November 10th 1975, a major storm with gale force winds struck Lake Superior, the Big Lake the Chippewa calls "Gitchee Gumme" . Two Iron Ore freighters with full cargo set sail in horrible conditions, the SS Arthur Anderson and the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. Gordon Lightfoot has etched that horrible day in our minds forever with his haunting composition "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" a song he admitts was inspired by a column and a half in Newsweek Magazine a couple of weeks after the "Fitz" went down, taking all 29 members of the crew to the bottom of the lake. What you are about to read is a letter I received from a cousin, who was aboard the Anderson that night:
"Regarding my job-I was working for the Caterpillar dealer Ziegler, on a bowthruster engine forward in the ship belong the waterline. While it's been many years ago, I remember the storm was well anticipated and as such, we were running far north where the sea conditions did not allow for the build up of the worst waves. The Fitz on the other hand had to depart the Wisconsin shores which would have been catching the build up of the biggest waves since the wind was coming out of the north as I recall." (It was estimated the waves were as high as 35 feet and crashing over the wheelhouse)
As I was working we we're all watching and feeling the storm. Water was actually spilling out of the toilet bowls, the waves were that bad. I don't recall all the details but remember going up to the wheel house and hearing the Fitz was in trouble and we would be going to do a search. But in the days before Arctic survival suits, like the crab people now use at seas in Alaska, I don't think anyone thought we would find survivors unless of a remote chance in a life boat-your life expectancy in those waters are minutes not hours. If one would fall overboard it would be doubtful the ship could stop, turn around and still pick up a survivor.
Gordon Lightfoot did keep the story alive. As I can attest living in Indonesia, the death toll in Ache was in the 100's of thousands, which I have also witnessed, does not capture the feeling of American people as does the deaths of the 29 on Lake Superior. The reason is people can relate to a ship wreck in cold water, but can not relate to the population of say all of northern Minnesota vanishing in a couple of hours...Rick"
When you read this account, and heard what he's seen in his life...I think he's right.
(Also Read Bob Harris weekly in The FM Extra