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Ceremony, beacon lighting honor Edmund Fitzgerald on 44th anniversary of shipwreck

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Edmund Fitzgerald
The Edmund Fitzgerald in the St. Marys River near Nine Mile Point, circa 1975.
Courtesy of Robert Campbell

There have been many other shipwrecks on Lake Superior over the years. Many other mammoth November storms. Many other lives lost.

But thanks in large part to singer Gordon Lightfoot, one shipwreck stands above the rest in the Great Lakes' collective memory: the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Sunday, Nov. 10, marked the 44th anniversary of the sinking of the Fitzgerald in a November gale on eastern Lake Superior with the loss of all 29 men aboard — a tragedy memorialized by Lightfoot in the now-iconic song he released the following year.

As the song recounts, the "Mighty Fitz" had left Superior on Nov. 9 with a load of iron ore pellets, and made its way across Lake Superior as a storm intensified. The Fitzgerald spent hours battling wind and waves, making its way toward Whitefish Point. 

On the evening of Nov. 10, 1975, the captain of the Fitzgerald, Ernest McSorley, radioed to the neaby freighter Arthur M. Anderson that the Fitzgerald crew was, quote, "holding our own." Soon after, the Fitzgerald sank without giving a distress signal. 

On its final voyage across Lake Superior, the Fitzgerald passed several miles offshore from Split Rock Lighthouse, on Minnesota's North Shore. And each Nov. 10 since 1985, the 10th anniversary of the wreck, the lighthouse has hosted a memorial ceremony and beacon lighting.

Split Rock Lighthouse
The Split Rock Lighthouse beacon, located along the Lake Superior shore near Beaver Bay, Minn., is lit at dusk on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010, to recognize the 35th anniversary of the sinking of the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald. The Fitzgerald and its crew of 29 were lost in a Lake Superior storm on Nov. 10, 1975.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News 2010

That tradition continued Sunday. Starting at about 4:30 p.m., the names of the lost Fitzgerald crew were read as a bell rang 29 times. After that, lighthouse staff rang the bell once more — a 30th time — to remember all lost mariners. 

Then the Split Rock lighthouse beacon was lit, shining out from its cliffside perch over the cold, dark waters of Lake Superior. Where countless shipwrecks rest beneath the waves — including the Edmund Fitzgerald, lost 44 years ago.