Just 30 years ago, all hands were lost when, in a howling storm, a huge, seemingly unsinkable ship plunged to the bottom of Lake Superior.
The vessel was the 729-foot Edmund Fitzgerald, once the biggest ship on the biggest body of fresh water. The blue-collar working ore-carrier simply was gone and no one knew why. Starting with the careful loading of the Fitz, Schumacher (Francis Ford Coppola, 1999, etc.) reconstructs the event honored in ceremony, story and a song by Canadian troubadour Gordon Lightfoot. Character sketches of the captain and several crew members are provided, along with a history of the Lake and its weather. Gitchie Gummie (Lake Superior) is Great, not always benign. That day in November, the ship worked in heavy seas, green water freely boarding its spar deck. Its experienced master lost touch with a neighboring vessel. Radar on the Fitz was lost, too, in the wall of waves. The nearby lighthouse went dark in the tempest (which, afterwards, was known as “the Ed Fitz storm”). The end came quickly as gravity defeated buoyancy. The last half of Schumacher’s tale describes the efforts to uncover what happened to the great ship. The wreckage was visited and there were official inquiries. Did the Coast Guard act effectively? The futility of lifeboats was clear, but did the Fitz go down because its hatches were not properly secured? Perhaps it was an improperly maintained keel. Now what is left of the Edmund Fitzgerald remains as a final burial chamber for the 29 unforgotten sailors. (A crewmen’s necrology is appended, together with Lightfoot’s lyrics and a glossary that offers definitions of such seafaring words as “fore,” “aft” and “hull,” among more difficult terms).
A fastidious history of loss at sea, for casual reader and maritime maven alike.