Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The witch of November

There is a lot of remembering going on across the world today. Apart from the important sacrifices of soldiers, sailors, and airmen, though, there is another group that deserves a moment of thought this November -- those who have lost their lives on the Great Lakes.

November is characteristically one of the most deadly months on the lakes, when winds howl at gale force, and storms of a ferocity rarely seen in the summer months have the power to rage for days, often with tragic results.

On November 18, 1958, the freighter Carl D. Bradley went to the bottom of Lake Michigan, taking thirty-three men with her. Only two survived the sinking and subsequent exposure to the lake's freezing waters.

Just eight years later, on November 29, 1966, the Daniel J. Morrell met a similar fate, literally splitting in two before going down in a terrible storm on Lake Huron. In an odd twist, the boat's severed stern, powered by the still-running engines, smashed into the foundering bow section before disappearing into the night.

The lone survivor, Dennis Hale, wrote a book about his ordeal, during which he spent more than forty hours wearing little more than boxer shorts and a coat -- the only clothing he had time to grab -- on the frigid, raging waters of the lake. (You can read more about the wreck of the Daniel J. Morrell here.) Hale was the only survivor of the twenty-nine-man crew.

And perhaps the Great Lakes' most famous shipwreck, that of the massive ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald in another fierce gale on Lake Superior, occurred thirty-three years ago yesterday, on November 10, 1975. Memorial services for the "Big Fitz" and her lost crew continue to be held to this day, and the ship is most notably remembered in Gordon Lightfoot's legendary song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

The Adrian, Michigan Daily Telegram ran a touching piece yesterday about Jim Jaros, a dockworker who frequently unloaded iron ore from the Fitz at Toledo. Jaros talks about the backbreaking job of unloading a seven-hundred-foot freighter, and exposes the human side of the tragedy when he recounts wandering the Edmund Fitzgerald's decks and talking with a number of the crewmen before they left Toledo, for what would be the last time, on October 31, 1975.

To read the full Daily Telegram story, click here.

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