That good ship and crew
Was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November
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The SS Edmund Fitzgerald in the St. Mary's River in May, 1975
True to its name, Lake Superior is the largest of the five Great Lakes of North America. It is also the deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes, and the largest freshwater lake in the world in terms of surface area. Fed by over 200 large and small rivers, Lake Superior is so massive that you can empty all the water from the other Great Lakes into it and it still would not even be close to full.
The idea for the song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" came from an article that appeared in a November issue of Newsweek
titled "The Cruelest Month." It inspired Gordon Lightfoot to write, compose and perform this song to retell the tragic tale of the bulk carrier S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald
on that eventful day at Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. To date, the sinking of S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald
remains the most infamous shipping disaster to have occurred on the Great Lakes.
The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald
was one of the largest ships on the Great Lakes, and had operated on various freight routes since its maiden voyage on June 8, 1958. There was little warning for what was to follow when she first reported running into some trouble during a gale on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. Without even so much as a distress signal, the ship sank suddenly, taking with it all 29 crew members on board.
Lake Superior frozen, Great Lakes
An explanatory note for the rather macabre line, "the lake, it is said, never gives up its dead": This is not so much a legend as it is a scientific fact. In general, the very cold temperature in Lake Superior means that there are no bacterial populations within the lake. Therefore, bodies that are submerged in the water will sink to the bottom without the gaseous by-products from bacteria decomposing and breaking down the corpse. Furthermore, from the data available at the time, Lake Superior recorded unusually low water temperatures in the period around 1970. None of the bodies of those on board Edmund Fitzgerald
were recovered, although dive expeditions to the shipwreck did spot the body of a man. As for the ship, due to its enormous size and the speed with which it sank, the main body broke into two sections, resting around 150 feet apart at just over 450 feet in from the surface.
The Big Fitz, as the freighter was affectionately known, sank 17 miles off Whitefish Point, and this is a region notorious for shipping accidents. In fact, the body of water in the southern shores of Lake Superior between Grand Marais, Michigan, and Whitefish Point mark out a region known as the "Graveyard of the Great Lakes." These days, the shipwrecks are safely protected from other shipping routes through the establishment of the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.
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