Interview with Pam Johnson

December 5, 2000

Pam Johnson, son Jeremiah Johnson, and Gordon Lightfoot

Pam Johnson, son Jeremiah Johnson, and Gordon Lightfoot

Pam Johnson is daughter of Robert C. Rafferty, steward/cook on the Fitzgerald when it went down.  

Question: What was your first reaction immediately after hearing that the Edmund Fitzgerald was missing?
Answer: I was shocked, and eight months pregnant, so I had to be very careful with how I handled my shock.  I was in Fort Binning, Georgia so I could not go to any services, and I was very upset about that.

Question: With all of today's technology, why do you think the wreck is still a mystery even after twenty-five years?
Answer: I think the wreck is a mystery after twenty-five years because it disappeared without a trace.

Question: What is your theory on how the Fitz sank?
Answer: My theory is that a huge wave caused the Fitz to go down.

Question: Do you think the wreck site of the Edmund Fitzgerald should be open for exploration?
Answer: No.  I do not want anyone to see my father's body.

Question: Still, after twenty-five years, certain people claim that the wreck was caused entirely by human error; what is your response to this Mrs. Johnson?
Answer: I want to say that I do not believe it; I think that this was an act of God.

Question: Why is it important to learn about the tragedy of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald?
Answer: It is important to learn about the tragedy so that the crewmembers are never forgotten.

Question: Were you able to attend the first memorial service involving the restored bell of the Fitz?
Answer: No, unfortunately I was unable to attend.

Question: If the funding and technology was present, would you want all or part of the wreckage to be raised?
Answer: No, only the bell, that is the only thing.  I am glad it was brought up.

Question: How did it feel when you first heard the song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and then how did it feel when you were able to meet Gordon Lightfoot at a later date?
Answer:  I was really sad and mad when I saw people dancing to it, and when I talked to Gordon Lightfoot, he and I discussed if my father would say those words, and I said, "Yes!"

Question: You have told me in emails that the one thing that you wanted to be able to do for the 25th anniversary was to touch the bell.  How did it feel when you finally were able to?
Answer: I was overwhelmed with sadness and my tears are on that bell now.

Question: Which 25th anniversary services were you able to attend?
Answer: The Whitefish Point Memorial Service and the Mariner's Church service in Detroit.

Question: There have been several thousand shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, with a combined death toll of about 30,000 people.  Why does the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald stand out the most?
Answer: The wreck stands out the most because of Gordon Lightfoot's song, in my opinion.

Question: What do you think the best commemoration to the Fitz and her crew has been, that you have come across?
Answer: The raising of the bell was by far the best commemoration

Question: The song says, "the legend lives on from the Chippewa on down." Will the legend ever die?
Answer: I do agree that the legend lives on and I hope it never dies.

Question: How has the wreck of the Fitz affected and/or changed your life?
Answer: The wreck of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald has given me a lot more friendship by meeting family members.  Our lives have been touched by a tragedy, and these are now my eternal friends.

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