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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

40 Years Ago

40 years ago I was just  a young guy working as a nursing assistant at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and had just moved in with my girlfriend. National unemployment was at least 8% as the economy was coming off a recession and any job was a good one at that point. While there was a lot going on in my little life I remember hearing about a large ship sinking in a storm on Lake Superior. I knew where it was, but had never seen the lake as of then. I don't think I could have imagined living near it in the future as I was too busy living in the now.

Fast forward two years. I had moved to Minneapolis, got a better job, and the girlfriend was gone. I was living with a bunch of guys I had gone to school with and their good friends. We were single, adventurous guys with a few extra bucks to go and play. We often went backpacking and camping and regularly to the North Shore of Lake Superior which I thought was a rugged and beautiful place. Well it is. However, the seasonal changes bring with them some impressive shows of force from Mother Nature.

Back on November 9th of 1975 the Edmund Fitzgerald left the Port of Superior which is right next to the Port of Duluth at the Westernmost point of Lake Superior. If it had been heading for the Atlantic Ocean it would be a trip of 2340 miles (3770km), but it was only headed to Zug Island in the Detroit River. When built the ship it was the largest on the Great Lakes at 729 feet. I believe there are about 13 "thousand footers" now plying the lakes.



There was a nasty storm brewing up the day the Fitz sank, the 10th of November. They were listing and had both radars broken and while the storm was bad there was an additional squall that kicked up at the wrong time. The record winds on this lake are 81 knots and record wave height is 51 feet. It may have been approaching those numbers during the squall that hit the ship, but no one will ever know. She now lies in 535 feet of water in two pieces. The stern half is lying upside down and the bow half right side up nearby.

The best guess is this from The Great Lakes Shipping Museum:
Conflicting theories about the cause of the tragedy remain active today. GLSHS' three expeditions to the wreck revealed that it is likely she "submarined" bow first into an enormous sea, as damage forward is indicative of a powerful, quick force to the superstructure. But what caused the ship to take on water, enough to lose buoyancy and dive to the bottom so quickly, without a single cry for help, cannot be determined.



The Edmund Fitzgerald sank with all 29 crew. They are added to the known 350 shipwrecks and 1000 lives lost on this lake. Those are just the known and recorded ones from more recent history. And that is just this lake. The losses on all the lakes are estimated in the thousands over the course of history.  
What were YOU doing 40 years ago?

22 comments:

anne marie in philly said...

I was 21, senior year of college, living at home. hated my life and my situation. college sucked, my part-time job sucked. would I want to go back? HELL NO!

Pixel Peeper said...

I was 16, living at home, doing a lot of school work during the week, a lot of dancing in the disco on the weekend...

I didn't realize the Edmund Fitzgerald sank 40 years ago...but I've got the Gordon Lightfoot song in my head now.

Jennifer said...

I was 8 months old in November of 1975!

Jono said...

anne marie in philly, There are only a few things about the past that I could stand to live through again. I just chalk it all up to my education.

Pixel Peeper, Sweet sixteen and dancing at the disco. I'll bet you were just as cute then. Gord's song is pretty catchy, isn't it?

Jennifer, You make me feel a bit old, but also a bit young. Did Gregg like the cupcakes?

Diane Henders said...


I was 11, and I haven't a clue what I was doing. (Some things never change - I still haven't a clue what I'm doing most of the time...)

Now I've got this stuck in my head: https://youtu.be/9vST6hVRj2A

Elephant's Child said...

Water the life-giver, water the destroyer. We take it too lightly. In both cases.
Forty years ago I had just moved away from home and was revelling in new found independence. Something I am trying desperately to hang on to now.

Professor Batty said...

I was 25 and was busy extricating myself from a very bad relationship, which probably explains why I don't remember hearing about the shipwreck.

Tom Sightings said...

Interesting post ... I only knew about the ship from the song. In 1975 I was young, newly married and living and working in NYC. No one's going to write song about my boring but not-too-tragic life.

Jono said...

Diane, I'm right there with you on clueless. A lot of good music has come from your side of the border.

Elephant's Child, I remember having some independence, but it has been a long time. My great grandfather died at sea in a big storm that killed many fishermen off the Icelandic coast back about 1897.

Professor, Everything else gets muddled into background noise during those kind of extrications.

Tom Sightings, Maybe someone SHOULD write a song that reflects how most of us get through life.

Donna Banta said...

What a tragedy. Thanks for reminding us. 40 years ago? Incredible.

Should Fish More said...

I would guess that most people have only heard of the ship tragedy through Lightfoot's song.
40 years ago I was just turning 30, with a one year old, working on a GE research project in an ICU in Alaska. Probably makes me the geezer in the room, eh?
Take care,
Mike

JACKIESUE said...

I had just made myself a widow.

Jono said...

Donna, Time flies, doesn't it?

Should Fish More, I'm not far behind you and the wife says I've been geezering up for a few years now.

JACKISUE, You were a bit young to go through that type of trauma. I like the way you are now.

Shammickite said...

I was living just north of Toronto, and I remember the news reports very well, about the huge ship disappearing without a trace in the storm. I was a new mum, OlderSon was just 4, YoungerSon had not arrived yet. I saw Gordon Lightfoot in concert singing his song about the Edmund FitzGerald about 7 years ago. Now I'm humming the song.

jenny_o said...

I was in the first semester of my second year at university. I don't remember hearing about the actual sinking, yet I remember Gordon Lightfoot's song about it as being during my university years. Campus culture and the degree I was taking didn't really lead me to be very interested in current events, but you'd think I'd have been aware, wouldn't you? I hang my head in shame.

Agi Tater said...

I was 11 and pretty clueless about most things in life, including that Gordon Lightfoot song I sang along to a few years later. Terrific post!

vanilla said...

Should Fish More is not the only geezer in the room. I am his senior by a year. Too right most people know of this tragedy via the song only. Thank you for posting the history, a tribute to those who risk their lives to ply the waters.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Forty years ago I was graduating from high school and starting university. What an exciting time of life it was! "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" was a HUGE hit for Gordon Lightfoot and is still one of his best known classic songs.

Ol'Buzzard said...

We all remember it from the song. As time moves on the new generations will forget - a footnote in history.
the Ol'Buzzard

Sioux said...

40 years ago, I was a new driver. Speeding too much and doing other reckless things.

Thanks for the history lesson. I love the Gordon Lightfoot song, but you gave so much more background.

Darien Fisher-Duke said...

40 years ago I had was beginning my second year of college in Davis, CA. I do not remember hearing about the sinking. I never imagined that I would leave California, live in Iowa for 5 years, and eventually consider Virginia home. I always wondered how you came to live where you are, Jono

Jono said...

Darien, Thanks for stopping by! I don't remember you living in Iowa. Maybe a lot of us pass through Iowa on the way to somewhere else. I hope you and your family are well.