Musical Storytelling an Art

I love music. I love to listen to it, play it, and dance to it (at least in the privacy of my own home). I’m not the best singer, but I’m also not the worst, so I guess I’m doing pretty good.

I listen to most kinds of music, but ballads, the ones that combine two of my passions, music and storytelling, are by far my favorites.

I’ve heard  “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” by Gordon Lightfoot at least a thousand times, but when I heard it the other day, I stopped and listened to the words.

Curious, I googled the name of the ship and learned about the 1974 shipping tragedy that took the lives of the entire crew. The wreckage and the men’s bodies were never recovered.

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is not only a beautiful song and an interesting story, it’s a part of history, too.

“Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searches all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.”


The information I found about the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was interesting (Wikipedia), but not as intriguing as the song.

SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sank in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29. When launched on June 7, 1958, she was the largest ship on North America’s Great Lakes, and she remains the largest to have sunk there.

“For 17 years Fitzgerald carried taconite iron ore from mines near Duluth, Minnesota, to iron works in Detroit, Toledo, and other Great Lakes ports.

Carrying a full cargo of ore pellets with Captain Ernest M. McSorley in command, she embarked on her ill-fated voyage from Superior, Wisconsin, near Duluth, on the afternoon of November 9, 1975. En route to a steel mill near Detroit, Fitzgerald joined a second freighter, SS Arthur M. Anderson. By the next day, the two ships were caught in a severe storm on Lake Superior, with near hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 feet (11 m) high.

Shortly after 7:10 p.m., Fitzgerald suddenly sank in Canadian (Ontario) waters 530 feet (160 m) deep, about 17 miles (15 nautical miles; 27 kilometers) from Whitefish Bay near the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario—a distance Fitzgerald could have covered in just over an hour at her top speed.

Although Fitzgerald had reported being in difficulty earlier, no distress signals were sent before she sank; Captain McSorley’s last message to Anderson said, “We are holding our own.” Her crew of 29 perished, and no bodies were recovered.

Many books, studies, and expeditions have examined the cause of the sinking. Fitzgerald might have fallen victim to the high waves of the storm, suffered structural failure, been swamped with water entering through her cargo hatches or deck, experienced topside damage, or shoaled in a shallow part of Lake Superior.

The sinking of Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the best-known disasters in the history of Great Lakes shipping. Gordon Lightfoot made it the subject of his 1976 hit song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” after reading an article, “The Cruelest Month”, in the November 24, 1975, issue of Newsweek. The sinking led to changes in Great Lakes shipping regulations and practices that included mandatory survival suits, depth finders, positioning systems, increased freeboard, and more frequent inspection of vessels.

The ship was named after Northwestern’s president and chairman of the board, Edmund Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s own grandfather had himself been a lake captain, and his father owned the Milwaukee Drydock Company that built and repaired ships.”

The article goes on to say, “More than 15,000 people attended Fitzgerald’s christening and launch ceremony on June 7, 1958. But the event was plagued by misfortunes: When Elizabeth Fitzgerald, wife of Edmund Fitzgerald, tried to christen the ship by smashing a champagne bottle over the bow, it took her three attempts to break it. A delay of 36 minutes followed while the shipyard crew struggled to release the keel blocks. Upon sideways launch, the ship crashed violently into a pier. On September 22, 1958, Fitzgerald completed nine days of sea trials.”



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