Forty years ago today the iconic 729 foot Edmund Fitzgerald sank on a run from Superior, Wisconsin to Zug Island on the Detroit River. This is a fact that many people are familiar with thanks to the likes of Gordon Lightfoot’s song titled “The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald” and news coverage that continues to pop up as the years go by. There is much speculation surrounding the sinking of the monstrous ship, but that is not the goal of this particular post. The angle of this post in particular is to give brief nod to the ship and crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald and to draw attention to the uniqueness of November 10th in maritime history.
November 10th is not only the day that the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, it is also the advent of what is known as the “white hurricane” of the Great Lakes. In 1913 a storm first hit Lake Superior and would go onto visit lakes Huron and Erie as well. According to one source winds reached eighty miles an hour equaling the fury of a tropical storm and caused swells that reached heights of thirty five feet and higher.1 But unlike a tropical storm, the storms that plague the Great Lakes in November are far from tropical in nature as temperatures on average hover around 40 degrees Fahrenheit- and drop as the seasons change. For example, today’s lake wide temp for Lake Superior is just 44 degrees3. Throw in a storm like the white hurricane and the storm that sunk the Fitz, and the water was an unkind place to be.
When it was all said and done, a total of “twelve freighters were lost beneath lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan and Erie. Thirty-one more vessels had been pounded to pieces on rocks or driven onto land. The official death toll was [a loose] 248.”2 And conditions on land were said to be no better with bitter cold snowfall and ravenous winds sweeping through lakeside towns without warning.
Even though it happened over a hundred years ago this hurricane like storm is still said to be the deadliest storm in Great Lakes history. For more in-depth information on both the Fitzgerald and the white hurricane check out the links below.
Sources & Further info:
The Edmund Fitzgerald:
The white hurricane of 1913: