Remembering that awful 1975 dayThe following are recollections recorded by the Duluth News Tribune in 1995 on the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald. It went down Nov. 10, 1975. The tragic event is remembered each year, as it was Wednesday night, at Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore as well as at other spots across the Great Lakes.
By: Forum Newspapers, Lake County News Chronicle
The following are recollections recorded by the Duluth News Tribune in 1995 on the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald. It went down Nov. 10, 1975. The tragic event is remembered each year, as it was Wednesday night, at Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore as well as at other spots across the Great Lakes.
One man was in a vessel on the South China Sea, another was in Germany, a woman was on a religious tour in Rome and several people were serving on Great Lakes ships. But they all have something in common.
They remember what they were doing when the Edmund Fitzgerald ore carrier plunged to the bottom of Lake Superior during a monstrous gale in 1975. And they remember their emotions.
None of the Fitzgerald’s 29 crewmen survived. But they and their ship haven’t been forgotten. Here’s a sampling of memories of the Fitz, her men and the disaster:
The call to Silver Bay
It was a cold, rainy night in March 1974 when my mom received a call from the union hall that they had a ship for me to report to in Silver Bay.
“Have Tom there at 11 p.m. to meet the Edmund Fitzgerald and have him report to Capt. McSorley,’’ the caller said. I was at the dock as the captain so skillfully maneuvered the ship into dock. I remember feeling so impressed at her beauty.
Upon boarding, I showed my merchant marine card and was allowed on board. I remember my first meting with Capt. McSorley. Walking down the deck from our meeting, I remember thinking – “What a lovely person.’’ How true that thought turned out to be.
I was all excited about Thanksgiving that year because the cook put me in charge of the decorations and serving for the 28 others. Budgets are not a problem on the boats. I went to town decorating the galley – complete with candles and pre-dinner cocktails. Capt. McSorley allowed cocktails for his men twice a year: Thanksgiving and, if they were still operating in season, on Christmas Day.
An insight to the caring man the good captain was: On Thanksgiving and Christmas Day he would either dock or anchor his ship for four or five hours so his men could relax, share a nice dinner together, and rest before pulling up anchor.
The dinner was wonderful. I still remember Ray Cundy, a Superior resident, thanking me and saying it was the nicest Thanksgiving he ever spent on the Lakes.
It was to be their last Thanksgiving.
A thought that still baffles me from time to time is that 99 percent of the time the Fitz took on her load of iron ore at Silver Bay. Had they done this on this fateful trip, instead of sailing into Superior, they could have been two to three hours ahead of that final wave.
I remember the night she left us, my mom, tears in her voice, calling to tell me the Fitz was gone.
To Capt. McSorley, deckwatch Ray Cundy, third mate Mike Armagost, my galley crew members, and the rest of the crew, I salute you. God love ya!!
– Tom O’Neill, Duluth
A shining ship
I sailed on the Great Lakes off and on for 20 years – from 1955 to 1975. When the news came that the Fitz was missing, I couldn’t believe it. The Fitz was one of the newest and best boats on the Lakes.
I still think back to the times when I was on some of the old 600-foot boats like the Anderson headed up and down Lake Superior and the Fitz would go by us like we were standing still. Some of the crew would say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be on a big new ship like that?’’
– Bob Ward, Barnum
Saw it go
I was working at Harvest States Grain Elevator in Superior. I was watching the Edmund Fitzgerald leaving the Allouez Ore Docks that day with my binoculars. When I went to work the next morning I could not believe it had sunk on Lake Superior. It sure was a tragedy.
– Bozo St. George, Superior
Third mate was a friend
I was traveling to work along the South Shore of Lake Superior. It was a cold, windy, snowy, November day. The lake was rough, gray and looked really cold.
I heard the news of the Fitzgerald on the radio as I drove. I thought of Mike Armagost from Iron River who was the third mate. I had known him and his brothers and sister.
Many area men sailed the lakes. Some had sailed on the Fitz. I remember reading about its launching in 1958 in the Ships and Sea magazine. It going down sounded unbelievable. Any ship but the Fitzgerald. I couldn’t believe it.
– Kenneth Maki, Iron River
New to the profession
When the Edmund Fitzgerald sunk, I was a student at the University of Minnesota. I had previously spent six seasons as an ordinary and able seaman for the Great Lakes Fleet, so news of the tragedy was numbing.
I was taking a composition class at the time and produced a single paragraph assignment about the sinking. It was not necessary to write a rough draft – the vision was so strong. It remains so.
– George A. Fraik, International Falls