There have been many other shipwrecks on Lake Superior over the years. Many other mammoth November storms. Many other lives lost. But thanks in large part to singer Gordon Lightfoot, one shipwreck stands above the rest in the Great Lakes’ collective memory: the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Scott was with a team of Americans and Canadians who in 1995 traveled to the site of the Edmund Fitzgerald’s watery grave. Their mission was simple: collect the bell on top of the pilot’s house, replace it with a replica that featured the engraved names of the 29 crewmen who perished in the shipwreck, and bring the old bell to the surface to be displayed as a memorial at Whitefish Point.
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on 10 Nov 1975 taking with her a crew of 29. The ship was launched in 1958 and was owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. As a freighter, the ship primarily carried taconite iron ore to iron works in various Great Lake ports. The ship set records for hauling ore during its career.
On 9 Nov 1975, the Fitzgerald under the command of Captain Ernest McSorley, embarked on her final voyage of the season fron Superior, Wisconsin to a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan. She met up with another freighter, SS Arthur Anderson, while enroute. The next day a severe winter storm hit with near hurricane force winds and waves that reached 35 feet in height. Sometime around or after 7:11 p.m., the Fitzgerald sank in Canadian waters approximately 17 miles from Whitefish Bay near the cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. While McSorley had reported difficulty earlier, his last message was “We are holding our own.”
The cause of the sinking has stirred debate and controversy with competing theories and books on the issue. The various theories are:
(1) Inaccurate weather forecasting. The National Weather Service forecast had said the storm would pass south of Lake Superior but instead it tracked across the eastern part, exactly where the Edmund Fitzgerald and Arthur Anderson were. So they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
(2) Inaccurate navigational charts. The Canadian charts in use came from 1916 and 1919 surveys and did not include more updated information that Six Fathom Shoal was about 1 mile further east than shown.
(3)No Watertight Bulkheads
The ship did not have watertight bulkheads and more like barges rather than freighters. So a serious puncture could sink a vessel like Fitzgerald while ships that had such bulkheads, even if seriously damaged, had a better chance of survival.
(4)Lack of Sounding and Other Safety Instruments Fitzgerald lacked the ability to monitor water depth using a fathometer( a device that uses echo sounding to determine water depth). The only way the Fitz could do soundings was using a hand line and counting the knots to measure water depth. Nor was there any way to monitor if water was in the hold or not (some was always present reports suggest)unless it got high enough to be noticed by the crew. However on that night, the severity of the storm made it difficult to access the hatches from the spar deck. And if the hold was full of bulk cargo, it was virtually impossible to pump out the water.
(5)Increased Cargo Loads Meant Ship Was Sitting Lower In Water
The load line had been changed in 1969, 1971, and 1973 with U.S. Coast Guard approval. This resulted in Fitzgerald’s deck being only 11.5 feet above the water when she faced massive 35 foot waves on that day. She was carrying 4,0000 more tons than what she was designed to carry. Which meant the buoyancy of the ship was an issue who fully loaded resulting in reports the ship was sluggish, slower, and reduced recovery time.
The US National Transportation and Safety Board believes that prior groundings caused undetected damage that led to major structural failure during the storm. Since most Great Lakes vessels were only inspected in drydock once every five years, such damage would not have been easily detected otherwise. Concerns have also been raised that Captain McSorley did not keep up with routine maintenance. Photographic evidence indicates the hull was patched in places and the failure of the U.S. Coast Guard to take corrective action is also an issue considering that various things were not properly maintained.
Captain McSorley rarely pulled his ship into a safer harbor to ride out a storm. Nor did he heed a warning from the U.S. Coast Guard issued at 3:35 p.m. to seek safe anchorage. Possible pressure from ship owners to deliver cargo on time is considered a factor for some captains like McSorley to ride out storms rather seek safe anchorages. The U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board concluded that complacency is a major factor in what happened to Fitzgerald and generally a problem for Great Lakes shipping. Critics point out the Coast Guard failed in its own tasks of properly requiring those repairs and lacked the means to rescue ships in distress on the Great Lakes.
