Driving home from Mackinac City, through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we stopped off at Whitefish Point to take a look at the lighthouse there. The oldest operating light on Lake Superior, it looks out over a history of troubled waters.
On the 10th November, 1975 the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in a storm, 17 miles from Whitefish Bay, with the loss of the entire crew of 29. She was, and still is, the largest ship to have been lost in North America’s Great Lakes.
The beach at Whitefish point is littered with huge chunks of driftwood, like the bones of some gigantic creature cast up by the waves, but it’s hard to imagine, gazing out at the calm, clear waters of Lake Superior, that the weather could boil up to such an extent that a ship as big as the Fitzgerald could sink amidst 35ft waves. What really happened to the Fitzgerald remains a mystery; no distress signal was ever sent and the bodies of the crewmen were never recovered.
So the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald passed into legend and that’s where the song comes in. In 1976, Gordon Lightfoot came out with a catchy little number called The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (or Old Man Gerald, as my grandson refers to it) and it’s one of those songs that, once I get it into my head, I can’t stop playing it, over and over and over! So naturally, as I stood on the beach at Whitefish Point I started humming that song. (Very quietly because I wasn’t alone.)
There were dozens of us, either standing still, gazing out on the waters, or strolling up and down, looking for what, I don’t know. Some people were gathering pebbles in buckets, others were picking up shells, and the more serious-minded were plying metal detectors no doubt searching for buried treasure, while the seagulls sat soaking up the sun.
Every once in a while they let out a mournful cry (the seagulls, not the people) and it seemed like they were joining me in a chorus of ‘that song’ as they bobbed up and down on the water.
Oh no! There it goes again!