Paul Michaels photograph.
Here is the Cold Spring Shops thirtieth anniversary post. With the candidates' debate in Edmund Fitzgerald's home port of Milwaukee this evening, here is a list of the crew, perhaps I will be able to drink a toast to each crew member by hoisting one each time somebody says "at the end of the day."
A Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel column meditates on why the story continues to resonate with people, sometimes far beyond the Lakes.
Part of the persistence of the Edmund Fitzgerald in North American memory is that the wreck occurred in a period of relative shipping tranquillity on the Great Lakes. Maritime safety has come a long way since the installation of the first steam whistle on a ship in 1844 and Martha Coston's 1871 patent for maritime flares. Indeed, only 20 ships went down in the period between 1948 and 1975, and there hasn't been a major wreck since the Fitz.With an early-November cyclone forming in the Rockies and heading this way (here's one from nine years ago), pray the iron boats continue to homeport safely.
Gordon Lightfoot's song probably contributes to the persistence of the story.
As he wrote the song, Lightfoot said, he "tried to be as accurate as possible." He took some license to make the song work. The ship didn't "head fully loaded for Cleveland;" it was bound for a steel mill near Detroit. The "old cook" in the song is actually 43-year-old Allen Kalmon of Wisconsin, the second cook, who filled in for the first cook, who was sick. And the Maritime Sailor's Cathedral is actually the Mariners' Church of Detroit.Here's a subtitled version of the original setting.
Still, the song is remarkably detailed and on target, even to the point that five years ago Lightfoot changed the line about "a main hatchway caved in." After the wreck, a U.S. Coast Guard report concluded that ineffective hatch closures likely caused the sinking, but that has long been in dispute, and the singer decided to remove the implication that human error played a role.
Over the years, Lightfoot has gotten to know some of the loved ones of those who died, and has attended memorial services with them. It reinforced to him that while he had written a memorable song, it was about real grief and loss.
"There is a responsibility," he said.
This morning, the sexton did ring the bells in Detroit's Mariner's Church, as is the tradition.