The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Lyrics and music 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 - 26,000 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 the Captain well seasoned.

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ships bell rang
Could it be the North Wind they'd been feeling.

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T'was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane West Wind

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it's too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it's been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And that good ship and crew were 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 ruins 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 29 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.


The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The Chippewa call her Gitche Gumee, but it was the French who aptly named her. Born from the ice glaciers that once covered the earth ten millennia ago, Superior made her authority known across time, from the Plano to the Chippewa, the French explorers to their descendants that were now the peoples residing on her shores. And over that timeline, it was a well-known fact that Superior had several moods, many of them harmonious with the beauty of her deep blue waters. Yet as beautiful and calm as she seemed, those pristine waves hid a ferocious temper, a fury that any God-fearing sailor prayed they would never have to encounter. Unfortunately for some ships, those prayers went unanswered like a distress call on a dead channel.

With a load of 26,000 tons of iron ore, the Edmund Fitzgerald, or the "Fitz" as she was affectionately called by her crew, left the Duluth/Superior Harbor, passing beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge as the vast waters of Lake Superior stretched endlessly before her, its distant horizon melding with the bleak November sky as a few of the city's dwellers braved the unfavorable weather to watch the pride of the American side leave the canal.

The Captain stood in the bitter cold air outside the comfort of the bridge, breathing warm air into cracked, weathered hands. Superior's surface was choppy and gray today, a sharp contrast to her usual mirror-like facade. The wind from the north blew harsh and bitter cold, but that was relatively common, especially for this time of year when the gales would soon be coming through, slowing the shipping season down considerably. Unable to withstand the cold and the wind, the Captain returned to the bridge to chart his course for Cleveland.

What should have been a routine journey for the Fitz and her well-seasoned captain and crew, quickly took a downward spiral as the winds began to push harder against the hull, and the waves became increasingly violent. The ship's bell clanged as the gusts pushed against it. Could it be that north wind they'd been feeling? The wires shook with the force of the gales, making that eerie, tattletale sound of metal scraping against metal. The waves broke over the railing as Superior began to rage, battering the ship between her swells. The Fitz creaked as she tried to hold her own, and every man knew as the captain did, too, t`was the witch of November come stealing.

Not one man slept that night, for fear of being thrown from their bunks onto the hard metal floors. The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait when the November gales came slashing. When afternoon came, it was freezing rain as the wind suddenly shifted to the west carrying the force of a hurricane with it. To make matters worse, the radar was down, and she was taking minor damage from the overwhelming punches that Superior packed within her convolutions. It was becoming an increasingly worrisome journey for the good Captain, though he valiantly tried to maintain a good face as he tried his damndest to ride it out.

When supper time came the old cook came on deck saying, "Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya." While the captain had been warring with Superior's fury, the cook had fought his own losing battle, resulting in the destruction of the galley as the crew's dinner was overturned onto the floor along with the dishes.

But none of that would matter now and there would be no last meal for the exhausted, battle worn assemblage. At 7 pm, Superior delivered the final blow in the form of a rogue wave, causing the main hatchway to cave in, her icy waters overtaking the boat and ready to claim her prisoners. The cook, having dedicated his life to the Great Lakes, knew of their impending doom. He looked at his crewmates sympathetically and said, "Fellas, it's been good to know ya."

The captain wired he had water coming in, and that good ship and crew were in peril. And later that night, as the lights went out of sight, came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. She was gone without a trace, the bow splitting from its stern before settling on the lake's bottom, unseen and alone beneath those treacherous waters. No one ever knew the truth of their disappearance, and the searchers all said they'd have made Whitefish Bay if she'd put fifteen more miles behind her. Yet every mariner knew the certainty of the Fitz's fate - that it had fallen captive to Superior's ice water mansion. All that remained were the faces and the names of the wives, the sons, and the daughters.

Days later, in a musty old hall in Detroit, they prayed in the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral. The church bell chimed 'till it rang twenty-nine times for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald. Yet the iron ore boats come and go with the gales of November remembered. And still the legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee. Superior, they said, ne'er gives up her dead when the gales of November come early.