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Author Katie Mettner

The Gales of November Came Early

Are those words familiar? You may remember them from the Gordon Lightfoot song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Today, November 10th, is the 39th anniversary of the sinking of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. It sank the year I was born, myself no older than five months old. My husband, who lived just a little west of where the ship sank, was four though and still remembers this day in history. He can still sing every lyric from that song, just like he did when he was four. School kids from all over this part of the state still memorialize the Edmund Fitzgerald. This was my son a few years ago as he explained his "Wisconsin Project", the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and as you walked around that gymnasium that night this was the project everyone was drawn too. All hope was lost that night. 

"The Life and Death of The Edmund Fitzgerald"
"June 7, 1958- The S.S Edmund Fitzgerald is christened just 10 months from the day the hull was laid, and that is when an old maritime curse fell upon the ship. A champagne bottle is broken on the bow of the ship for good luck, and it took 3 tries for the bottle to break. When she was finally released into the water the ship collided with the pier and an onlooker had a heart attack." Edward Mettner

The loss of the Mighty Fitz was an event that will never be forgotten, not just because of Gordon Lightfoot's song, but because of the events leading up to the sinking, and what some consider the 'cursed' status of the ship as above. After it was launched it sustained damage several times hitting the walls of the lock, running aground and having multiple captains at the helm. There are many different theories of why it sank that have developed over the years. If you aren't from the Wisconsin/Minnesota area and were born after 1975 you may not even remember this tragedy, but chances are you've at least heard of it. Take a listen to Gordon Lightfoot singing the song way back in 1979. 

Ask anyone in the Northland why the Edmund Fitzgerald sank and you will get different answers. Why? Because there are plenty of them around. When Gordon Lightfoot originally wrote this song he wrote it believing that "the main hatchway caved in". The Edmund Fitzgerald was an ore ship "fully loaded" the day it set out from Superior Wisconsin. 

Image courtesy of Dennis O'Hara

Though this ship is longer that the Edmund Fitzgerald was you can see the 'hatches' as he calls them in the song. For many, many years Gordon sang that the main hatchway gave in, which implied that the crewmen didn't do their jobs in securing it right, therefore causing the ship to sink. In Sugar's Dance I write about the Edmund Fitzgerald, as Van, Sugar's new bodyguard, is from Ireland and of course has no idea about this ship or the song. 

“Did you know he actually changed the lyrics to the song last year? A Canadian film company did a documentary on the ship and they wanted to use Gordon’s song in the film. Gordon Lightfoot has rarely given anyone permission to use the song, but he watched their film and he was presented with the evidence that said it wasn’t crew error or a main hatch failure and he was so impressed that he allowed them to use the song. Then he also changed the lyrics in the song to better reflect what happened.”
“The song is really old. Did it matter that much to change the lyrics?” Van asked.
“It mattered to the family members of the crew. By saying the main hatchway gave in it insinuated the crew didn’t secure it properly and crew error caused the hatches to flood and the boat to sink. The latest research shows it actually could have been a rogue wave that hit the boat and sank her. We won’t ever know for sure, but I respect that he felt strong enough about the new evidence to change the song. I’ve been in a place where people say it was your loved one’s fault and that’s really hard to swallow. I have great respect for him for doing that.”

Why am I writing about the Edmund Fitzgerald today? Well, besides the fact that it's November 10th, when I look out my window the snow is falling peacefully. just like it did back on November 10, 1975. In a few hours there will be a memorial service at Split Rock Lighthouse near Silver Bay. They will toll a bell 29 times for each man who lost his life on the Fitzgerald, and then toll the bell a 30th time for all lost mariners. After that, the lighthouse’s beacon will be lit. It’s the only time each year when visitors can climb to the top of the tower while the beacon is lit. A few hours after that the wind is going to pick up in a north-north east direction at 30 MPH. There will be rogue waves on Gitche Gumee tonight. There will be thoughts throughout the Northland of the Mighty Fitz and the men lost. Gordon's song will be played on the radio many times today and the talk of the coffee shops will be 'about this day back in '75." There will be thoughts and prayers of a time when all hope and love was lost.

Image courtesy of Dennis O'Hara

But there is faith in the assurance of what we do not see. Today I also release the final in the Sugar Series, Sugar's Faith. Exactly three years ago today when Sugar's Dance released it was a love story that started with a big ship carved into a coffee table and two people sitting next to it on the shores of Lake Superior. 

The coffee table was a boat made from old hewn boards from a crumbling building on the property. The top was an inset carving of the Edmund Fitzgerald sailing past lighthouse pier on Lake Superior. My father told me it was how he pictured it as it headed out on its last journey, as the crewmen and the captain steered the boat out into the open water not knowing as they left the safety of the harbor behind they would never see that light shining on them again. He had covered the carving with glass, so the effect was that of depth and distance. It was really an amazing piece and it made me a little melancholy each time I saw it. Sugar's Dance

When Sugar wrote that all those years ago she had no faith, no hope and no love. Today, as the gales of November blow early, she has all three, in ways she never imagined possible. 

If you had asked me three years ago if I was going to write Sugar's Faith you would have gotten a very odd look from me. Sugar had danced, that was the end of it for me, or so I thought. Truth be told she still had love, hope and faith to endure, and I did too. As the gales of November blow early here in the Northland this morning I'm seeing it start to rain. That probably doesn't make a lot of sense and you're thinking, "Man, she needs more coffee", but the truth is, we are supposed to get 15 inches of snow, and if that was rain, we would have a flood. Anyone who has been following my blog knows the importance of the words 'Noah didn't see the rain either' to me, if you don't know what I'm talking about you can read it here. As I sit here today in the silence of the snow I see the rain. I wonder if Noah felt the same way when he was assured of what he did not see. 

I hope you have a moment sometime today to say a prayer for the all the mariners who have lost their lives on the big lake they call Gitche Gumee. If you are lost, I hope you find faith in the assurance of what we do not see. When we are at our lowest only three things remain; faith, hope and love. It is up to you to decide what the greatest of these will be. 


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