GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As it has every November 10th for the last 46 years, a bell will toll to honor the 29 men lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum will hold a virtual memorial service at 7 p.m. Thursday to honor the crew lost on Nov. 10, 1975.
At 729 feet, the giant freighter was one of the largest ships on the Great Lakes, regularly hauling iron ore pellets across the region. It was a popular fixture at the Soo Locks and other boat watching points.
The Edmund Fitzgerald left for its final voyage on Nov. 9, leaving Superior, Wisconsin, for a steel mill near Detroit. The next day, the Fitzgerald, alongside a fellow freighter — the Arthur M. Anderson — encountered a major storm on Lake Superior.
Capt. Ernest McSorley radioed the Anderson saying, “I have a bad list, lost both radars and am taking heavy seas over the deck. One of the worst seas I’ve ever been in.” In his final received message, which came at 7:10 p.m., McSorley simply said, “We are holding our own.”
What caused the shipwreck is still a mystery, although there are several theories. The Edmund Fitzgerald was found four days later by a U.S. Navy aircraft near Whitefish Bay. The ship was split in half and sits on the lake floor about 530 feet below the surface, approximately 17 miles away from Sault Ste. Marie. All 29 members of the crew were lost. No bodies were ever recovered.
On Nov. 11, 1975, the day after the wreck, the Mariners’ Church of Detroit rang its bell 29 times in honor of the men lost to the lake. The church held a ceremony every year on Nov. 10 until 2006 when it expanded the ceremony to honor all sailors lost on the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Paradise, Michigan — on the tip of Whitefish Bay — now holds the ceremony. The museum uses the Edmund Fitzgerald’s bell that was recovered in 1995 and restored by a team at Michigan State University.
The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald triggered several changes for the shipping industry. A Coast Guard investigation found 15 recommendations that could have helped the ship and its crew, including mandatory survival suits and emergency radio beacons. Information obtained from the wreck also helped the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration devise a more accurate method for predicting wave heights.
You can watch the ceremony live on the Museum’s website.