Superior, WI

The day the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior

Author Ed Anderson
The Edmund Fitzgerald in 1971Photo byGreenmars via Wikimedia

Before the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank on November 10, 1975, the freighter had set quite a few milestone records. The first of which was that it was owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance of Milwaukee, it was the beginning of insurance companies owning large ships.

And the Edmund Fitzgerald was large. It was 729 feet long, just under the maximum limit to pass through the Saint Lawrence Seaway. According to Awesome Mitten, the loads that the freighter carried were heavier and heavier with each trip. Every haul set a new record for the ship, to the joy of its owners.

It wasn't all celebrations and taconite iron ore pellets being moved around. The ship was part of a few collisions with other freighters, hitting lock walls, and running aground. With each incident, the Edmund Fitzgerald was patched up and sent back out on another trip.

The usual route that the ship took was from Superior, Wisconsin to Toledo, Ohio. Captains usually took Lake Superior to get there and were well aware of the legend that it did not give up its dead. MLive reports that meteorologists and historians came to agree that it wasn't a great route for any ship to take.

It became even worse during bad weather. Such as the storm that hit the lake the day that the Edmund Fitzgerald sunk.
Wreckage of the Edmund FitzgeraldPhoto byFacebook

Wild Weather

Lake Superior is known for having ice volcanoes. They appear to be snowy hills but when they erupt, they send ice, sleet, snow, and more into the air. It makes things very difficult for those trying to navigate the already volatile waters.

On November 10, 1975, a rough storm blew through the region. Spectrum News reports that the wind that day grew in severity. The National Weather Service issued a gale warning for the lake, winds were between 35-50 knots and producing waves that grew to a height of 15 feet.

As the day went on, the warning changed but only slightly. However, with Captain Ernest McSorley at the helm of the Fitzgerald, there was very little concern that this would be another successful trip. He was so revered and respected within the shipping community that another boat's captain reached out to him.

Captain Bernie Cooper was in charge of the SS Arthur S. Anderson. That ship ran into some issues during the storm. Around 6:55 pm, the crew felt a bump and then saw a giant wave crashing toward them.

The Shipwreck Museum quotes the conversation between the two captains. During their talk, Cooper asked McSorely how they were handling their problems. The Edmund Fitzgerald claimed they were holding their own. A plan was made for the ships to dock in Whitefish Point, Michigan.

The Anderson had about 19 miles to get there, while The Fitzgerald had about 9 miles to get there safely.

After their conversation, Cooper kept an eye on the Fitzgerald via the radar. Every once in a while the ship would disappear but come back almost immediately. However, at 7:15 pm it disappeared altogether. The dot never reappeared on the radar.

The Edmund Fitzgerald sank.
The bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald is on display at the Shipwreck MuseumPhoto byDuchene9 via wikimedia

What Happened To The Ship?

When Cooper and the crew of the Anderson got to Whitefish, they asked for someone to go searching for the Fitzgerald. The captain also called the Coast Guard around 8:00 pm, once again expressing his concern for his friend and colleague.

After taking the report, they initiated a search. Cooper and his crew joined in trying to find the missing vessel. As the hour grew late, the search switched to trying to find any survivors. It was not successful. The searchers found debris, lifeboats, and other items that suggested that the crew attempted to get off the Fitzgerald but none of the crew's bodies were found.

Six months after the ship sank, the United States Navy began looking for the wreckage. The Detroit News reports that they found the Fitzgerald in two separate pieces. It looked as if the vessel broke neatly down the middle. In the middle was the freight that had been on board at the time it sank.

Twenty years after the Fitzgerald sank, explorers went down to recover a special part of the ship. The families of the crew members of the ship asked for the bell to be brought back up.

It took cooperation between the United States and Canadian governments, as well as the owners of the ship for the operation to happen successfully. The bell is put on display at the Shipwreck Museum from May to October every year.

Questions continue to surround the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Many believe the weather played a part in the tragedy but others believe something else was at fault, as well.

This is original content from NewsBreak’s Creator Program. Join today to publish and share your own content.

Comments / 12

Published by

Ed Anderson is a true crime and gossip writer from Detroit, Michigan. Ed is the author of several true crime books, most recently Financing Doubt.

Rochester, MI

More from Author Ed Anderson

Comments / 0