History in a Song

History in a Song

I was watching videos on YouTube the other evening as I was trying to lull myself to sleep. I usually just listen to and watch the creepy stories, but I came across a video on the Ask a Mortician channel with the title of The Lake That Never Gives Up Her Dead, describing the actual wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975, including an interview with a person who had a relative on the wreck. It wasn’t that long ago that there aren’t still family members around who remember when it happened.

The Great Lakes, especially Lake Superior, are so big they create their own weather. And they are so cold that decomposition happens very slowly there. There is a lot of shipping that goes on there, and it’s every bit as dangerous as any other shipping on the planet. I’ve never been there, but my mother grew up in northern Minnesota and I feel a connection.

Anyway, I remember when this song came out. I was 10 or 11, and I thought it was so sad that I cried. I didn’t even realize that it was about something that had recently happened – I didn’t even realize it was based on a true story. Gordon Lightfoot had a talent for ballads, and this is one of the best ballads I ever heard. I’m attaching the original video, and a recording of the song, as well as the lyrics. Kind of interesting toward the end of the video is something about when they dedicated the site of the wreck as a graveyard or memorial or something (I was drifting in and out of sleep at that point), Gordon Lightfoot donated a wreath or something.

Have you heard this song? Do you remember when this happened? What do you think of the story?

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

by Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead When the skies of November turn gloomy With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most With a crew and good captain well seasoned Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms When they left fully loaded for Cleveland Then later that night when the ship’s bell rang Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound When the wave broke over the railing And every man knew, as the captain did too ‘Twas the witch of November come stealin’ The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait When the gales of November came slashin’ When afternoon came it was freezing rain In the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck Saying, “Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya.” At seven PM the main hatchway gave in He said, “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya.” The captain wired in he had water comin’ in And the good ship and crew was in peril And later that night when his lights went out of sight Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does anyone know where the love of God goes When the waves turn the minutes to hours? The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her They might have split up or they might have capsized They may have broke deep and took water And all that remains is the faces and the names Of the wives and the sons and the daughters

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings In the rooms of her ice-water mansion Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams The islands and bays are for sportsmen And farther below, Lake Ontario Takes in what Lake Erie can send her And the iron boats go as the mariners all know With the gales of November remembered

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee Superior, they said, never gives up her dead When the gales of November come early

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