On November 10, 1975, a wild winter storm was welcome incentive to stay indoors and study. A friend called me the next day to tell me his boat had sunk. We shared our memories of that crummy little boat. Then I told him about the sinking of the Fitgerald and we fell silent, the phone line crackling the way digital lines do not.
I grew up in a family obsessed with marine history in general, and Great Lakes shipping in particular. No wonder; these enormous iron ships passed our home day and night, sun and fog, most months of the year.
Nearly silent, the behemoths carried iron ore, limestone, coal, and grain. Unlike ocean-going ships (that we called ‘Salties’) these freighters were long, low lying, with pilot house fore and crew quarters, engines and tall smoke stack aft. The length of the ship held hatches filled with bulk cargo, usually iron ore or something used in the processing of it.
Living on a river with ship traffic leaves an indelible imprint on your imagination. The world sails by your door every day. The Norwegian flag, Russian sailors, the Queen’s yacht, Canadian ice breakers, Japanese cargo ships, and iron ore: day and night the red earth that became the cars, trucks, girders, refrigerators, screw drivers and kitchen sinks of our modern lives were moving past my door.
If there was one freighter that everyone loved, it was the Edmund Fitzgerald. Why? She was friendly! The Edmund F. would salute you with a long-two shorts whistle if you waved at them or whenever they passed the San Souci Bar, the pinacle of cultural life on the Island. Most ships were business-as-usual, but you could count on a ‘hello!’ from the Fitzgerald, every time.
Play a freighter salute:
May her legend live on.