November 10 marked the 31st anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Until recently, we assumed said wreck (a) happened at some distant point in the nautical past and (b) on an ocean instead of during the Ford administration (and our lifetime) and on a (really big) lake.
The particulars, in case you’re interested but unable to click:
The Fitzgerald was a 729-foot, 26,600 ton capacity lake freighter launched in 1958; she was the largest boat on the Great Lakes until the 1970s, when thousand-foot ships arrived. Her primary job was hauling ore across Lake Superior.
On November 9, 1975, she left Superior, Wisconsin under the command of Ernest McSorley with a load of taconite bound for a steel mill near Detroit (not Cleveland, as Gordon Lightfoot sang). Weather turned bad as they crossed the lake, so they turned north towards the Canadian coast to try to avoid it. By the afternoon of the 10th, the ship had suffered minor damage from the storm; a nearby ship, the Anderson, reported heavy wave activity, and radioed the Fitzgerald to warn them. McSorley reported they were “holding their own,” which is the last anyone heard from them. The Fitzgerald went down with all 29 hands soon after, coming to rest in two large pieces more than 500 feet down. (That’s another part we have trouble with: “Holy Shit! There’s a lake 500 feet deep!” We suspect this is due to growing up in South Mississippi.)
Lightfoot’s hit song (it peaked at #2) came out only a year later; he was, for all practical purposes, writing about a current event, not a historical episode. We mention this every now and then, and we are continually surprised that our weird misapprehension is pretty common. “Really?” they say; “1975? Are you sure?” Yep.
And we wonder why no one will play Trivial Pursuit with us.