The wreck was found on 14 Nov 1975 using technology to find sunken submarines. The U.S. Navy dived to the wreck in 1976 using an unmanned submersible. The wreck was found to be in two pieces with taconite pellets in the debris field. Jacques Cousteau dived to it in 1980 and speculated it had broken up on the surface. A three day survey dive in 1989 organized by the Michigan Sea Grant Program was done to record the wreck for use in museum educational programs. It drew no conclusions as to the cause of the sinking. Canadian explorer Joseph MacInnis led six publicly funded dives over three days in 1994 to take pictures. Also that year sport diver Fred Shannon and his Deepquest Ltd did a serious of dives and took more than 42 hours of underwater video. Shannon discovered when studying the navigational charts that the international boundary had changed three times. GPS coordinates showed the wreck was actually in Canadian waters because of an error in the boundary line shown on official lake charts. MacInnis went back to the wreck in 1995 to salvage the bell and it was financed by the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians. A replica bell and a beer can were put on Fitzgerald. Scuba divers Terrence Tysall and Mike Zee used trimix gas to dive to the wreck and set records for deepest scuba dive on Great Lakes. They were the only divers to get to the wreck without a submersible.
The wreck is now restricted under the Ontario Heritage Act and has been further amended that a license is required for dives, submersibles, side scan sonar surveys and even using underwater cameras in the designated protected area. And they added a steep fine of 1 million Canadian dollars for violating the act.
Fitzgerald was valued at $24 million. Two widows filed suit seeking $1.5 million from the owners and operators of the ship. The owners filed to reduce to limit their liability. However the claims never went to trial as the company paid compensation to the surviving families who signed confidentiality agreements. It is believed the owners and operator wanted to avoid a court case where McSorley was found negligent as well as the operator and owner. Changes to Great Lakes shipping did occur such as requiring fathometers in ships above a certain tonnage, survival suits, locating systems for ships (LORAN originally now GPS), emergency beacons, better wave predictions, and annual inspections of ships in the fall to inspect hatch and vent closures.
Annual memorials take place though the one made famous by Gordon Lightfoot, the Mariners Church in Detroit, now honors all who perished on the Great Lakes.
BBC News is reporting that the wood cross made from Titanic wood was sold for £10,000 ($12,969). The cross was made by Samuel Smith, one of the crew of the SS Minia that went out to retrieve bodies from Titanic. It was expected to fetch £12,000. The name of the purchaser was not released.
LiveScience is reporting the famed explorer Robert Ballard has ended his search for Amelia Earhart’s plane in the coral reefs of Nikumaroro.
The team mapped the island with sonar and a floating surface vehicle — and they employed remotely operated vehicles to explore the deeper crevices of the underwater mountain that Nikumaroro is a part of. The team even searched 4 nautical miles out and came up with nothing remotely linked to Earhart. They did, however, find a bunch of rocks that were the same size and shape as the supposed landing gear from the photo, according to the Times.
One expert consulted for the article was not surprised given the plane’s composition and that so much time has passed. There have been many theories about what happened to Amelia Earhart and her co-pilot Fred Noonan. Most have concluded the plane must have crashed in that area but evidence has been scant but it is the most promising. Bones found in a Tarawa museum are being checked and a temporary campsite found on Nikumaroro is being tested for DNA.
National Geographic funded the expedition and will release a documentary on it.
Historical based movies or television series are often matched with the history they depict. Historical fiction is where historical events or people are present but the actual story is fiction. Herman Wouk’s Winds of War is an excellent example. The journey of the Henry family was fictional though set during the events of World War II.
James Cameron’s Titanic is a great movie, won numerous awards, and still gets praise today. The central characters were fictional but took place on the Titanic. Cinema Blend took a look at the movie and compared it to what really happened. They found it was mostly accurate but not completely. Jack and Rose were fictional but most of the supporting characters on the ship resembled their historical counterparts. Cinema Blend notes adding this made the story telling better especially in the case of Ida and Eva Strauss holding hands.
Other things such as the barricades or guns being fired were more conjuncture than real. Yet they provided emotional drama for the movie, which is why they were there. The key to remember is that filmmakers will tinker with historical details for a variety of reasons. In really bad ones they shift a lot of things around for drama rather than historical accuracy.
For instance Scarlet and Black, a 1983 miniseries, was based on the real life exploits of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. O’Flaherty helped allied prisoners of war (and others) in Rome during World War II. But it strayed quite a bit from the historical source material it was based on for entertainment purposes. So while highly entertaining, much of the telling was altered.
