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.
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
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.