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Ballad: "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"

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Ballad: “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”


    At the time it was launched in 1958, the 729-foot long, 75-foot wide freighter S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest ship to ply the Great Lakes. On November 10, 1975 the Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconsin, carrying 26,000 tons of iron ore pellets, bound for Detroit. Though the day was bright, in her path lay a terrible storm with 60 MPH winds and waves in excess of 15 feet. As the storm built, her experienced Captain Ernest McSorley bore north across Lake Superior, seeking the relative shelter of the Canadian shore and Whitefish Bay.

     Luck was not with the ship or the crew. The radar system and its backup failed. The storm took out the power to Whitefish Point's light and radio beacon. Though the light was brought back on line, the radio beacon was not. The Arthur M. Anderson, another ship within 10 miles of the Fitzgerald, received reports that the ship was listing to the starboard and of other structural damages to the vessel. At 7:10 PM, Captain McSorley delivered what was to be his final message:
"We're holding our own."

    The Arthur M. Anderson lost the Fitzgerald's image on its radar screen at 7:25 PM. The ship and crew of 29 men sank to the bottom of Lake Superior. (Text taken from

The tragic story of the Edmund Fitzgerald is remembered through Gordon Lightfoot's ballad "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald,” which appears on the album Summertime Dream and numerous other compilations.

Grammar Note: Underline the titles of ships, planes, and trains.

Go to the link below to listen to the lyrics by Gordon Lightfoot.



“Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald”
Gordon Lightfoot

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 every 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 seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in; he said,
"Fellas, it's been 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 his lights went out of 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 her.
They might have split up or they might have capsized,
or they may have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains are 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, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early.


What is a Ballad?

A ballad is a short narrative folk song that fixes on the most dramatic part of a story,
moving to its conclusion by means of dialogue and a series of incidents.

NOTE: The word “folk” refers to ordinary or the common people, not the nobility


Here are some typical characteristics. Check whether it is TRUE or FALSE that "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitgerald" has each one.

• A single episode of highly dramatic nature is presented.  

• The supernatural is likely to play an important part.
• The incidents are usually  happen to common, working-class  people.
• Physical courage and love are frequent themes.  

• Repetition is common.
• Transitions are abrupt. Events happen quickly. 
• The ballad is usually brought to a close with some sort of summary.

• Only a little attention is paid to characterization or description.  

•  The action is largely developed through dialogue with little clue as to
whom is speaking.

•The tragic situations and sudden disasters are presented using plain, simple language.