Photograph of the Edmund Fitzgerald taken in May 1975, St. Mary's River (Image courtesy of Bob Campbell, Grand Ledge, MI).
Memorial Service Set Saturday for Mariners Lost on Sunken Great Lakes Ships
Event to Recall the Gales of November and the Deadly Toll of Crewmen Lost
November 18, 2009
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The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the loss of her 29-member crew during a violent fall storm on November 10, 1975, just northwest of Whitefish Point in southeast Lake Superior was at the time the worst maritime disaster on the Great Lakes in nine years. Of the more than 1000 ships that have found their graves under the icy waters of the Great Lakes, the Fitzgerald is still the largest ever to go down. Just like the Titanic, the demise of this seemingly invincible vessel has attracted widespread attention and inspired songwriters and authors to tell her story. --U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
By: Dave Rogers
The members of the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society will hold their annual Memorial Ceremony this Saturday for 65 Great Lakes mariners from Bay County, who were lost on the Great Lakes.
According to Don Morin, of the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society, the memorial service will be held at 4 p.m., Saturday, November 21, at the Waterfall Park at the foot of Third Street, Bay City.
The name, ship, and date of death of each lost mariner will be read, followed by ringing of a bell and flowers placed in the river. This is the only service of this type, dedicated to the men and women of one geographical region on the Great Lakes. An optional dinner will follow, next door, at the Kingfish Restaurant.
"November Requiem: The Documentary," an award winning documentary on the loss of the Great Lakes freighter "Carl D. Bradley" on Lake Michigan in 1958, and its impact on the close knit community of Rogers City, Michigan, will be shown following the service, at 7 p.m., Saturday, November 21, at Trinity Episcopal Church, corner of Center Avenue and Grant Street - (please use rear entrance).
Light refreshments will be served and nautical items will be raffled.
Some 4,751 Great Lakes shipwrecks have been documented, and as many as 500 are yet to be discovered, according to Eric Jylha, development director of the Bay County Historical Museum. About 61 percent of those ships went down during stormy weather, and most of those storms struck in November. For example, the worst storm was November 7th to the 12th, 1913. Some 40 ships were destroyed, including 8 freighters. The Henry B. Smith, named for a Bay City industrialist, was one of the boats that went down. It had a crew of 25. No one knows exactly how many men died on what became known as "Black Sunday", but at least 235 lives were lost, mostly on Lake Huron.
Besides the Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down with 29 souls on the 10th -- other November wrecks have taken their toll. The 1940 Storm hit on Veteran's Day, sinking the Nodadoc. There were two deaths. The Carl D. Bradley sank on the 18th in 1958, and only two of its crew of 35 survived. The Daniel J. Morrell sank on the 29th in 1966 -- 28 died -- one survived, Dennis Hale.
The Edmund Fitzgerald was launched on June 7, 1958, from the Great Lakes Engineering Works at River Rouge, MI, a suburb on the south side of Detroit. She was owned by the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and named after the company's newly-elected chairman of the board. The Oglebay-Norton Co. of Cleveland, OH, chartered her under a long-term contract from Northwestern.
At the time of her launch, the Fitzgerald was the largest carrier on the Great Lakes, and remained so until 1971. She weighed 13,632 tons and measured 729 feet long by 75 feet wide. Fully loaded, the Fitzgerald was capable of carrying 27,500 tons, powered by a 7,500 horsepower steam turbine engine that could move her along at up to 20 mph.
In 1964, the Edmund Fitzgerald became the first carrier to haul more than one million tons of iron ore pellets (taconite) through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie. That feat earned her the nicknames the "Big Fitz" and "The Pride of the American Flag". Sailors considered themselves privileged to serve aboard her.
Captain Ernest McSorley--a veteran of over 40 years experience--took command of the Fitzgerald for the 1972 shipping season. He had commanded nine ships before the Fitzgerald. Captain McSorley, quiet and reserved, was well respected by other captains as a skillful Master and by his men, whom he treated as true professionals. Captain McSorley turned 62 in 1975 and was happily married. Although they had no children, his wife Nellie was the mother of three children from a previous marriage.
The Fitzgerald continued her fine record of service under the new captain's command into 1975. However, on October 31, 1975, the Coast Guard noted a problem during a routine inspection of the vessel at Toledo, OH. The inspectors found a number of hatch covers that seal the cargo area would not close properly, meaning that water which washed on board the deck would be able to leak into the cargo hold.
You can learn more about these November storms in the Bay County Historical Museum Theatre, and DVDs on the topic are on sale in the Museum Store.
Outdoors Article 4382
Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at email@example.com)
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