Breedloves's Folk Songs


    “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is a song written, composed, and performed by
    Gordon Lightfoot in commemoration of the sinking of the bulk carrier SS Edmund
    Fitzgerald on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. It was inspired by the Newsweek
    article on the event, “The Cruelest Month,” which appeared in the issue of November 24,
    1975. The song originally appeared on Lightfoot’s 1976 album, Summertime Dream”,
    and was later released as a single.
    The song contains a few historical and stylistic errors. These may all be attributed to
    artistic licenses that Lightfoot took in writing the lyrics. The song mentions that
    Fitzgerald was fully loaded and headed for Cleveland; she was in fact headed for Detroit,
    but was to dock in Cleveland for the rest of the winter. The song refers to the Fitzgerald
    consistently as a ship; historical and current Great Lakes parlance refers to all Lake
    vessels, from the smallest dinghy to thousand-foot freighters such as the Fitzgerald was,
    as “boats.” “The “Maritime Sailors Cathedral” Lightfoot refers to in the song is actually
    called The Mariners Church of Detroit.” Capt. Ernest McSorley stated over the radio,
    until the boat sank, that they were “holding our own.” What the cook or any other crew
    member did or did not say will never be known. Calling for help, unless the boat was
    actually known to be sinking, was considered verboten in the very machismo-driven
    Great Lakes shipping culture of the middle 1970s. Furthermore, even if the boat had in
    fact called for help, it is doubtful, under the actual conditions of the gale, whether
    neighboring vessels would have been able to render any real assistance.
    The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
    Of the big lake they called Gitchee 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 good 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 ship’s bell rang
    Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’
    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
    ‘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 freezin’ rain
    In the face of a hurricane west wind
    When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck
    Sayin’, “Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya”
    At seven p.m., a main hatchway caved 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 its 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 29 times
    For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
    The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
    Of the big lake they called Gitchee Gumee
    Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
    When the gales of November come early


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