The fateful tale of the Edmund Fitzgerald is a part of the American psyche. Immortalized in the famous Gordon Lightfoot folk ballad, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," it is one of those events where everyone remembers where they were when they got the news.
The "Fitz," as it was known, was a Great Lakes freighter that sank during a winter storm on Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975. All 29 crew members on board were lost. Her last voyage began after filling up with taconite at Superior. She left the Duluth Harbor on Nov. 9 headed for a steel mill near Detroit.
The Fitzgerald along with another freighter, SS Arthur M. Anderson, were caught in the massive that had hurricane force winds and waves more than 30 feet. The Fitz and the Anderson were in communication during the storm but lost contact in the early evening of Nov. 10. The Fitzgerald sank shortly after 7 p.m. in Canadian waters more than 500 feet deep, approximately 17 miles from the entrance to Whitefish Bay near Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. No distress signals were sent before the Fitzgerald sank.
No bodies were ever recovered and while there are several theories, what actually caused the boat to sink is not known.
Connections to the Fitz
Tetras Johnson is the nutrition service manager at Willow River Elementary. During a recent Willow Mania game day, the event was coming up with something no one else had done. She knew she had a winner. Johnson had sailed on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
She grew up on the family farm just outside of Superior and was friends with Jeannie Bergner. Bergner's father, George, was the head cook on the Fitzgerald and crew members were allowed to bring family members on board during the summer months for the boat's trip at the time between Silver Bay and Toledo.
In 1970, at 15, Johnson and Jeannie made the voyage. They were in ninth grade and, while curious, not exactly thrilled at the prospect of spending several days on the ship. "It wasn't like a cruise ship. There's no arcade and not a lot to do but it was interesting."
Johnson said they brought a lot of crafts to do. They also spent time in the galley with George Bergner, walked on the decks and ate with the crew. "It was a little boring as I remember but everybody was very nice to us and we got to know the crew pretty well."
When they arrived in Toledo, Johnson recalls they took a cab to eat in a restaurant there while the ship unloaded. They left Toledo heading back to Silver Bay during the night.
Five years later Berger narrowly missed being with the crew the night the Fitz sank. He retired a month the tragedy and the family relocated to Texas.
Johnson heard the news of the tragedy over the radio on Nov. 11. "It was an eerie feeling, almost surreal--having been on the ship and then thinking about what happened. It has always stayed with me."
Among her prized possessions is a photograph of the Fitzgerald signed by Lightfoot. She also wonders what became of a set of highball glasses George Bergner gave to her family. And she thinks she will give a postcard she received from Jeannie Bergner the summer after the ship went down to the Maritime Museum in Duluth.
John Kalmon is an architect and operates the Cairn Collaborative at 701 Second St. His uncle, Allen, was the second cook on the Fitzgerald at the time it went down. He was 43 years old.
Only a young child at the time, Kalmon remembers that his family immediately left to be with Allen's family, his wife and five children who lived in Washburn at the time. They ranged in age from 5 to high school age.
"We went to be with them right away. I recall everybody waiting for reports to come in, hoping they would find survivors. The search went on for almost a week but I think they knew he was likely gone within a day or so."
Allen Kalmon was his father's brother and the two men were close in a family of 9 siblings. "I remember they both loved to fish and spent a lot of time together fishing."
Kalmon never saw the Fitzgerald.