"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot performing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald live in 1979. Copyright 1976 Moose Music, Ltd. 

Many people are not aware that the song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot, is associated with a real life event. Even fewer people really know where he first got the idea to write the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. When Gordon Lightfoot first heard about the wreck, he did so through a news article in Newsweek, and as a commemoration to the wreck and to the men, Lightfoot composed a song. The song was released in 1976 and became a top ten hit!

Gordon Lightfoot usually is very protective of this song and the wishes of the family members and is in no way "for" exploiting the victims, or their family members. He has also appeared at several 25th anniversary memorial services in support of the families and is in personal contact with many of them. Every family member that we have interviewed on this website agrees that Lightfoot is "a good guy," "a genuine man," and even "blessed."

The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald
©1976 by Gordon Lightfoot and Moose Music, Ltd.

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 true 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 ev'ry man knew, as the captain did too
'twas 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 t'feed ya."
At 7 P.M. a main hatchway caved in; he said,*
"Fellas, it's bin good t'know ya!"*
*(now: "At 7 p.m., it grew dark, it was then he said, Fellas it's bin 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 'is 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 searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
if they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'er.
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 'til 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!"