"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is a song written, composed and performed by Canadian Gordon Lightfoot to commemorate the sinking of the bulk carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. It was inspired by the Newsweekarticle on the event, "The Cruelest Month", which appeared in the issue of November 24, 1975. Lightfoot considers this song to be his finest work.
The ballad originally appeared on Lightfoot's 1976 album, Summertime Dream, and was later released as a single. The release hit #1 in his native Canada (on the RPM national singles survey) on November 20, 1976, almost exactly one year after the appearance of the article that inspired it. In the U.S., the single was #2 on the Billboard pop chart for two weeks beginning November 20, 1976, making it Lightfoot's second most successful single (in terms of chart position) in that country following "Sundown", which reached #1 in 1974. "Wreck" peaked at #40 in the UK Singles Chart.
As a US Merchant Seaman I sailed deep sea many times. But never the Lakes. The crew of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald were a special breed.
While Nature is indifferent it can appear angry & vengeful at times. The Lake storms could be just as horrific as any China Seas typhoon.
The honor roll of the dead crew members at the conclusion of Lightfoot's song wrenched at the heart. Chokes you up.
Hard working old hands. Others practically children. They didn't have much time to grow up & grow old. But according to all reports they acquitted themselves courageously & well. All the brothers were valiant. They did their best. But the roiling great green as well as the inland waters win in any contest to the finish with even the best sailors.
And like it says in the Last Book: When the seas give up their dead each man will be judged according to their works. [Paraphrased.]
You don't have to be a believer in the supernatural to draw some human lesson from such poetry.
Nor from Gordon Lightfoot's classic heroic balladry of tragic events exemplifying our most tenuous human condition.
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee"
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that big ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the Gales of November came early
The ship was the pride of the American side
coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
with a crew and good captain well seasoned,
concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship's bell rang,
could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
and a wave broke over the railing
And ev'ry man knew, as the captain did too
'twas the witch of November come stealin'
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
when the Gales of November came slashin'
When afternoon came it was freezin' rain
in the face of a hurricane west wind
When suppertime came the old cook came on deck sayin'
"Fellas, it's too rough t'feed ya"
At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in; he said,
"Fellas, it's bin good t'know ya!"
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
and the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when 'is lights went outta sight
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
if they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'er
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters
Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
in the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams;
the islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below Lake Ontario
takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
with the Gales of November remembered
In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
in the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call "Gitche Gumee"
"Superior," they said, "never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early"
--song written by Gordon Lightfoot
A tribute to the 29 men who died November 10, 1975, aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior.
Announcer (0:04): An air and sea search is continuing for possible survivors of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a 729 foot ore carrier, which apparently broke apart and sunk last night on Lake Superior. The ship and its 29-man crew vanished in a storm with 80 mile-an-hour winds and wave heights up to 25 feet. All that has been found is an oil slick and some debris.
song begins at 0:17
Radio Transmission (3:11): "We last had contact with 'em, the mate had talked to him ... at about 10 minutes after 7, 19:10, and he said he was going along fine and no problem."
Radio Transmission (3:21): "But it looks from the information that we have that it's, uh, fairly certain that the, uh, Fitzgerald went down."
Radio Transmission (4:04): "Uh, no, I didn't have him, uh, visually, I had him on radar; he was, uh, exactly 10 miles ahead of us. I asked him how he was making out with his problems and he said he was holding his own, but I, uh, lost contact after that."