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“I have a bad list, lost both radars. And am taking heavy seas over the deck. One of the worst seas I’ve ever been in.”

47 years ago today, those were among the last words heard from the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, a Great Lakes freighter carrying iron ore pellets from Superior, Wisconsin to iron works in Detroit, Toledo, and other ports further east. The Edmund Fitzgerald was a workhorse of the Great Lakes. The long, red-hulled ship set seasonal haul records six times, often breaking her own record.

The ship was known for piping music day or night over the ship’s intercom while passing through the St. Clair and Detroit rivers between Lake Huron and Lake Erie and entertaining spectators at the Soo Locks (between Lakes Superior and Huron) with a running commentary about the ship. Her size, record-breaking performance, and “DJ captain” endeared Edmund Fitzgerald to boat watchers up and down the Great Lakes.

But on the evening of November 10, 1975, the captain’s tone was much more serious. While crossing Lake Superior in dangerous in dangerous waves more than 35 feet tall and near-hurricane-force winds, the Edmund Fitzgerald, and her crew of 29 men, were in trouble. She lost sight of where she was going, and she developed a list. She communicated with ships in the area asking for help but never declared an emergency.

At 7:10 PM fellow freighter S.S. Arthur M. Anderson spoke to the captain of the Edmund Fitzgerald, helping guide it through the waters since it was floating blind and without its radars.

Anderson: “Fitzgerald, this is the Anderson. Have you checked down?”

Fitzgerald: “Yes we have.”

Anderson: “Fitzgerald, we are about 10 miles behind you, and gaining about 1 1/2 miles per hour. Fitzgerald, there is a target (i.e. ship) 19 miles ahead of us. So, the target would be 9 miles on ahead of you.”

Fitzgerald: “Well, am I going to clear?”

Anderson: “Yes. He is going to pass to the west of you.”

Fitzgerald: “Well, fine.”

Anderson: “By the way, Fitzgerald, how are you making out with your problem?”

Fitzgerald: “We are holding our own.”

Anderson: “Okay, fine. I’ll be talking to you later.”

The two captains never did speak again. Sometime between 7:20 and 7:30 PM on the evening of November 10th, the Edmund Fitzgerald vanished from radar and sank, taking with her all 29 crew on board. No bodies were recovered, and the exact cause of the sinking remains unknown. At the time, she was the largest ship on North America’s Great Lakes and remains to this day the largest ship to have sunk there.

A year her sinking, after having read an article about the tragedy of the Fitzgerald in an issue of “Newsweek” magazine, Canadian folk singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot released the haunting tribute to the Fitzgerald and her crew. The song is called “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” To this day, all the royalties from the sales of the song go to the families of the crew of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald.

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