10 Country Songs in Memory of the Edmund Fitzgerald
A dozen autumns ago I moved to Minneapolis from South Dakota, and it was then that I learned how all'a ya can't shut up about one thing: The Halloween Blizzard of '91.
I grew up in a place where we did not move for days after each significant snowfall. We'd await the arrival of some dude some other dude had hired to come plow us out after storm after storm had whipped heaps of precipitation across our flat, nearly treeless plains. A place where I'd learned how to drive the same way I'd learned how to bowl: with bumpers. On a highway lined on each side by plowed snowpiles thrice the height of my car. Excellent for learning how to slide properly on ice without ending up stranded in a ditch or smashed into a telephone pole.
I thought all'a ya were a bunch of whiny-ass pussies. All wanting for a good story for your collective memory to offer up to newcomers and future generations, but having only this one dumb snowstorm. Yawn.
All it took was one trip up north to Superior, and legends of the "Three Sisters," to shut me up about this region's weather.
It was on this day in history, November 10, 1975, that 29 souls were lost when the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, known as the "Mighty Fitz," became the largest boat ever sunk on the Great Lakes after it went down not far from Whitefish Bay in a storm. For seventeen years, the Fitz had carried taconite from mines near Duluth to iron works in Detroit, Toledo, and in other ports. Her final voyage was on the afternoon of November 9, 1975, departing from Superior, Wisconsin and en route to a steel mill near Detroit. By the next day, she and her partner in the voyage, the SS Arthur M. Anderson, were caught in a massive winter storm with near hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 feet high. I mean, imagine this, landlocked Minnesota folk: your run-of-the-mill, Halloween Blizzard of '91, but in the middle of a fresh-water ocean full of icy waves and winds broken by nothing but seagulls. Now that's somethin' to talk about.
Shortly after 7:10 p.m. on the 10th, the Fitz suddenly sank. Although she had reported experiencing difficult waters earlier, no distress signals were sent before she went down. The freighter simply disappeared from the radar. All her crew perished, and no bodies were recovered.
Her sinking is attributed to many causes - structural failure, topside damage, being shoaled in shallow water - but the creepiest is the theory of the "Three Sisters," a series of three rogue waves, the first truly massive, and each subsequent occurring so quickly that the deck never has a chance to clear of its swamped water.
No one really knows what caused the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, but Gordon Lightfoot made a damned good song of it in 1976. And so, in that spirit, we present you with 10 Songs in Memory of the Mighty Fitz.
Johnny Cash - "I Want to Go Home"
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - "Fishin' in the Dark"
Crosby, Stills & Nash - "Southern Cross"
Craig Morgan - "Redneck Yacht Club"
Guy Clark with Verlon Thompson - "Boats to Build"
Lyle Lovett - "If I Had a Boat"
Zac Brown Band - "Toes"
Garth Brooks - "The River"
Gordon Lightfoot - "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"
David Allan Coe - "Take This Job and Shove It"
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