Mandatory Music: you must drink whiskey and stare out at the sea while listening to this song. Wait, look back at the screen now so you can read this post. What a great song, right? I had this on 45 and played it over and over again on my denim-themed record player (shown below).
38 years ago today, a freighter named the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior. It was ferrying taconite, the most delicious of iron ores, from Wisconsin to Detroit and then going to Cleveland to lay up for the winter. As the song tells, all 29 members of the crew perished, although the old cook quoted in the song was not their usual cook—that crewman was home sick for this trip. Maybe making tacos, because for some reason he could never get tacos out of his head?
The ship did indeed encounter some serious weather developments: NOAA’s weather simulation of that day indicated an average wave height near 19 feet with winds exceeding 50 mph over most of southeastern Lake Superior. Another theory holds that the Edmund Fitzgerald fell victim to he “three sisters” phenomenon: “a sequence of three rogue waves forming that are one-third larger than normal waves. When the first wave hits a ship’s deck, before its water drains away the second wave strikes. The third incoming wave adds to the two accumulated backwashes, suddenly overloading the deck with tons of water (source).” The ship may have had some structural problems that proved the vessel’s undoing in the storm.
As a result of the ship’s demise, the US Coast Guard and NOAA changed some of their practices to enhance safety for freighters on the Great Lakes. And we got this amazing Gordon Lightfoot song out of it (probably a small consolation to the wives and the sons and the daughters, but life is cruel and we have to take what we can get).