Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

A song that was unfortunately a true story. It was written and performed by Gordon Lightfoot. The Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sank in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975.

This is a factual retelling of a shipwreck on Lake Superior in November 1975 that claimed the lives of 29 crew members. On November 10, 1975, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald broke in half and sunk in Lake Superior. The storm she was caught in reported winds from 35 to 52 knots, and waves anywhere from 10 to 35 feet high.

She was loaded with 26,116 tons of taconite pellets at the Burlington Northern Railroad, Dock #1. Her destination was Zug Island on the Detroit River. There were 29 crew members who perished in the sinking.

The song released in 1976 peaked at #2 in the Billboard 100.

Gordon Lightfoot: “The Edmund Fitzgerald really seemed to go unnoticed at that time, anything I’d seen in the newspapers or magazines were very short, brief articles, and I felt I would like to expand upon the story of the sinking of the ship itself,”  “And it was quite an undertaking to do that, I went and bought all of the old newspapers, got everything in chronological order, and went ahead and did it because I already had a melody in my mind and it was from an old Irish dirge that I heard when I was about three and a half years old.”

“I think it was one of the first pieces of music that registered to me as being a piece of music,” he continued. “That’s where the melody comes from, from an old Irish folk song.”


For those interested…I have a bio of the event at the bottom.

From Songfacts

In the US, this was held out of the #1 spot by Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night.”

This was nominated for the Song of the Year Grammy, but it was beaten by Barry Manilow’s “I Write The Songs.” >>

Paul Gross hoped to use this tune for his episode of the TV show Due South, “Mountie on the Bounty.” He discreetly tried to secure the right to use the song, but out of respect for the families who wished not to be reminded of the tragedy, he didn’t pursue the option aggressively. He instead wrote the similarly themed song “32 down On The Robert MacKenzie.” 

Ohio-based Great Lakes Brewery produces a beer called Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. 

In 1970, baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s co-founding partner in the Brewers was fellow Milwaukee businessman Edmund B. Fitzgerald, a patron of Milwaukee arts and civic projects, and the son of a family that owned Great Lakes shipyards. In 1958, the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald was named for Edmund B.’s father. Fitzgerald later became a professor at Vanderbilt University.

An initial investigation suggested that the crew was partly to blame for the disaster by not securing the ship’s hatches. Lightfoot’s song reflected the original findings in the verse, “…at 7 p.m. a main hatchway gave in.” However, in 2010 a Canadian documentary claimed to have proven the crew of the ship was not responsible for the tragedy. It concluded that there is little evidence that failure to secure the ship’s hatches caused the sinking.

Lightfoot said he intended to change it to reflect the new findings. “I’m sincerely grateful to yap films and their program The Dive Detectives for putting together compelling evidence that the tragedy was not a result of crew error,” he said in a release. “This finally vindicates, and honors, not only all of the crew who lost their lives, but also the family members who survived them.”

Lightfoot wrote the lyrics after coming up with the melody and chords. He recalled: “When the story came on television, that the Edmund had foundered in Lake Superior three hours earlier, it was right on the CBC here in Canada, I came into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and saw the news and I said ‘That’s my story to go with the melody and the chords.'”

In a 2015 interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, Gordon Lightfoot explained that the article he read in Newsweek about the tragedy was, “Short shrift for such a monumental event.” Lightfoot says the song came about when he discovered the newspaper writers kept misspelling the name of the ship, rendering it as “Edmond Fitzgerald” rather than “Edmund Fitzgerald.” Though he didn’t say whether or not the misspelling was deliberate, he was quoted as telling Scott, “That’s it! If they’re gonna spell the name wrong, I’ve got to get to the bottom of this!” 

This is referenced in the Seinfeld episode “Andrea Doria,” when Elaine mistakenly believes Gordon Lightfoot was the name of the ship and Edmund Fitzgerald was the name of the singer. Jerry quips: “Yeah, and it was rammed by the Cat Stevens.”


Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called ‘gitche gumee’
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang
Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T’was the witch of November come stealin’
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin’
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin’
Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya
At seven pm a main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it’s been good t’know ya
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searches all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters

Lake Huron rolls, superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the maritime sailors’ cathedral
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call ‘gitche gumee’
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

51 thoughts on “Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald”

  1. When I hear this song I think of the old Roy Firestone bit where he would take the tune of The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald- and sing about any other song to that tune and it sounded right- like The National Anthem for example.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That brings back a lot of memories. I haven’t thought of him in years. I remember him doing impersonations of Sinatra, Johnny Mathias, and others.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. FIrestone seemed to be very personable but also very good at asking tough questions and not upsetting the person he was interviewing….. listened to The Who yesterday- first impression- pretty darn good- best who album since Who By Numbers?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I was commenting to someone the other day and said since Who Are You…although it wasn’t great… against Face Dances it was wonderful…but yea I agree with Who by Numbers…and the Keith era…and that is saying something.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It’s like Pete finally embraced the Who’s history…sort of the way Paul embraced the Beatles history at one time. I wasn’t sure if Pete would do it…and write like this again.
        When I saw them a few years back…Pete wouldn’t stop talking…it was great and he really chattered on…he looked comfortable.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. a great song… about as close to a “poem” as I’ve been able to memorize too! We were actually taught the song in English class at one time probably 2 or 3 years after it came out. Somehow I still like the song even after that!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Spoken like a true student! What better way to learn? We probably wouldn’t even know about it if it weren’t for the song….on a wide scale anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very true, I expect there was news coverage of it back then, especially in places like mine along the great Lakes but I don’t remember it, being I think 9 when it happened, but the name would remain as under the surface as the hull itself if not for Gord and his song.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. When it happened in 75 but I remember …Where I lived though…it would have been on the wold news not the local. It would have been forgotten to the general public.


      1. I dont’ know how I did that. I must have had the sound turned down…. I have the right one now.


      2. You know…I’ve done that before by not paying attention with a Jimi Hendrix song. His estate is notorious for not allowing studio versions. You have to go to vimeo. Ok…glad I didn’t make the mistake. lol…now I know it’s right.


    1. That is horrifying…I just saw some videos of it. There were people walking in it minutes before it exploded. Is that one island mostly for tourists? The reports say as many as 50 people could have been on the island so I wouldn’t think people lived on that particular one.

      I’m hope the death count doesn’t keep rising.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not on the phone app, no. It will in the Reader in a browser.

        I didn’t know it would be in brackets like that but, that is what I get for copying something INSIDE the damn phone app. *sigh*

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I have problems trying to even schedule a post with my phone app. It will say it’s published but won’t show up in the reader no matter what I do after that. I have to rename the subject completely.

        The only thing I do on the phone app is read, answer, and reply…that is the extent of it.


  3. Such a sad thing to have the crew get blamed for the wreck when it was probably too overloaded to be safe. When the bosses order so many pounds aboard, you don’t argue. I’m glad the song put the tragedy in the public’s eye and also gave Gord some recognition.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read where the crew were exonerated which that is great…Greed is the most likely cause…

      Without this song they would have been forgotten by the general public.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I usually don’t participate in awards but I really appreciate you thinking of me. It means a lot to me that anyone gets some kind of enjoyment from what I do.
      You are a real writer…your stuff is great.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you James. I always tell people if one person reads my blog and likes one of these older songs then I accomplished my mission. I’ve had people to really like some of these and maybe they pass them on then…thats my recognition…
        It such an honor to post among a lot of you…quite a world we all have in here.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes wordpress.com is a great group of individuals who have come together and created a family all of its doing and making. I for one am very proud of this. I agree with you 100 % Badfinger20 !!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Terrific record this one, criminally unknown in the UK, like almost all Gordon Lightfoot records and songs – If You Could Read My Mind is the only one anyone could recognise by and large….


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