35 years

I can’t believe that’s how long it has been since the lake freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior. It was a storm of epic proportions and the then teenaged Engineer listened to his multi-band radio long into the night. The crew of the freighter Arthur Anderson was calling the crew of the Fitz. No answer. I’m not going to spend much time talking about this tragedy or quote Gordon Lightfoot song lyrics (although I do like the song). Y’all can google it easily enough if you want to.

We get some good storms up on Gitchee Gumee and that’s yer favo-rite blahgger swimming there in the photoooo. I was probably about six and that storm is nowhere near the size of the one that sunk the Fitzgerald but it looks like a pretty good one. You may be wondering (if you aren’t one of my cuzzints) why the heck anyone would be crazy enough to let their little kids swim in those waves. Our beach is pretty safe. There is a sand bar system and, until after the second sandbar, the water doesn’t get above about, oh, three or four feet at the most. It is a safe place for children to swim and the second sandbar provides an easily identifiable natural boundary. And there is no undertow. Grandroobly used to say that the island in the middle of our bay (not shown in the photo) blocked the formation of an undertow and that explanation makes sense to me.

Also, we didn’t have a lot of rules on that beach growing up but there were a few non-negotiable ones, including DON’T GO SWIMMING WITHOUT AN ADULT WATCHING YOU!!! We did not break that rule. We never felt the need to try. I don’t remember one single time that we couldn’t get somebody’s moom to watch us swim. And we swam *every* day, *all* summer. I can remember The Commander sitting on the beach in a winter jacket watching us swim. When I was a teenager and young adult, before we had comprehensive indoor plumbing in the moomincabin, I used to bathe and wash my hair in the lake every day and even then, if it was stormy enough, I would ask The Commander to come down and keep watch. I can swim but I have a great respect for the power of water.

This photo is from the Sherman Archives and I don’t remember that particular storm but there were plenty of storms like that and we loved swimming on those days. And we still do! Jumping around in the surf, diving into incoming waves, body-surfing toward the shore, feeling the waves break over our heads.

Anyway, it’s been 35 years since the Edmund Fitz sank. I love the simple statement my niece Valdemort (the Engineer’s daughter) posted on FB today: “35 years – Rest in peace, men.” Yes. You too, Engineer. (Even though I suspect you are out raising hell somewhere in some parallel universe!)

7 Responses to “35 years”

  1. Margaret Says:

    All I know of that tragedy is from the song. RIP indeed. Water/swimming accidents happen a lot in WA too.

  2. isa Says:

    I hereby pledge to get child CPR certification when I am a beach mother.

  3. Uncly Uncle Says:

    It’s also Timmy’s 32nd Birthday.

    I remember the day the Fitz went down very well. The winds in East Lansing were as high as I can ever remember.

  4. Paulette Says:

    One of my students had the honor of ringing the bell during the memorial service at Whitefish Point tonight. He had researched the sinking of the Fitzgerald using the resources of the WP Historical society in the Sault. Rest in peace, men of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

  5. l4827 Says:

    I just remember just being totally surprised/shocked when I first heard the news. My mother was an avid watcher of the boats on the lakes. She *knew* the Fitz as much as any one who was not working on board. She also ended up being onboard the American side memorial vessel, tethered to the Canadian vessel, for the memorial service at sea, in ’76. That memorial day at sea, strange indeed. Weather, waves choppy. Service start. TAPS. Calming water. Flat water. Cut of the connected writhe with the names of the 29 sailors who went down. Winds pick back up. Choppy water back to port.

    God’s speed.

    Birtch Point, range light west

  6. jane Says:

    I love that picture! and love jumping the waves. there was a storm the summer I was up there after my surgery. I really wanted to go swimming. and I did. one wave knocked the wind out of me and I wished I had an adult watching me….. although I’m sure they would have also been laughing at me. I mean heck, I was laughing at me!

    RIP Fitzergerald

  7. Jan Miller Says:

    Pete and I were flying from Chicago to the Soo in a DC3 when they announced the Fitzgerald went down. It was a rough and scary flight. Pete’s grandma’s funeral was the next day. We have been at the memorial service at Whitefish Point and it is a very solemn occasion. Many memories for us