WHERE THE LOVE OF GOD GOES: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours…

–Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”

It was circa July 1973, and my husband and I—young, free-wheeling and in love, with more dreams than experience—embarked on a driving trip through upper Michigan.  We’d never been much farther north than Lansing at that point.  We pitched a tent along the way, getting to know Grayling and Mio, the Au Sable River and the Traverse City wine country, finally turning back when we reached Lake of the Clouds in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains.

Along the way, we stopped at Sault Ste. Marie, on the St. Mary’s River.  Originally called “Sault du Gastogne” by early French fur traders, it was renamed by Jesuit missionary Pere Jacques Marquette in 1633, to honor the Virgin Mary.

The St. Mary’s River is the only water connection between Lake Superior and the Great Lakes; but there is a section of the river known as the St. Mary’s Rapids, where the water falls about 21 feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes.  With ingenuity and persistence, the settlers built a series of locks, called the “Soo Locks,” to bypass the dangerous waters of the river—and in 1855, the steamer Illinois passed through the locks in less than an hour.  The four locks in use today permit shipping through the Great Lakes into the waters of Lake Michigan, connecting the American Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean.

Standing there at the Locks in 1973, Jerry and I watched as a freighter passed through the locks, the ship’s crew “manning the rails,” a tradition which showed that they had no evil intent.  We snapped 35 mm photos which were later developed into slides.

Only years later did we review the 35mm slides we took that day and realize that the ship we’d seen that day was the mighty and legendary Edmund Fitzgerald, destined for immortality as a “ghost ship.”

On November 10, 1975, just two years after we captured the ship and its crew on film, the Edmund Fitzgerald—en route from Wisconsin to Detroit’s Zug Island—sank in the waters of Lake Superior during a storm.  The ship broke in two, its crew of 29 were lost, and Gordon Lightfoot wrote his ode to the ship and its brave crew.  Today, 35 years after the loss, Old Mariner’s Church in Detroit still sounds its bells 29 times each day in honor of the sailors who lost their lives in this most famous of Michigan’s many shipwrecks.

Looking at the photographs today, I remember that these men—most in their 40s or 50s, and some as young as 21—were not planning to die that day.  They left loving wives, children, parents, and friends, drawn to the depths of the sea and the arms of their Creator.  Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.

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  • Leroy Braly

    Good page, I’m regular visitor of the weblog, keep up the good work, and I will likely be a regular visitor for a long time.

  • Kathy J

    Wonderful post! We listen to Gordon Lightfoot’s song about the Edmund Fitzgerald all the time, and watch the video with a lot of footage of the ship, etc. My almost 12yo son is fascinated by this ship and it’s crew.

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    Deja vu! The song and story featured prominently in my first homily, delivered in a homiletics class eons ago…

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Wow, your first homily! And funny that we’d select the same video!

  • Jayne

    I was just wondering if they still rang the bells at Mariner’s Church in memory of the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Thanks for filling me in! I assume that they ring the bells on November 10th each year, not every day, right?

  • bt

    Much to ponder…

  • Bill M.

    A few months ago, I made reference to the Edmund Fitzgerald having sunk in 1975, when I and my interlocutor were in high school. “No, you mean 1875,” he said. I had to furnish proof before he believed me.

  • http://petervas.wordpress.com Peter Vas

    Hello Kathy – I know we might not have entirely similar views, but I did come across your website during my quest to understand Vatican II. I am from Bangalore, India and here is my blog where I put together a slightly negative view of it’s impacts, but am hopeful for the future: http://tinyurl.com/cvhwdgk

    Thank you and God bless!
    Peter Vas

  • Peter

    What a wonderful line: Does anyone know where the love of God goes
    When the waves turn the minutes to hours… One can only imagine the situation and pray for the repose of their souls.

  • Service

    S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald
    38 Year Anniversary

    November 10, 2013

    RIVER ROUGE — A memorial
    service is planned for Sunday November 10, 2013 to remember the 29 men who died
    when the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975.

    The ceremony is set for
    6 to 8 p.m. and the heated tent open at 4:30 p.m. for viewing Edmund Fitzgerald
    artifacts, near the Mariners Memorial Lighthouse at Belanger Park, off Belanger
    Park Drive and Marion.

    The event is held in
    River Rouge because that’s the city where the vessel was built in 1957 and ’58.

    Several speakers will
    give their memories of the ship, including people who helped construct it and
    relatives of some of the deceased crewmen.

    Artifacts, photographs
    and videos also will be on display and you can talk to the Fitz Ship Builders,
    past Crew Members and Fitz Family Members.

    At 7:10 p.m. — the time
    the ship sank — a wreath will be tossed into the Detroit River. A bell will be
    rung 29 times in memory of each person who died.

    A plaque presentation
    and lantern lighting is planned. Food and Refreshments will be provided free of

    Event organizer Roscoe
    Clark has a Web site devoted to the vessel, which contains several video clips
    and photos of the ship.

    Earlier in the day, an
    Edmund Fitzgerald open house will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. at the River Rouge
    Historical Museum, 10750 W. Jefferson Ave.

    This year, the service
    will be web cast free of charge for those viewers all across the US and Canada.

  • Kelly Thatcher

    Thank you Kathy. May they rest in peace in the arms of Jesus.