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The Gales of November Remembered

Thirty years ago tonight (November 10, 1975), the iron ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior off Whitefish Point. The 729-foot ship took 29 crew members with her. The wreck happened at the height of a storm of historic proportions, with winds reaching 90 miles per hour and waves of possibly 30 feet. At 7:10 p.m. the captain radioed to a companion ship that things were under control; five minutes later a snow squall came up and obscured the Coast Guard radar, and when the squall cleared, the ship was gone. So deep are the waters where the wreck occured, that the final location of the Edmund Fitzgerald was found only a few years ago.

Shortly after the sinking, Canadian songwriter Gordon Lightfoot wrote "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," which became his biggest pop chart hit (in America at least). It's still a huge hit in the Upper Peninsula, where the storm caused significant damage to the land as well. The classic rock radio station here played it at exactly 7:15 p.m. tonight, which would be (we guess) thirty years exactly since the sinking.

I learned to sing "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" around 1979. Most every November since 1980, I've sung that song in public somewhere. Last Wednesday night I played it at the Xhedos open mic. I'm pretty sure I'm one of the few who plays it that much. Lightfoot plays it regularly, probably. Lee Murdock, a fine performer from Chicago who specializes in Great Lakes songs, plays a really good version of it. Me, I'm not exactly famous for it, except among my closer friends.

The song has a lot of words. People see my lyric sheet for it and their eyes bug out. It's seven long verses, or fourteen if you break them up in smaller chunks. Not that I'm bragging or anything, really. I've wrecked it a few times in 25 years by forgetting a verse and losing the whole thing. But it's still a special song to me because of the connection to The Big Lake and the Upper Peninsula, and to the historical moment when the big ship met bigger weather and simply vanished.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 11th, 2005 11:21 am (UTC)
The gales of November come early...

My brother and father, both navy men, always said that the Fitzgerald, like many Great Lakes ships, was underengineered and built much too weak for its size. A freighter built to withstand open ocean conditions would not have come apart in that storm, or so they claimed.

It's a great song, and as you point out, very familiar to those of us old enough to remember the incident. But there's another one that I like just as well. Stan Rogers, I think it's called "White Squall."
Nov. 11th, 2005 03:43 pm (UTC)
"White Squall" is an awesome song. I used to sing it more than I do now; it's not as ingrained as "Edmund Fitzgerald" so I'd probably need the lyrics in front of me.

Suddenly I wonder where my copy of Stan Rogers' From Fresh Water went...
Nov. 11th, 2005 03:48 pm (UTC)
We never listen to Stan here any more because his stuff is all on LP. Was any of it transferred to CD?
Nov. 11th, 2005 04:25 pm (UTC)
At least some of it was. I have Fogarty's Cove on CD and I think I've seen Between the Breaks...Live in very good stores. Home in Halifax is a concert he recorded in 1983 that wasn't released till a while after his death. It has a lot of the favorites on it, especially from Northwest Passage.

I just checked HMV.com (which I guess is Amazon.ca ... didn't know they were together) and it looks like all of Stan Rogers' albums are on CD now.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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