If you have ever taken a stroll along the water’s edge in Wyandotte (as pictured above), or even on Detroit’s own Riverwalk, you probably will not have to wait too long before a freighter appears on the horizon. Soon the shipping season will come to a halt once the waters freeze over and the freighters that sail the Great Lakes will cease their travels until the shipping season opens again in late March.
You don’t have to be interested in admiralty law, or even be in the maritime business, to recognize the beauty of these large freighters and realize the enormity of the valuable cargo they transport. Anyone can appreciate their size and their competent crews who ease them through the sometimes turbulent waters.
One of the common pastimes for executives, in corner offices that overlook the Detroit River in Downtown Detroit, is to indulge in spotting and identifying freighters by their trademark flags or smokestacks. Savvy wanna-be sailors read “Know Your Ships”, a handy primer on sorting out the “stacks” … that is, the smokestacks that identify the various shipping lines whose freighters, a/k/a “lakers”, traverse the Great Lakes. It’s no easy feat to identify those smokestacks at a glance, even through binoculars, because they often look alike as you’ll see if you access this link: http://www.knowyourships.com/gallery-stacks.html
This freighter from the Canada Steamship Lines seen above is a little nondescript and blah looking with its rust-colored hull. Even the weather that day was a little blah – a gloomy and gray November morning, much like today, when my friend Marge Aubin and I took an impromptu trip to Wyandotte for a gab-and-photo session. While we snapped shots of seagulls swooping too close to people strolling at the water’s edge, or fisherman reeling in their catch of the day, this huge and hulking freighter suddenly came gliding along changing the view of the horizon.
At a glance, that freighter pictured above could be the “S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald” – the colors of the hull and topside are very similar in appearance to that doomed ship.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been on freighters several times when they were docked and unloading at the cement silo in Detroit because my boss has a client with a small fleet of vessels. I was in awe the first time I ever boarded a cement-hauling vessel that was just as clean as a cruise ship – in fact it took on paying passengers who wanted a glimpse of the Great Lakes while sailing aboard a freighter.
And looking at this picture today, I am reminded of our trip and the many freighters I’ve seen gliding through the Detroit River over the years.
But one freighter in particular comes to mind today – “The Edmund Fitzgerald”, because it is the 40th anniversary of the ore carrier’s demise. There’s been a little more commemoration today, than the usual remembrance of its sinking, to mark this 40th anniversary. I’m sure most everyone in Michigan is familiar with the event as well as Gordon Lightfoot’s subsequent tribute song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”; in fact, for most people, they need only hear the first few strains of that song and will recognize it instantly. It will make you think back and remember what you were doing on that fateful day. I know I was a student at Henry Ford Community College and on the staff of the newspaper “The Ford Estate” – I recall how we spoke in hushed tones about the tragedy the following day. We all came to the same conclusion … that it seemed impossible a vessel that size was gone without a trace after gale-force winds swept it from the water.
It seems inconceivable that Mother Nature could wreak such havoc to destroy men and metal, leaving only memories in a matter of minutes.
We will forevermore mark this sad anniversary and remember the 29 crew members who lost their lives that day in special ceremonies at the Mariner’s Church in Detroit. Today there was a special commemoration service in River Rouge where the “Edmund Fitzgerald” was built.
The freighter and crew are forever held hostage in a watery grave, 535 feet below Lake Superior’s surface – gone, but not forgotten, and their memory lives on forever in the beautiful ballad by Gordon Lightfoot … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vST6hVRj2A