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Three decades since the Edmund Fitzgerald sinking

Thirty years ago today the bulk freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, caught in a terrible storm, sank in Lake Superior, killing all 29 men on board. To mark the anniversary of the accident — immortalized in Gordon Lightfoot’s 1976 song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” — lanterns will be placed this evening around the freighter’s anchor, which is on display at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle in Detroit, Mich.

On Nov. 10, 1975, the Fitzgerald was traveling south across Lake Superior bound for the Zug Island docks in Detroit, carrying more than 26,000 tons of taconite pellets (iron-bearing ore). Experiencing blinding snow and 45-knot wind kicking up 30-foot seas, the Fitzgerald began to founder about 20 miles from the entrance of Whitefish Bay.

According to reports, the Fitzgerald’s captain, Ernest McSorley, radioed Capt. Jesse of the Arthur M. Anderson — a freighter not far from the Fitzgerald — saying his vessel was taking on water and had lost both of its radars. McSorley asked Cooper to monitor the Fitzgerald’s progress for the rest of its journey.

Not long afterward, the Anderson received a report from the Fitzgerald saying: “We’re holding our own.” A few minutes later the Fitzgerald disappeared from the Anderson’s radar.

Some have speculated that massive waves crashing on the Fitzgerald’s deck damaged a number of the hatches, flooding the hold. Others believe the boat hit bottom on the shoals off Caribou Island and began taking on water. An official cause of the sinking has never been established. The ship now sits in two pieces under more than 500 feet of water.

For more information about the lantern lighting and other events honoring the Edmund Fitzgerald, call the Dossin Great Lakes Museum at (313) 297-8366. A Web site, S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online ( has been established with the approval of the families of the Fitzgerald crew.

— Jason Fell