Museums recall Fitzgerald sinking on Lake Superior 40 years ago

Edmund Fitzgerald
The Great Lakes ore-carrier Edmund Fitzgerald sails in an undated file photo. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank in a severe storm on Lake Superior Nov. 10, 1975, killing all 29 aboard.

Dashed by giant waves in Lake Superior, the 729-foot iron ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald went down on Nov. 10, 1975.

The sinking killed the whole crew of 29 and made headlines for months as investigators tried to determine what went wrong.

The 40th anniversary has sparked a new exhibit at the Michigan State University Museum, "Iron Hulls and Turbulent Waters" as well as exhibits and events at other museums across the state and in Toledo.

"It's the Fitzgerald that has caught everyone's imagination," John Beck, adjunct curator at the MSU Museum, told the Lansing State Journal. "It's been 40 years and we haven't had a wreck of that magnitude since."

Capricious weather on the Great Lakes has claimed other huge ore-carriers, including the Carl Bradley, which sank in Lake Michigan in November 1958, killing 33 of its 35 crew members, and the Daniel J. Morrell, which went down in Lake Huron in November 1966, killing 28 of its 29 crew members. Lone survivor Dennis Hale, who wrote a book and lectured on the experience, died earlier this year.

The exhibit is in honor of the Fitzgerald, but also "all the men and women who make the ore trade and Great Lakes shipping possible," Beck said.

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It includes 24 photographs taken by James Brozek, who worked in a Milwaukee shipyard during winter months to keep the gigantic ore carriers in good shape.

"Brozek's got a very strong artistic eye, so when you are seeing people working in the interior of an ore boat, in the hold, it's almost cathedral-like," Beck said.

It also features two poems by East Lansing poet Cindy Hunter Morgan, whose upcoming book is made up of poems on shipwreck themes. There's also a model of the Henry Ford II.

Beck, who grew up in Escanaba not far from the city's ore docks, points out that the mighty freighters are part of Michigan's landscape and integral to the state's economy.

"When you think of iron ore boats you think of sailors, you don't think of people who repair the boats, people who work on the ore docks themselves, the ship chandlers who make sure that things are provided for the ships so that they can actually sail," he said.

Paul LaMarre III does think of all of those things as the director for the Port of Monroe. He also led the restoration of the Col. James M. Schoonmaker, built in the same shipyard as the Fitzgerald and now at the National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo. His father, Paul LaMarre Jr., is known for his Great Lakes maritime art and may have taken the last photo ever of the Fitzgerald, as it unloaded in Detroit.

"That would have been one or two trips prior to the sinking," LaMarre III said. "The other eerie thing about it is, you can't see a single person on deck in the photo."

The Toledo museum has a lift raft from the Fitzgerald. It also has an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to maneuver a virtual submersible around a virtual model of the wreck.

Other artifacts, including life boats, are at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point. It hosts a Fitzgerald memorial on Nov. 10 each year, often including family members of the crew.

Split Rock Lighthouse
The Split Rock Lighthouse beacon was lit at dusk on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010, to recognize the 35th anniversary of the sinking of the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald.
Andrew Krueger | Duluth News Tribune via AP 2010

• Edmund Fitzgerald commemorative beacon lighting at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Two Harbors, Minn., noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday. At 4:30 p.m., the lighthouse will close temporarily while the names of the crew members are read to the tolling of a ship's bell and the playing of the Naval Hymn. Following the ceremony, the beacon will be lit and the tower once again opened for visitors. This is the only opportunity each year when visitors can climb the tower after dark and see the lit beacon. Cost is $7.

• "Iron Hulls and Turbulent Waters" is on display through Jan. 24 at the MSU Museum. Events include a panel discussion scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the MSU Library featuring State Archaeologist Dean Anderson and MSU professors Peter Kakela and Michael Velbel. They'll discuss the nature and shipping of iron ore and Great Lakes shipwrecks. In addition, Robert Campbell, author of "Classic Ships of the Great Lakes," will sign books and speak at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 at Schuler Books in Meridian Mall.

• The annual Lost Mariners Remembrance takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, on Belle Isle in Detroit. It feature marine artist Robert McGreevy, who will tell the story of lifesaving crews that patrolled the Great Lakes. There also is a lantern vigil at the Fitzgerald anchor and a performance by singer Lee Murdock. Admission is $10; advance registration is recommended.

• "Gales of November: The 40th Anniversary of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," takes place at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven. Speaker Jim Spurr will discuss the perils of Lake Superior travel in November, from 1816 through the Fitzgerald sinking in 1975. Admission is $8.

• The 40th Anniversary Memorial Ceremony takes place at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the main gallery at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Gallery in Whitefish Point. The museum displays the bell of the wrecked ship as well as its life boats and other artifacts. The bell will toll 29 times, once for each member of the crew, and a 30th time for all lost on the Great Lakes. The museum also will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday.

• The documentary movie "A Good Ship and Crew Well-Seasoned" will premiere at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Seagate Center in Toledo as part of the National Great Lakes' Fitzgerald memorial activities.

An AP Exchange feature by Kathleen Lavey, Lansing State Journal.