Michigan museums remember the SS Edmund Fitzgerald

Two intriguing museums located on Michigan’s wild, windswept Upper Peninsula, exhibit relics that re-create the tragic 1975 sinking of a legendary Great Lakes ship.

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. (Via Wikipedia)

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich,, Nov. 13, 2015 – While the weather is still marginally reasonable, now might be an excellent opportunity to visit a pair of Northern Michigan museums honoring the memory of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. That once-proud Great Lakes ore-carrier sank beneath the waves of Lake Superior during a violent early-winter gale 40 years ago this week on Nov. 10, 1975.

In a related article, we explored the incidents surrounding the tragic loss of the Fitz, which inspired Gordon Lightfoot’s famous song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

Read also: 40th Anniversary: ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’

But for those interested in getting up close and personal with the Fitzgerald’s interesting after-story, a pair of museums located on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula number among their exhibits key artifacts salvaged—with considerable difficulty—from the area of the wreck and from this ship itself.

Remains of a shattered lifeboat discovered near the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. (Via Wikipedia)
Remains of a shattered lifeboat discovered near the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Now in the SS Valley Camp museum, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (Via Wikipedia)

Not long after the Fitzgerald was declared lost, the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy surveyed the likely location of the wreck once Superior’s angry waters had calmed somewhat. They located it “about 15 miles (13 nmi; 24 km) west of Deadman’s Cove, Ontario, 17 miles (15 nmi; 27 km) from the entrance to Whitefish Bay to the southeast, in Canadian waters close to the international boundary at a depth of 530 feet (160 m).” Crew members discovered a shattered lifeboat, empty rafts and other evidence of what Superior’s powerful waters had wrought on the Fitz and its crew.

During a later May 1976 expedition, “the U.S. Navy dived the wreck using its unmanned submersible, CURV-III, and found Fitzgerald lying in two large pieces in 530 feet (160 m) of water.” In 1980, “marine explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of Jacques Cousteau, sent two divers from RV Calypso in the first manned submersible dive to Fitzgerald.”

Ship's bell, salvaged from the Fitzgerald in 1996 and now on permanent display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. (Via Wikipedia)
Ship’s bell, salvaged from the Fitzgerald in 1996 and now on permanent display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (Via Wikipedia)

Later still, “Canadian explorer Joseph B. MacInnis organized and led six publicly funded dives to Fitzgerald over a three-day period in 1994,” and later that year “longtime sport diver Fred Shannon formed Deepquest Ltd., and organized a privately funded dive to the wreck of Fitzgerald.”

In 1996, MacInnis returned to make “another series of dives in 1995 to salvage the bell from the Fitzgerald,” something the victims’ survivors had long requested. The salvaged bell was cleaned up and placed on permanent exhibit at The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at the Whitefish Point Light Station on Lake Superior, a little over 10 miles north of the small town of Paradise, located on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The following video is a brief documentary on the wreck as well as the exploratory and salvage expeditions to the site where the Fitzgerald went down.

A badly battered lightboat, recovered at the site of the wreck once it was discovered, is on permanent exhibit in the SS Valley Camp, a retired Republic Steel ore carrier that has been transformed into a maritime museum, permanently docked in a slip off the St. Mary’s River near the U.S. Soo Locks in the small city of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

A lengthier video on the Fitzgerald story appears below. Running time: approximately 45 minutes.

Please note: Both the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and the SS Valley Camp feature many more exhibits highlighting the life and times of the U.S. and Canadian people who live and work on North America’s Great Lakes.

Museum ship the SS Valley Camp, located on the St. Mary's River in Sault Ste. Marie, MI. (Via museum website.)
Museum ship the SS Valley Camp, located on the St. Mary’s River in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (Via museum website)
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