November 9, 1975, was the day the Great Lakes iron freighter Edmund Fitzgerald set out from Superior, Wis., carrying 26,000 tons of iron ore to a destination near Detroit.
November 10, 2022, was the 47th anniversary of the loss of that ship and her 29 crew.
In her time on the lakes, Fitzgerald was the largest ship on Superior, only 100 feet shorter than Titanic. She’d been ferrying ore across Lake Superior since 1958 as a dependable, record-breaking workhorse.
The journey from Superior to Detroit that began on Nov. 9, 1975, was Fitzgerald’s last. In a storm of hurricane magnitude that the Gales of November brought, the ship and her 29 crew sank without having the chance to send out a distress call.
Fitzgerald went down 17 miles northwest of Michigan’s Whitefish Bay between 7:20 and 7:30 p.m. during an intense storm the night of Nov. 10. At 7:10 that night, the Fitzgerald made her last radio transmission with the SS Anderson, a freighter following 10 miles behind. Captain McSorley’s words were "We are holding our own."
Moments after that transmission, the Fitzgerald disappeared from radar and never came back. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Coast Guard determined that the cause for the sinking was sudden and massive flooding in the cargo hold after hatch covers failed. The ship had almost two dozen hatch covers, heavy slabs of steel secured to the deck over the cargo hold. They acted like giant lids, keeping the cargo dry from water that washed over the deck.
The flooding was so sudden that the captain and crew didn’t even have time to signal a distress call before the Fitzgerald headed to the bottom of Superior. After the Coast Guard was notified, they radioed ships to look for begin searching: “It looks like with the information we have that it is fairly certain that the Fitzgerald went down. We're talking now a matter of life and death and looking for survivors that might be in life rafts or in the water.”
On July 4, 1995, after 20 years on the sunken ship, the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald was recovered and replaced with a new one, inscribed with the names of all 29 crew members’ to rest with the ship. The ship’s bell is used in annual memorial services, where friends and family of the lost men ring the bell as individual names are read. Singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot immortalized events of that November night in his song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”