Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Edmund Fitzgerald

SS Milwaukee

SS Milwaukee, the famous car ferry.

The Car Ferry MILWAUKEE. On October 22, 1929, the car ferry MILWAUKEE became one of Lake Michigan’s most famous shipwrecks when she floundered during a gale en route from the City of Milwaukee to Grand Haven, Michigan under the command of Captain Bob “heavy weather” McKay.

Subsequently, it was not uncommon for the Milwaukee to sail in heavy weather. Because the car ferrys were huge vessels with reinforced hulls, they were thought to be unsinkable. She lost this battle with the storms and the lives of 52 people were lost with her. Today she lies about four miles northeast of the North Point Lighthouse.

SS Wisconsin

SS Wisconsin, steel freighter

The steamer Wisconsin was a steel freighter of 215 feet in length. On the night of October 29, 1929 off of Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Wisconsin’s cargo of iron castings, automobiles, and boxed freight shifted during a north gale. The ship’s pumps could not keep up with the incoming water. The tug Search, two Coast Guard vessels, and a local fishing boat came to assist and take passengers aboard. While waiting for her running mate, the Illinois, to come from Milwaukee to tow the Wisconsin to Kenosha port, she suddenly plunged beneath the pounding waves. Nine crew members went down with her, including the captain who was pulled from the water but died later on shore. The same day the stock market crashed in October of 1929, the steamer S.S. Wisconsin sank. Black Friday, they called it. Financers took their own lives, destroyed by the stock market crash that began the decade-long Great Depression.

Today, the Wisconsin lies in 90 to 130 feet of water, 6.5 miles east-southeast of Kenosha in 130 feet of water. The superstructure is gone with I-beams and supports remaining. Inside the wreck much machinery, and cargo can still be seen along with three automobiles, a Hudson, Essex, and a Chevrolet touring car.

SS Edmund Fitzgerald

Edmund Fitzgerald in the Great Lakes

SS Edmund Fitzgerald (nicknamed “Mighty Fitz,” “Fitz,” or “Big Fitz”) was an American Great Lakes freighter. It was known for its size and became famous after sinking in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew. At the time of its launch on June 8, 1958, the Fitzgerald was the largest boat on the Great Lakes and remains the largest boat to sink in the Great Lakes. It was one of the first boats to be at or near Maximum St Lawrence Seaway size which was 730 feet (222.5 meters) long and 75 feet (22.9 m) wide. The Fitzgerald was a record-setting “workhorse”, often breaking its own records. For 17 years the Fitzgerald carried taconite from mines near Duluth, Minnesota, to iron works in Detroit, Toledo, and other ports, setting seasonal haul records six different times.

The Fitzgerald departed on its final voyage on Lake Superior from Superior, Wisconsin on the afternoon of November 9, 1975, under the command of Captain Ernest M McSorley. It was en route to a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan, with a full cargo of taconite ore pellets, and joined a second freighter, the Arthur M. Anderson. By the next day they were in the midst of a massive winter storm with near hurricane-force winds and waves as high as 35 feet (11 m). Shortly after 7:10 p.m., the Fitzgerald sank suddenly in Canadian waters approximately 17 miles (15 nautical miles; 27 kilometers) from the entrance of Whitefish Bay at a depth of 530 feet (160 m). Although it had reported having some difficulties before the accident, the Fitzgerald sank without sending any distress signals. Its crew of 29 perished in the sinking and no bodies were recovered.

When the wreck was found by aircraft on November 14, it was discovered that the Fitzgerald had broken in two. The cause of its sinking is the subject of many theories, books, studies and expeditions. Each theory includes the large waves of the storm combined with additional factors such as structural failure, taking on water through the cargo hatches or deck, topside damage, failure to secure the hatch covers, and shoaling.

The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the most famous disasters in the history of Great Lakes shipping. The disaster was the subject of Gordon Lightfoot’s 1976 hit song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

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