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
T'was 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 to feed ya"
At seven PM, a main hatchway caved in, he said
"Fellas, it's been good to 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 outta 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
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is 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 called Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early

Lyrics submitted by kevin

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald Lyrics as written by Gordon Lightfoot

Lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald song meanings
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  • +7
    General CommentWell, first of all, it is a song about a FREIGHTER, NOT a tanker. And the slow, funeral like dirge melody brings to mind a cold, slate-grey lake and a sad sense of hopelessness. Lightfoot has painted an aural picture that is hard to forget, and the song endures because of it. The Fitzgerald was lost in a hurricane storm in Canadian waters just shy of Whitefish Bay in Lake Superior on the 10th of November, 1975. The "Musty old Hall in Detroit" mentioned in the song, is Mariners Church at the mouth of the tunnel exit in Detroit. The song pays fitting tribute to real men, doing what a real husband and Daddy should do. Work to provide food for their families. They were killed on the job. Nameless facelless, yet heros nonetheless.
    kkhx3on September 13, 2002   Link
  • +5
    General CommentThis is the most magical of the Lightfoot songs I grew up with in the '70s (and they were all pretty magical to me at the time).

    In the head of a kid on the shores of Lake Erie... "wait, there's a legend of these Great Lakes?, from the INDIANS?" "and there's history, you mean stuff HAPPENED here? Even RECENTLY?" Which it was, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald occuring when I was eight.

    I think this amazing ballad not only forever commemorates the grim reality for the 29 victims of the wreck (and their families), but catches the imagination in so many ways of those not personally affected by the loss.

    It has a timelessness to it - like others have said here, this could've been about a famous wreck 100 years ago - or, drop a few of the technicalities - and it could be about a famous wreck of 500 years ago. It picks up a single thread of dark reality (one recent deadly shipwreck) and we add it to the constant - man's historic fight against "the sea" - or in this case, the Lake.

    42 stepson October 30, 2009   Link
  • +4
    General CommentGordon Lightfoot has recently altered a lyric in live performances.

    He sings "At 7pm, it grew dark, it was then", replacing "At 7pmm a main hatchway caved in.."

    Mr Lightfoot explains that this particular line was based on conjecture.

    A recent History Channel documentary concluded that improperly secured hatches played no role in the sinking.

    The lyrics were modified to clearly remove deck-crew negligence as a causal factor.

    zardacon April 20, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThis song gives me chills. My uncle's family used to own a fishery and would often have ships out on the great lakes and we'd hear stories all the time that are exactly like what this song is saying.
    littlewingon July 27, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI've been listening to this song some 37 years now and still get chills every time.
    Diogeneson April 03, 2013   Link
  • +3
    General CommentA fitting tribute to the tragic sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzergald, which might have been forgotten by now had it not been for this song.

    In modern performances, Gordon Lightfoot changes two parts of the lyrics. The line "At 7 p.m. a main hatchway caved in, he said" is now sung as "At 7 p.m. it grew dark, it was then he said". This was after evidence was unearthed that found that there was no human error involved in the sinking of the ship. In addition, the "musty old hall" of the church is now described as being a "rustic old hall".

    It's not fully agreed as to what caused the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, but the most likely theory was rogue waves. The ship was crossing Lake Superior in very stormy weather, and the lake has been known to produce exceptionally tall 'rogue' waves in these conditions.

    The legend that Lake Superior "never gives up her dead" has a basis in fact. Normally, when someone drowns, the body will float to the surface after a few days, due to the decomposition bacteria producing bubbles. But Superior is too cold to allow these bacteria to thrive.
    JohnAPrestwickon May 08, 2015   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIt's easily Lightfoot's best song about a frieghter, aptly named the Edmund Fitzgerald, carrying a heavy load of taconite, or small iron ore pellets, sank as a result of 27-30 foot waves on a trip from Superior, Wisconsin to Detroit Michigan on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. It was true that the ship was due course to Detroit and not cleveland, but the taconite was headed to Cleveland via Highway from Detroit. At 7:10 p.m. the ship's final chilling radio message to a sister ship was "We're holding our own".
    robinjay490on September 18, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song touches the hearts of anyone who has been in the Navy, Merchant Marines or Coastguard. I think that the song reminds us of how mortal we all are.
    stringofpearlson February 07, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAlthough the Edmund Fitz was headed for Detroit, not Celvleand it is still a great song. Also Lake Erie does flow into Ontario.

    Being from Wisconsin and livng 5 miles from the Lake and seeing freighters come in to port on a regualr basis really makes you wonder how a ship that large could sink without a distress call going out.

    The Edmund Fitzgerald was over 700 feet long 70 feet wide and 30 feet tall and it sank in less than 1 minute.
    Luke007on May 29, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAt Seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in, he said
    Fellas, it's been good t'know ya

    I think thats the most... disturbing... I don't know if thats the right word, but you know what I mean... lyric in a song that I've ever heard.

    I can't even imagine what that must have been like to go through that.
    pirates118on August 21, 2005   Link

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