Tuesday, November 10, 2015

40 Years On--A Tragedy Remembered

US Army Corps of Engineers/ CC 2.0

40 years ago today a ship sank in a storm on the Great Lakes. Not that unusual an occurrence of course.  Ships sink frequently, usually receiving little notice unless their is a large loss of life or unusual circumstances. So the deaths of 29 men hauling a load of iron ore across the Great Lakes would probably have been forgotten a long time ago. Except it didn't happen, not this time.

Because the story of this shipwreck caught the attention of singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot.  And Mr. Lightfoot, one of the great storysongtellers of our time, wrote a song about "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." Thanks to him, everyone remembers. 

When the Edmund Fitzgerald went down I was a young high school student in Northeastern Ohio. There was a lot of coverage in the local media of the tragedy. When Gordon Lightfoot released his song, I was fascinated to hear a hit record created of events I had read so much about, that had happened so close to home. The long ballad captured not only the wreck itself, but the Lakes as well.

At one time of course, this was how all stories were passed around, and how all the news was heard. If the stories survived it was by word of mouth. Poems and songs are easier to remember than prose. Troy might have been a minor siege, but Homer guaranteed the fame of everyone there. Agincourt was a great victory, but it became unforgettable when Shakespeare retold the story. Immortality often  depends on such flukes.  

40 years ago today, a ship went down on the Great Lakes. Thanks to Gordon Lightfoot, it is not forgotten.

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