45 Years Ago, Iron Freighter on Lake Superior Goes Down in November Gale
When the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was launched in 1958, she was the largest ship on the Great Lakes. The 729-foot freighter carried taconite—marble-sized balls of processed iron ore—across Lake Superior, her usual route between Silver Bay, Minnesota, and steel mills in the Detroit area. In her years 17 of operation, the Fitzgerald set half a dozen haul records and was well-known in the world of Great Lakes shipping. Now, she’s well-known throughout the nation, remaining the largest freighter to ever sink on the Great Lakes.
More than 26,000 tons of iron ore sat locked in the cargo hold of Superior’s largest freighter as her crew prepared to leave Superior, Wisconsin, on November 9, 1975. The Fitzgerald was headed to a steel mill near Detroit, and her veteran Captain was eager to begin the journey, hoping to outrun the storm that the National Weather Service was predicting.
The Fitzgerald left Wisconsin’s shores on the afternoon of November 9, 1975, her 29-man crew led by Captain Ernest McSorley, a mariner with 40 years of experience. McSorley had assumed command of the Fitzgerald in 1972 and was respected on the Great Lakes as a skillful master and superb heavy-weather captain. He was 63 years old when the ship left port, planning to retire after the shipping season’s end.
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