Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Sign of a Merry Christmas

Hope you and yours had a Merry Christmas. I am making this wish because we are still in the season; in fact, it is day three of "The Twelve Days of Christmas".

More than that, I hope you may have received one of those gifts that surprise and illuminate your life in a new and surprising way. It's the sort of gift that teaches something valuable. How fitting it is that such a gift can come at Christmas!

Such a gift may be a total surprise, and probably didn't cost much, either. I was lucky this Christmas, I received that very sort of gift from my Parents. It was a book entitled, "Mighty Fitz, the Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald", by Michael Schumacher. The book is recently done, copyrighted in 2005.

I have always had an interest in the Edmund Fitzgerald, ever since I first heard Gordon Lightfoot's song in September 1976. It seems Mr. Schumacher may have had a similar experience, due to the fact that much of his work revolves around documenting music and musicians. At any rate, during the afternoon lull that frequently comes around Christmas Day afternoon, I started reading the book. Once I started, I could not put it down!

The author managed to flesh out the crew in a personal way, bringing them to life in a way that was new to me. But more than that, Mr. Schumacher traced in captivating detail the events of the days just before the wreck, describing the work and decisions that all of those who were associated with The Fitz performed, things that all of us who have been in the business of transportation do, almost by rote. But, the fascination comes out of the results of those deeds when cast onto the stage of the unique events of November 9th and 10th, 1975 on Lake Superior.

Not stopping at that ppoint in the story, the reader is then guided thru the investigations of the Coast Guard, the NTSB, and even the efforts of Jacques Cousteau's Calypso. Numerous deep dives were made and recounted.

If you, like me, have ever been involved in the Investigation of a Railroad Rules Infraction, it is very interesting to see how these things work in such a context. The demands of Insurance Companies and others that the cause be immediately determined, in spite of winter conditions on the Big Lake, simply cause you to nod your head as you sympathize with all who went thru those horrible hours during the tragedy, as they did their jobs and then had to retell their stories within the legal framework that was required. They knew, and we know, that nothing would be determined until the next Spring.

As we now know, even the following Spring would not reveal any answers.

It is hard to comprehend that today, we are fully thirty years beyond the tragedy that has been called, "The Titanic of The Great Lakes". Those thirty years have not been enough to allow the families and friends of the twenty-nine men on the crew to heal. The author reminds us of that, as he describes the legal situations that accompanied the raising of the Ship's Bell, or how one person went to Whitefish Point to claim a small amount of Lake Superior water that hopefully contained a loved one's DNA.

Read this book. Then go to the websites that are noted. You will learn much about human nature, about how captivating these five Great Lakes are to many, about how legal investigations can become so irritating, and how much risk there is in the simple act of transportation. And, you may never look out to the horizon from the shoreline of one of the Great Lakes in quite the same way ever again.


At 4:29 PM, January 11, 2007, Anonymous MSS said...

Thanks for this post and photos. I, too, have a long interest in the iron-ore shipping and the Fitzgerald, in particular. (Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland brews a nice porter in her honor!)

I had a great uncle who was a cook on some of these "ore boats" long ago. (He always claimed the sailors complained his food was too spicy!) I think of him every time I hear the part of the Lightfoot song about the old cook coming on deck and saying "fellas, it's too rough to feed ya." My uncle would tell of the terrible storms--luckily he never experienced one as bad that one just over 30 years ago. Hard to believe it was that long ago, indeed. I still have the clipping from the Duluth newspaper about it.

At 4:34 PM, January 11, 2007, Blogger Stephen said...

Linking topics ... I liked the passage where the chairman of the investigating committee announced that the inquest would begin on a Saturday morning, never mind that the Michigan-Ohio State game was going to be played that afternoon.

As far as Titanic of the Great Lakes, I nominate the Eastland capsize in the Chicago River. George Hilton (chronicler of interurbans and narrow gauge) investigated the possibility that post-Titanic regulations calling for additional lifeboats added top-hamper to an already tender boat.


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