In this case Cameron stayed more or less with history when it mattered. And let Jack and Rose be exactly who they were in the movie about their fictional love story.
On this date in 1871, what became known as the Great Chicago Fire began and would last till 10 October. The fire began around 9 pm on October 6 possibly at a barn owned by the O’leary family or in the nearby area southwest of city center. It consumed a shed on that farm and then spread outward. Due to a period of hot, dry and windy conditions, the fire would spread rapidly. With homes and buildings built mostly of wood, it also provided fuel for the fire as well.
The fire leapt the south branch of the Chicago River destroying central Chicago. It leapt across the main river branch and consumed the north side as well. 300 people were killed and a large swath of the city (about 3.3 square miles) was destroyed. 100,000 people were left homeless because of the fire. After the fire help poured in from all over the country and internationally as well. Money from Great Britain helped build the Chicago Public Library that would be free to everyone.
The aftermath brought reconsideration of many things particularly in the area of building construction. Fire prevention became a big topic and construction of brick rather than wood buildings would result. With the right infrastructure in place, it would prevent such a catastrophe from happening again. Rebuilding began right away with higher standards and sometimes with buildings that were considered better than the ones that burned down.
With German control over their portion of Poland now complete, the elimination of Jews and others began in earnest. To facilitate this, special task forces called Einsatgruppen were charged with carrying out the liquidation in occupied countries. They oversaw the implementation of the Final Solution (Die Endlosung). At the ravine near Kiev called Babi Yar would take place one one of the most documented massacres of Jews during World War 2. Between 29-30 September 1941, 33,741 Jews were exterminated by Nazi’s and their collaborators. One of the reasons for the exterminations is retaliation for Soviet explosives that caused damage to the city and to the army headquarters in that area.
Orders were issued and posted in numerous languages on 26 September 1941:
All Yidsof the city of Kiev and its vicinity must appear on Monday, September 29, by 8 o’clock in the morning at the corner of Mel’nikova and Dokterivskaya streets (near the Viis’kove cemetery). Bring documents, money and valuables, and also warm clothing, linen, etc. Any Yids who do not follow this order and are found elsewhere will be shot. Any civilians who enter the dwellings left by Yids and appropriate the things in them will be shot.
Jews were led to believe they were being resettled and believed it right up to the end. They were driven to a designated area where they passed through several stages before arriving at Babi Yar itself. At each stage they had to surrender luggage, valuables, and later their clothing. A special pile was kept for everything collected. Men, women and children were led to Babi Yar and then gunned down by machine gun fire. Most did not know at first what was happening since the crowd was so large. And it happened quickly. Ukrainian nationals would force anyone who attempted to linger to move on with swift kicks and threats of more violence. There was no chance to escape. They were driven down into a corridor of soldiers where they were killed 10 at a time.
“Once undressed, they were led into the ravine which was about 150 metres long and 30 metres wide and a good 15 metres deep … When they reached the bottom of the ravine they were seized by members of the Schutzpolizei and made to lie down on top of Jews who had already been shot … The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun … I saw these marksmen stand on layers of corpses and shoot one after the other … The marksman would walk across the bodies of the executed Jews to the next Jew, who had meanwhile lain down, and shoot him.”(quote from Wikipedia. Source:Berenbaum, Michael. The World Must Know, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, this edition 2006, pp. 97–98.)
Money and valuables taken from Jews were handed over to local ethnic Germans or to local German authorities. Those that were wounded or still alive were shot. One notable survivor, Dina Pronicheva, played dead and was spared to escape later. There are 29 known survivors. The identities of those killed at Babi Yar is still ongoing. The SS would cover the area with earth to cover up the bodies. Mass executions would continue until the day the Germans were forced to withdraw in 1943.
Gilbert, MartinThe Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War. Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1985
Snyder, Louis Dr. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, Marlowe & Company, New York 1976
Labor Day is a U.S. federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September. It became a federal holiday in 1894 to celebrate workers and their achievements. It has also become the unofficial end of summer as schools have reopened and summer vacations have ended. As a federal holiday, all federal offices are closed as are banks and the stock market. All states celebrate it as well so state, county, and city offices are closed as well. Nearly all professional offices are closed and most construction workers have the day off as well. Retail and fast food employees do not get the day off except in areas where due to the holiday they get virtually no business.
