November 10, 1975, saw the tragic sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, an American Great Lakes freighter. She was a giant Great Lakes ship when she was launched on June 7, 1958, and she is still the largest to have sunk there. Two huge chunks of her were discovered in deep water by a U.S. Navy aircraft on November 14, 1975, after detecting magnetic anomalies in the area.
17 years of Edmund Fitzgerald
From Duluth, Minnesota, Edmund Fitzgerald transported taconite iron ore from mines near Duluth to other Great Lakes ports for 17 years. Six times she achieved seasonal haul records, frequently beating her history as a workhorse. While traveling between St. Clair and Detroit rivers (between Lakes Huron and Erie) and the Soo Locks (between Lakes Superior and Huron), Peter Pulcer, the ship’s captain, was well-known for constantly playing music over the ship’s intercom. As a large, record-breaking vessel and “DJ captain,” Edmund Fitzgerald won over the admiration of boaters throughout the world.
She set out from Superior, Wisconsin, on November 9, 1975, with a full load of ore pellets and Captain Ernest M. McSorley at the helm. Edmund Fitzgerald boarded the SS Arthur M. Anderson, a second taconite freighter, on his way to a Detroit-area steel factory. Near hurricane-force gusts and waves up to 35 feet (11 meters) high swept over Lake Superior the following day, trapping the two ships.
It was 17 miles from Whitefish Bay, near the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan and Sault Ste. At 530 feet (88 fathoms; 160 meters) deep, the Edmund Fitzgerald sank unexpectedly in Canadian (Ontario) seas—a distance Edmund Fitzgerald could have reached in over an hour at her peak speed—in Canadian (Ontario) waters.
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Edmund Fitzgerald earlier informed Arthur M. Anderson that he was in serious financial difficulties: “To make matters worse, I’ve lost both of my radars. And I’m swaying in the waves on the deck. I’ve never experienced anything like that.” However, Captain McSorley’s last telegram to Arthur M. Anderson, 7:10 p.m., said, “We are holding our own.”
None of her crew of 29 was found dead. Although numerous publications, research, and expeditions have explored the sinking, its reason remains a mystery. Several factors might have contributed to the sinking of Edmund Fitzgerald, including flooding, structural collapse, and shoaling.
The shipwreck is one of the most well-known in Great Lakes transportation history. Gordon Lightfoot wrote “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in 1976 after reading a story in the November 24, 1975, edition of Newsweek titled “The Cruelest Month.”
Mandatory survival jackets, depth finders, positioning devices, more freeboard, and more regular inspections of boats were among the improvements in Great Lakes shipping legislation and procedures that resulted from the disaster.