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The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Note: This song commemorates the sinking of the carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. The lives of twenty-nine men were lost in the calamity.
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 good 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 every 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 to feed ya”
At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in, he said
“Fellas, it’s been good to 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 his 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 her
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!
Gordon Lightfoot is best known for his hit song, “Sundown,” but this is his second most well-known song. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald tells the story of a real life tragedy, occurring only a year prior to the song’s release, though Lightfoot’s lyrics contain some minor inaccuracies for artistic license purposes. The song performed well on the Canadian and U.S. Charts (from wiki).
Appearing originally on Lightfoot’s 1976 album Summertime Dream, the single version hit number 1 in his native Canada (in the RPM national singles survey) on November 20, 1976, barely a year after the disaster. In the United States, it reached number 1 in Cashbox and number 2 for two weeks in the BillboardHot 100 (behind Rod Stewart‘s “Tonight’s the Night“), making it Lightfoot’s second-most-successful single, behind only “Sundown“. Overseas it was at best a minor hit, peaking at number 40 in the UK Singles Chart.
There are a vast array of theories about the sinking of the vessel, though there is widespread agreement that severe weather played a role. The accident led to numerous policy and regulation changes. To this day, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald remains the largest ship ever to have sunk in the Great Lakes.
6 thoughts on “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
I grew up just 10 miles from Lake Superior- such a great song! Ty for posting.
You’re welcome! Growing up by Lake Superior seems like a cold way to grow up. Lol.
I have always really enjoyed this song. In addition to the story, the music has a really interesting sound, too. It’s kind of haunting.
Very haunting and beautiful! Snow and deep freeze ~6 months of the year.
Six months of the year? I don’t think I could do that. But then again, I live in tornado alley. I suppose there are always trade-offs.
I think Gordon Lightfoot was the boat.
Yeah, and it was rammed by the Cat Stevens.
Art imitates life. Life imitates art.
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