Famed explorer Robert Ballard is now looking for evidence that will determine what finally happened to Amelia Earhart who disappeared in July 1937. She was a famed aviator of her day one of the rare female aviators in a male dominated area. She achieved a lot putting her on par with another famous aviator Charles Lindbergh.
It has been an enduring mystery to find out what happened to her. Many claims over the years have been made–some fanciful and others grounded in logic–but nothing has yet been found to prove what happened to her. Ballard sees this as another challenge to perhaps correct history much like what he did with Titanic. Below is a re-posting of a write up I did on Amelia Earhart. Hopefully he does find something definitive so we can at last know what happened back in 1937.
A few days ago the 80th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance went by without much notice in the press. There was some obligatory mentions in This Day In History write-ups and a mention of a possible finding of her plane. So who was Amelia Earhart and why was she important?
On 20 May 1932, five years after Charles Lindbergh made his famous solo nonstop flight from the U.S. to France, Amelia Earhart set out to be the first female aviator to accomplish the same feat. Unlike Lindbergh, Earhart was already well known before this flight. She gained fame in 1928 as part of a three person crew to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane. On that trip, she kept the plane’s log. Early on 20 May 1932, her Lockheed Vega 5B took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. She intended to replicate Lindbergh’s flight but encountered strong northerly winds, mechanical problems, and icy conditions. Instead of landing in France, she landed in a pasture at Culmore(north of Derry)in Northern Ireland. When asked by a farmhand how far she had flown, she famously said “From America.”
Her feat received international acclaim. She received the Distinguished Flying Cross in the U.S., Cross of Honor of the Legion of Honor from France, and the Gold Medal from the National Geographic Society. Her fame allowed her develop friendships with many important and influential people such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Earhart would continue to make solo flights and set records. Sadly her next most famous mission would forever be shrouded in mystery. In 1937 she attempted–along with copilot Frederick Noonan–to fly around the world. On 2 Jul 1937, her plane disappeared near Howland Island in the South Pacific. Despite extensive searching by the U.S.Navy and Coast Guard, no trace of the plane or its pilots were ever found. The search was called off on 19 July.
Earhart was declared legally dead on 5 Jul 1939 so that her estate could pay bills. Since then numerous theories as to what happened have been put forth. Many believe her plane either crashed and sank or that they landed on an island and perished awaiting rescue. Some intriguing evidence recovered in 2012 off Nikumaroro might be from their plane which supports the crash and sank hypothesis. More speculative theories have her being a spy for FDR or being captured and executed (along with Noonan)by the Japanese on Saipan (the area checked for the pilots bodies revealed nothing). A 1970 book claiming she had survived, moved to New Jersey, and changed her name to Irene Craigmile Bolam. There really was an Irene Bolam who had been a banker in New York in the 1940’s. She sued the publisher and obtained an out-of-court settlement. The book was taken off the market. National Geographic debunked it in 2006 on Undiscovered History.
Amelia Earhart: Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard bids to solve mystery (12 August 2019, The National) “The man who found the Titanic and the Bismarck at the bottom of the Atlantic is now turning his full attention to finding the aircraft in which Earhart apparently perished on July 2, 1937, while attempting what would have been the longest flight around the world at the time. ”
Halifax tour company limiting visits to Titanic cemetery due to sewer work (9 Aug 2019,CBC) “A Halifax tour bus company has temporarily halted visits to a cemetery that houses 121 Titanic victims because of emergency repair work being done to a sewer line where its buses normally park. The unexpected and urgent work on Chisholm Avenue is expected to take two more weeks to complete. The construction has blocked off one of the main entries to the Fairview Lawn Cemetery.”
Opening up the Titanic’s toolbox: Rare shipyard artefacts go on display (2 Aug 2019, Belfast Telegraph)”Many of the items have never been valued and are being displayed for the first time within Titanic Belfast’s Andrews Gallery from today. The Out of Stores: Explore Our Shipyard Collection runs throughout August and has opened up Titanic Foundation’s extensive archives to showcase a selection of never-seen-before items.