Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Return of the Fitz

Last week brought news that the mother of all Great Lakes shipwrecks -- the Edmund Fitzgerald -- is perhaps once again reaching out from her watery grave at the bottom of Lake Superior.

Joe Rasch of Conklin, Michigan was out for a walk with his family when they spotted a life preserver on the ground below a fallen pine tree. When his children went to investigate, the ship’s name, “Edmund Fitzgerald,” was clearly visible, though faded, on the side of the old safety device. Excitedly, they brought the artifact back to their father, for or on the shores of Superior, even children know the story of the Fitz.

To their great credit, Rasch and his family then drove their find to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, where executive director Tom Farnquist examined it and could find no real reason to believe the ring was not the real deal, although there were a few small cosmetic differences between it and another ring from the Fitz in the Society’s collections.

The Edmund Fitzgerald, of course, went down in a vicious storm on November 10, 1975, taking its crew of 29 to Lake Superior’s icy bottom with it. The last freighter to be lost on the Great Lakes (hopefully forever), there are a number of theories circulating on what actually caused the sinking -- ranging from a stress fracture in the giant freighter’s hull to improperly closed hatches to a collision with a shoal -- but unfortunately none who saw the Fitz’s last moments survived to tell the tale.

In any case, the wreck was a violent one; with 26,000 tons of iron ore in her hold, the Fitz sank so quickly that no one had a chance to try to escape her (even if a lifeboat could have survived in such a terrible storm), or even radio for help. It would have essentially like being aboard a giant lead weight in the middle of the lake.

So is this life ring really from the Edmund Fitzgerald, or is it just a very clever ruse cooked up by a wayward shipwreck enthusiast with nothing better to do? The Shipwreck Historical Society is looking into it, and the rest of us will just have to wait and see.

Click here to read the full story on the Edmund Fitzgerald’s life preserver.

Click here for more Edmund Fitzgerald history.

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