Remembering the Lives Lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald

Split Rock Lighthouse holds their annual Muster Roll and Beacon Lighting.

TWO HARBORS, Minn.- On this day in 1975, tragedy rocked Lake Superior.

The Edmund Fitzgerald sank, taking all 29 crew members with it.

At Split Rock Lighthouse, a crowd gathers in front of the lighthouse, in front of a lone gray ship’s bell.

“Frederick J. Beecher, Porter.” The bell tolls.

“Very, very sad. All the people who died. And the fact that they never found them,” said Nancy Mastenbrook.

“Nolan F. Church, Porter.” Another bell ring.

One bell toll, for each life lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald 44 years ago.

“The muster roll, when they did that, that was really special,” said Hayes Scriven, the new Lighthouse manager at Split Rock. “Just being here for that and to hear that for the first time that was, that really stuck with me.

“That’ll be something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”

For many it’s their first time experiencing the Split Rock tradition.

“I think it was just very special to actually go up into the Lighthouse when it, in the dark after sunset,” Jaymi LeBrun, visiting from St. Paul, said.

But for some, that tradition brings very special memories of the Fitzgerald.

“In the summer before she went down we were visiting my Aunt and Uncle, we went down to the Canal because they heard the Fitzgerald was coming in. So I could, my brother and I could see it,” said Mastenbrook.

“We have a photograph some place of the Fitzgerald from that summer.”

Many say they saw the Fitzgerald before that fateful day, or they have heard its tale.

“I had heard about it quite a bit as a child growing up, listening to the song,” LeBrun said.

Keeping its legacy alive is why the lighthouse does this every year.

“People have to remember it, it’s a turning point in our history,” said Scriven.

The Edmund Fitzgerald left Superior for Detroit, Michigan at noon.

After being rocked by storms, the ship’s captain sent out one last communication: “We’re holding our own.”

That was the last anyone heard from or saw the men onboard.

But the Fitzgerald is only one of over 6,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, which have lost over 30,000 lives.

“We have to have people understand that, y’know it’s not just an event here or a song,” Scriven said.

“29 sailors lost their life. People need to remember that.”

Amid the wonder at seeing the lit lighthouse, is remembrance.

“Feel very good,” said Mastenbrook.

“That the crew isn’t forgotten.”

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