Mystery Remains Around the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Northland Uncovered: Edmund Fitzgerald 40th Anniversary

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Tuesday marks 40 years since the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

November 10, 1975, was a day still vividly remembered by many in the Northland, around the Midwest and across the nation. 

“For days the headlines said the Fitzgerald was missing. They wouldn’t admit it was lost,” said Mel Sando, executive director of the Lake County Historical Society. 

It was a beautiful day followed by a storm that made history. 

“I was in Marquette and a friend and I had been out having a few beers that night and we left the bar and the news was out that the Fitzgerald has disappeared,” Frederick Stonehouse, maritime historian and author of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, said of the day the ship sank. 

Northland students were let out of school early on November 9, 1975 to beat the harsh weather. 

“We’re all trying to figure out what’s going on. I’m in 7th grade and we’re just having a good day,” said Sando, “‘Course the next day we all woke up and we had a foot of snow on the ground and 60 mile an hour winds.”

“We have a long litany of losing ships on the Great Lakes, but I mean here we are in 1975 and certainly that was something that we had put far behind us,” explained Stonehouse.

The ship was heading from Superior with 29,000 tons of iron-ore to Zug Island, just south of Detroit. 

“The wreck was located three days after it was lost by naval anti–submarine aircraft that were able to pick it up quickly,” said Stonehouse. 

When they found the ship, their worst fears were confirmed. 

“Immediately thereafter there was a quick sonar survey put on the wreck to determine that indeed she was in three pieces and confirming her location,” said Stonehouse.

The cause of the iconic shipwreck is still unknown. The theories of what caused the tragic wreck are endless.

“She could have been overwhelmed by what’s called a ‘three sisters,’ in other words three larger waves than normal striking the ship, she could have had water leaking in through hatch covers,” explained Stonehouse.

Over time the wreck has become a legend. 

“It has come to represent the other 7,500 ships lost on the Great Lakes and an estimated 30,000 sailors,” said Stonehouse.

The shipping industry is now even more aware and cautious as they travel. 

“To Great Lakes mariners, the Fitzgerald was yesterday. That’s not old news. That’s something that they live with every day that they sail,” explained Stonehouse.

Now, the Fitzgerald is down below, but there is still history sailing the lake today. 

“When the Arthur M. Anderson comes into port I make sure I point it out to all the guests here in Two Harbors, “that’s the boat that was right behind them and turned around and went looking for them. So you look at that ship and that’s history right there,”” said Sando. 

There has not been a dive to the wreck since 1995.

Canada placed a prohibition on all diving activity after the bell recovery to preserve the area as a grave site for the 29 men who died that night. 

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