Interview with Carol Ross

May 17, 2005

Carol Ross is the niece of Joseph "Jugsy" Mazes, special maintenance man on board the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald.  Carol Ross was married originally only eight days after the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  She remembers it being a very hard time, and her father (Mazes' brother) attended her wedding "stone-faced."  Carol Ross later had two sons, and she and her husband are still married.  She began the interview with a memory of getting on the Edmund Fitzgerald with her uncle and getting a pastry, and then continued her story.

Question: Hello Mrs. Ross.  Your uncle was Joseph Mazes, the special maintenance man on board the Edmund Fitzgerald.  What were his duties?  Had he sailed on ships long before sailing on the Edmund Fitzgerald?  Other than sailing, had he ever had another job or profession?
Response: He sailed as soon as he got out of the service (army) and he was going to retire very soon, and then the ship went down.  He said to us a lot of times they didn't think they would make it with how rough the seas were.  I remember a time he went to say goodbye to my dad, and went to his truck and then came back and grabbed his hands.  It was like he knew he wasn't coming back, and he didn't.

Question: After almost 30 years, the sinking is still as much of a mystery as it was the day of the sinking.  Theories very from faulty hatch covers to bottoming out to the widely unpopular theory of crew error.  What is your opinion on what happened to your Uncle that night?
Response: I think that the boat broke in half because the winds were so strong.  It did break in half.

Question: The Edmund Fitzgerald is only one of over 6,000 shipwrecks on the Great Lakes.  Many freighters lost more lives than the Fitzgerald even.  Why is the Edmund Fitzgerald so popular after nearly 30 years, and do you think that the interesting in the shipwreck is fading or growing?
Response: I don't know if it got that much recognition originally.  Gordon Lightfoot made the song, and my sisters and I got mad and shut it off every time it played (at the time) we were very mad they did that because we were so close to Jugsy.  He was never married, so when he wasn't on the boat, he was at our house.  He would come in the evening with beer and candy bars for them, and would bring popcorn and soda for us, he was so good. 

Question: Being a family member of one of the crewmen, and hearing first hand stories from your uncle about shipping, what is your response to the theory that human error may have been a factor in the sinking?
Response: I don't think it is human error!  There was an awful storm that night, and many times Jugsy said the whole crew thought they would never make it because the winds and storms so many times.  I think the boat just broke in the storm, and my sisters thought that too.  It was so sad at the time.  We were watching the Packers and my dad called me during the game and said he had just heard that Jugsy's boat was in trouble, so of course we turned off the Packers game.

Question: Some consider the Edmund Fitzgerald wreck site simply a wreck site and not a gravesite of twenty-nine men, and feel the photography, explorations, and further investigations into the sinking are necessary or can shed more light into the cause of the sinking.  What is your opinion, as a family member?  Should the wreck site be open to further investigation and exploration by organizations or individuals, and should photography of the wreck site be permitted?
Response: Well, I suppose it wouldn't matter.  I would love to know what really happened, but I do think that it was the awful storm from that night.

Question: The sinking is surrounded by questions, mystery, and uncertainty.  Will we ever know the true cause to the sinking, and, more importantly, is it important that we find out the definitive cause of the sinking?
Response: Well, I think we know the cause of the sinking- the storm.  There was a terrible storm that night.  Many times they were afraid they would die because of how bad it got.  The boat couldn't take that storm, it was too rough.  I truly believe it was the storm.

Question: There are clothes, souvenirs, books, documentaries, a song, and many other things that have put the Edmund Fitzgerald into public spotlight, and many of these items are released by for-profit organizations.  Has the Edmund Fitzgerald become to commercialized, or is this simply an attempt to educated more people about the Fitz?  Where do we draw the line between commemorating and exploiting?
Response: Well, I don't know.  I have a lot of the stuff about the Edmund Fitzgerald in my house that Margie had bought and given me and my other sister.  I had never really given it a thought.  People make money on every disaster...what are you going to do.  I don't like people to forget about that terrible accident either, so that should remind people of what happened.  A lot of people are truly interested in that boat that went down.

Question: As a family member, you probably remember the tiniest details of when you found out that your uncle was lost.  How did you find out, and what was your initial reaction?
Response: Oh, I was very very worried, and so scared that something was going to happen, and it did.  I lived in Washburn (8 miles from Ashland, where Jugsy lives).  I went to Ashland with my dad and sat by the phone calling the sheriff and anyone we could to try to get more information.  Jugsy taught me to drive, and Margie too.  We were so close to Jugsy.

Question: Have you been to memorial services?  Where are places you personally would recommend to people trying to learn more about the ship and crew?
Response: Oh, I don't know where to go for that really.  Margie went somewhere and brought souvenirs back, and my dad had a lot of stuff directly from the Edmund Fitzgerald like the clock and things (the stuff got lost in a shuffle after he died).  I went to the St. Agnes church service about 30 years ago, I don't really remember the service.  My tape measure in my purse is the last thing my dad gave me before my dad died the next day and on it it says: Columbia Transportation Division.  He got it from Jugsy and I always carry it in my purse because it was the last thing he gave me and I just have to have it with me.

Question: What are some memories that you have of your uncle Joseph?
Response: Oh God, there's been many of them.  He always was over and he always treated us so good.  He taught us to drive and used to take us out on the old Odanah Road in Ashland and he was always there buying things for us and being good to us.  When he died we had it so hard, and I didn't sleep for nights.

Question: How would your uncle want to be remembered, looking back on his personality, his beliefs, and his hobbies?
Response: Oh, I don't know what he'd want, I don't know what to say.  He was such a good person.  Those big sacs of candy bars, popcorn, pretzels....he'd get EVERYTHING for us EVERY time he came over to see us.  He once saved a man's life, he fell and Jugsy held on to his hair and pulled him back in.  I can't remember his name, but he died on the boat too and Jugsy saved his life.

Question: What is going through your mind, approaching the 30th anniversary?  Did you ever think it would become such a big thing?  How do you get through each year, and how do you think you have changed as a result of the wreck?
Response: I NEVER thought it would become such a big thing.  Who would ever think that boat would go down, but I never forget it on the anniversary.  I would always call my sisters and we'd remember every November 10.  As a result of the sinking you realize how short life is.  You're here one day and the next you're not.  He went to work one day and just died.  God has his own plans.