blasting music over the intercom. He was in charge when the ship broke records for biggest hauls….

She won a safety award in 1969 for 8 years with no ‘time off’ for injury. In 1970 she collided with another ship, the SS Hochelaga and over the years had several mishaps, none of which were unusual for a freighter. The largest freighter on the Great Lakes, she was also the largest freighter ever sank.

In the fall there are very strong winds on the Great Lakes, called the ‘Witch of November’ by mariners.  The winds are created by low atmospheric pressure over the Great Lakes pulling cold Canadian/Arctic air from the North/NW and warm gulf air from the south.  When they collide they create storms the size of hurricanes. November 10, 1975 there was a storm the size of a solid hurricane category 2 on the Lake Superior.

The Edmund Fitzgerald had left Wisconsin November 9, 1975 with Captain Ernest M. Sorley at the helm and was headed for Detroit, Michigan.  The Captain of the Sykes predicted a big storm heading across Lake Superior and took a route that offered more protection across the vast lake. He stayed in contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald during the journey. Captain Sorley decided to take the regular route across the Lake to reach their destination.  The storm hit early about 1:00 am November 10th with winds blowing at 52 knots/ or 60 miles per hour. The ship was following the SS Anderson, and Mr. Sorley slowed his freighter down to cope with the winds.

Later as the winds were upgraded from a gale to a storm, the Edmund Fitzgerald sped up maybe try to out maneuver the storm.  The SS Anderson lost visibility with the Edmund Fitzgerald after it started to snow about 2:45 p.m. There was radio contact throughout the day between the two ships while they tried to maneuver through the storm. The Edmund Fitzgerald was taking on water, listing, and lost both radars. She disappeared about 7:30 p.m. About 10 minutes after the last contact with the SS Anderson. Captain Cooper of the SS Anderson radioed for help when he couldn’t reach the ship, and at 9:00 p.m. Cooper was asked to look for survivors and by 10:00 other ships joined in to search. The storm made it almost impossible to search that night and though they recovered debris, they found no survivors. All 29 members of crew were lost.

The ship was found 4 days later at the entrance to Deadman’s Cove, Ontario. In 1976 the U.S. Navy divers investigated the ship and found it in 2 pieces. It was concluded that the Edmund Fitzgerald broke in 2 pieces on the surface. During a dive in 1994 by a Canadian team found the remains of a crew member face up next to the ship.  A group of three rogue waves, often called “three sisters,” was reported in the vicinity of Fitzgerald at the time she sank. (1) Today the ship sits at a depth of about 250 ft. protected by laws enacted by the Canadian government. The fame of the Edmund Fitzgerald has made it a Cottage industry in the area, with mugs, shirts to commemorate the event. An interesting side note, Joseph Mazes, maintenance engineer (Known as Jugsy by friends and family)   said he was afraid of Captain Ernest McSorley. “McSorley would never pull out of a storm.” (4)


“They might have split up or they might have capsized, they might have broke deep and took water. All that remains are the faces and the names of the wives and the sons and the daughters.”-Gordon Lightfoot


  1. Lawrence, Eric (November 7, 2010). “Ghostly Views of the Edmund Fitzgerald Shipwreck”.Detroit Free Press. pp. 1A, 8A.
  2. 2.Hultquist, T.R.; Dutter, M.R.; Schwab, D.J. (May 2006). “Reexamination of the 9–10 November 1975 Edmund Fitzgerald Storm Using Today’s Technology” (PDF). Bulletin of American Meteorological Society (Easton, Pennsylvania: American Meteorological Society) 87 (5): 607–622. Bibcode:2006BAMS…87..607Hdoi:10.1175/BAMS-87-5-607ISSN 0003-0007. Retrieved December 26, 2010.
  3.  National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) (May 4, 1978). “Marine Accident Report: SSEdmund Fitzgerald Sinking in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975” (PDF). NTSB. Retrieved November 9, 2010.
  4. SS Edmund Fitzgerald Online, Joseph W. Mazes (Maintenance Man)

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