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Date: 09/11/15

"And All That Remains Are The Faces And The Names..."

Forty years ago today, the iron ore freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconsin with a load of taconite pellets destined for a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan.

She never arrived. Instead, she encountered a severe storm passing through Lake Superior and - for reasons still not yet clear - sank with all hands, disappearing from visual and radar contact shortly after 7pm on the evening of November 10. No bodies were ever recovered, and the ship's bell was only brought back to the surface in 1995.

A couple of weeks after the Fitzgerald sank, the Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot read an article in Newsweek about the tragedy and - as a resident of the Great Lakes region himself - wrote a song in memory of the victims. He took one or two minor liberties with the story: for instance, he has the ship heading to Cleveland, Ohio rather than Detroit (before you condemn him, consider: can you think of a rhyme for Detroit appropriate to the context?)

The song appeared on his LP Summertime Dream - which was recorded shortly afterwards - and was released as a single the following August, reaching number 1 in Canada and either number 1 or 2 (depending on which chart you follow) in the US. He regards it as his best work ever. I don't dispute that, and it moves me every time; so much so that - eminently singable though it be - I can't sing along with it. Or, at least, not for more than a couple of lines.

Let us listen, and remember:

Name Age Position
McSorley, Ernest 63 Captain
Armagost, Michael 47 3rd Mate
Beetcher, Frederick 56 Porter
Bentsen, Thomas 23 Oiler
Bindon, Edward 47 1st Asst Engineer
Borgeson, Thomas 40 Maintenance Man
Champeau, Oliver 41 3rd Asst Engineer
Church, Nolan 55 Porter
Cundy, Ransom 53 Watchman
Edwards, Thomas 50 2nd Asst Engineer
Haskell, Russell 40 2nd Asst Engineer
Holl, George 60 Chief Engineer
Hudson, Bruce 22 Deck Hand
Kalmon, Allen 45 2nd Cook
MacLellan, Gordon 30 Wiper
Mazes, Joseph 59 Special Maintenance Man
McCarthy, John 62 1st Mate
O'Brien, Eugene 50 Wheelsman
Peckol, Karl 20 Watchman
Poviach, John 59 Wheelsman
Pratt, James 44 2nd Mate
Rafferty, Robert 62 Steward/Cook
Riippa, Paul 22 Deck Hand
Simmons, John 62 Wheelsman
Spengler, William 59 Watchman
Thomas, Mark 21 Deck Hand
Walton, Ralph 58 Oiler
Weiss, David 21 Cadet
Wilhelm, Blaine 52 Oiler

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For more of the story of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, go here.