The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.
— Gordon Lightfoot, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was one of the largest freighters to sail on the Great Lakes; and it was also the Great Lakes' biggest maritime disaster. On November 10, 1975 the ship sank abruptly in a storm, killing all 29 men on board.
The "Mighty Fitz" was launched on June 8, 1958 at the Great Lakes Engineering Works, of River Rouge, Michigan. It was 730 feet (220 m) long and 75 feet (23 m) wide, about as big as a ship could get and still be able to navigate the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the waterway connecting the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean; and until 1971 it was the largest ship on the Lakes.
On Sunday, November 9, 1975, the Fitzgerald left the city of Superior, Wisconsin, under Captain Ernest M. McSorley, with a cargo of taconite, a type of iron ore. It was bound for a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan. A second freighter, the Arthur A. Anderson, bound for Gary, Indiana followed not far behind. As they crossed Lake Superior, the two ships encountered a huge winter storm, which closed the locks connecting Lake Superior with the lower Great Lakes; so the ships made for nearby Whitefish Bay.
By the afternoon of November 10, the Fitzgerald was in the middle of a raging blizzard with high, hurricane-force winds, which had damaged their own radar as well as the lighthouse at Whitefish Point. Effectively blind and taking on water from the high waves, the Fitz slowed down to ten knots. At about 7:10 pm, the Anderson radioed the Fitzgerald and received the reply, "We are holding our own." Ten minutes later, the Anderson lost radio and radar contact with the Fitz. The ships were only 17 miles (27 km) from the safety of the bay. No survivors were recovered.
US Navy searches the following year found the wreckage of the Fitzgerald, it's hull broken in half, probably when the hull hit bottom. The official Coast Guard report suggested that the sinking was caused by the cargo hatches being insufficiently secured. And alternate theory was that the loss of radar forced the crew to rely on faulty charts which did not show some of the shoals in the area. Contributing to the disaster might have been the high, choppy waves, peculiar to the Great Lakes, which can beat on a ship's hull like hammers and may have damaged the hull or the hatches.
Game and Story Use
- Searching for shipwrecks always makes a good plot.
- What was the actual cause of the sinking?
- Could the Fitz have been carrying something besides ore that the PC's might be interested in?
- Clive Cussler's Raise the Fitzgerald!
- The ship's bell might be haunted by the ghosts of the crew, or have some other occult significance. Bells are good for that sort of thing.