Split Rock ceremony to remember Edmund Fitzgerald, crew on 46th anniversary of wreck

Split Rock Lighthouse
The Split Rock Lighthouse beacon, located along the Lake Superior shore near Beaver Bay, Minn., is lit at dusk on Nov. 10, 2010, to recognize the 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

A crowd is set to gather under forecast moody, gloomy skies along Minnesota’s North Shore on Wednesday afternoon for a memorial ceremony marking the 46th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

It’ll be a return to an in-person event at Split Rock Lighthouse, after last year’s ceremony and beacon-lighting were moved to an online-only event amid the pandemic.

The memorial observance at the historic lighthouse is held each Nov. 10, on the anniversary of the 1975 sinking of the freighter in a Lake Superior gale, with the loss of all 29 men aboard. The Split Rock ceremony has been an annual tradition since 1985, the 10th anniversary of the wreck.

The "Mighty Fitz" would have passed several miles offshore from Split Rock on its final voyage.

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

The freighter left Superior, Wis., on Nov. 9, 1975, with a load of iron ore pellets, and made its way across Lake Superior as a November gale intensified. The ship, its captain Ernest McSorley, and its crew spent hours battling wind and waves, making its way toward Whitefish Point.

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

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The loss of the ship and crew was memorialized by singer Gordon Lightfoot in the now-iconic song he released the following year.

Split Rock ceremony

Split Rock Lighthouse was built in response to a massive 1905 storm that caused more than two dozen shipwrecks, including several along the North Shore.

And while the annual Nov. 10 ceremony is held on the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, it also remembers those lost in other shipwrecks.

Starting at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, the names of the lost Fitzgerald crew will be read as a bell rings 29 times. After that, lighthouse staff will ring the bell once more — a 30th time — to remember all lost mariners.

Then the Split Rock lighthouse beacon will be lit, shining out over the cold, dark waters of Lake Superior.

Edmund Fitzgerald
The Great Lakes ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald, in an undated file photo.
AP file

Hayes Scriven, site manager at Split Rock Lighthouse, told MPR News in October that he's looking forward to sharing the outdoor ceremony with visitors again.

"There's something about being here on site and hearing the bell ring, and the names being read off and then seeing the beacon turned on right after that — there's just something very special about that," he said.

The historic site will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday. Scriven suggested that people who want to attend the ceremony arrive an hour or two early, and dress for the weather. A headlamp and comfortable shoes are also a good idea. Masks are required inside the historic site buildings, including the lighthouse.

For those unable to attend the ceremony in-person, video will be streamed on the Minnesota Historical Society's Facebook and YouTube pages.