On June 8, 1958, the EDMUND FITZGERALD was launched on the River Rouge from the Great Lakes Engineering Works. With that, the FITZGERALD becomes the largest ship to sail on the Great Lakes, a title she would hold for eleven years.
Captain Ernest McSorley was a veteran mariner with over 40 years of experience on the Great Lakes and oceans. He had commanded nine ships before taking the helm of the FITZGERALD in 1972. McSorley had just turned 63 a month and a half before the FITZGERALD would make her last run and was planning to retire at the end of the 1975 shipping season.
On November 9, 1975, the FITZGERALD set out on her final trip from the Northern Railroad Dock No.1 in Superior, Wisconsin heading for a routine trip to Detroit, Michigan. During the day, the weather had gotten vicious causing 90 mph winds and 30 foot waves. The ARTHUR M. ANDERSON was traveling behind the FITZGERALD as they made their way across Lake Superior.
The two ships had kept in contact with each other, reporting various damage the respected vessel obtained. On November 10th, at 3:30 PM, the FITZGERALD reported some topside damage, missing railings and a list and asked the ANDERSON to stay with him until Whitefish Point. The ANDERSON agreed.
Sometime before 7:00 PM, the ANDERSON is struck by two huge waves that put water over the pilothouse. The ANDERSON decided to check in with the FITZGERALD to see how they are fairing. McSorley reports that they have lost both of their radars and has asked the ANDERSON to help with navigation. The ANDERSON agrees and proceeds to tell them about an upbound vessel, which the FITZGERALD will clear. The ANDERSON asks one last time how the FITZGERALD is making out with their problems. The last words to come from the FITZGERALD are “We are holding our own.”
It is at 8:25 PM on Novemer 10, 1975 that the ANDERSON radios the Coast Guard at the Soo to report the FITZGERALD missing. They report, “I can see no light as before and I don’t have him on radar. I just hope he didn’t take a nose dive.” The ANDERSON and other vessels in the area went out in search of the FITZGERALD. Unfortunately the ship was lost with all hands on deck.
The wreck site was found and in May of 1976, the USCG WOODRUSH was the first to send a camera down to see the wreck 530 feet on the lake floor. To this day, the shipwreck is still very much alive. There are countless books, paintings and even a top song sung by Gordon Lightfoot about the ill fated ship.