Split Rock’s beacon will shine to mark Edmund Fitzgerald anniversary

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 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 file

A major winter storm is heading for Minnesota’s North Shore today — Thursday, Nov. 10 — with gale warnings up for western Lake Superior and waves reaching as high as 12 feet.

It’s just the kind of weather the iron ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald sailed through out of the Twin Ports as it headed for its tragic end, 47 years ago on Nov. 10, 1975.

In memory of that fateful voyage, Split Rock Lighthouse northeast of Two Harbors will mark the anniversary tonight with its annual ceremony, including tolling a bell 29 times for the crew of the Fitzgerald, and then once more.

“They call it the muster of the last watch," said Hayes Scriven, lighthouse site manager for the Minnesota Historical Society. “Usually when all the crew members go down on a ship they do this muster. So that still kind of recognizes them, that they're here for their watch. And it's our way of kind of paying respect to the people that had perished on the ship. And then we added a 30th bell toll for all the sailors that were lost on the Great Lakes.”

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The ceremony is scheduled to start at about 4:30 p.m. today. It’s outdoors, and the weather is expected to be blustery: The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory for the area through noon Friday. The ceremony will also stream on YouTube.

Scriven said the observance also includes lighting the lighthouse beacon at Split Rock. 

It went out of official service in 1969 after nearly 60 years of guiding ships through what was once called “the most dangerous piece of water in the world.” The state acquired the site in 1971, eventually turning it into a museum and visitor landmark near Two Harbors, as well as a surrounding state park.

The landmark has been restored to its original operating condition, and the beacon will be lit Thursday night for a couple hours, shining across the November waves.

“We’ve kind of restored it back to its 1910 operation. We still run everything with a hand crank. Every two hours we need to rotate the crank again to make sure the lens is still spinning,” Scriven said. “It’s a third-order Fresnel lens with a 1,000 watt incandescent bulb in there. So it’s kind of like a big theater light that shines out 22 miles over the lake.”