Monday, April 14, 2008

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
by Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.

With a load of iron ore - 26,000 tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early.

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconson
As the big freighters go it was bigger than most
With a crew and the Captain well seasoned.

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ships bell rang
Could it be the North Wind they'd been feeling?

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing.
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T'was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane West Wind.

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it's too rough to feed ya
At 7pm a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it's been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the words turn the minutes to hours
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd 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.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the ruins of her ice water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams,
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed, 'til it rang 29 times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.

This past February we heard Gordon Lightfoot in concert. At the age of 69, and after recouperating from a ruptured aneurism in 2000, he continues to serenade crowds with his folk music.

That's a testimony!


  1. He's a Michigan legend because of that song. The Edmund Fitzgerald is remembered statewide every year and his song plays again in Novemeber.

  2. And I learned a little history from poetry.

    Even tho' I was in MI on 11/10/75, I was oblivious to the tragedy :(

  3. Oh my goodness, this is almost eerie. The kids and I are reading Paddle to the Sea (written in 1941) and Friday's chapter was 14, "The Shipwreck." Guess where it happened? At Whitefish Point.

    Of course, in this children's story the men were all saved, but it was the same situation -- "[t]he late fall storms for which Lake Superior is famous."

  4. Dana, have you seen the children's picture book, The Edmund Fitzgerald: The Song of the Bell by Kathy-Jo Wargin and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen? It's a good retelling of the event.

  5. No, Laura, I havent seen that book. I will look it up.

    And Kelly, neat *coincidence* :)