Michael Schumacher is a gem. His writing style is economical, but hardly dry. His prodigous research of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, a Great Lakes ore carrier that sank in a 1975 Lake Superior storm, shows in a detailed recitation of the ship, its building, crew, the dramatic power of lake storms, the sinking and its aftermath.
Like many people, my interest in the Fitzgerald was minimal: faint recollections of the news stories of the time and Gordon Lightfoot's ballad. Yes, when I saw the title, I thought Schumacher's book would be worth the read.
Schumacher, without ever appearing to do so, begins with dramatic flourish and keeps right on building through the very last page. He never engages in histrionic trickery. Never stoops to sensationalism of any kind. Never inserts his own opinions. He employs his skill as a writer to present the facts in a very spare way to heighten the drama. Schumacher is indeed brilliant: like the mason, he lays one unimposing brick of fact upon another until one at last sees not the individual bricks, but a stunning cathedral.
"Mighty Fitz" is an education in and of itself about Great Lakes shipping, the giant ore carriers that routinely ply their way across the waters, the frightening stormse that can roil the lakes, the men who crew these vessels and much more, including the opportunists who take advantage of tragedy to make a buck. The list is much longer, a testament to Schumacher's research and writing skills. Really, quite an extraordinary work and one well worth reading.
on November 24, 2005
I was a teenager growing up in Northern Minnesota in November 1975 when the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in eastern Lake Superior. I remember the storm, the news story, and thought the Gordon Lightfoot song only added to the mystical element of why the storm claimed the "pride of the lakes."
Schumacher's account is basically chronological, tracing the launching of the ship in 1958 and following its life until the boat last loaded taconite pellets in Superior, Wisconsin on the morning of November 9, 1975. Accounts and reflections of family members are interspersed throughout the narrative.
Of particular interest to me are the various theories of how she sank so suddenly. There were no survivors, no visual witnesses. The best evidence of what happened were radio conversations with nearby ships.
I had always favored the theory that the ship might have struck a shoal north of Caribou Island. With both radars down, the Fitzgerald had to thread a needle between two islands. Under most circumstances, this would be no problem. But in the early afternoon of November 10, 1975 in a blinding snowstorm, maybe she got too close to the more shallow shore on the north side of the island. With a hole in the bottom, that would account for the list the Captain reported. The ship gradually sank lower and lower in the water until a wave from behind lifted her and sent her nosediving to the bottom of the lake. This theory seems to best explain why there was no final distress call.
However, after reading Schumacher's book, I am less certain. The Coast Guard's original explanation of taking on water from the topside hatches now has some merit to me. This theory has always been controversial because it then points to possible negligence of the crew in not manually securing dozens of clamps that hold the hatch covers in place. Schumacher also reported something that I never heard before in that the Coast Guard found some damage to the hatch covers just a couple of weeks prior the accident, but cleared the Fitzgerald for the remaining of the shipping season.
Maybe both things happened. Who knows? What we do know from the radio transmission is that the Fitzgerald was taking on water from somewhere and it gradually weighed the ship down until it either just sank or nosedived to the bottom.
Less convincing is the theory that she broke in two on the surface before sinking. How the Fitzgerald sits in two pieces at the bottom of the lake 530 feet down seems to support the theory that she nosedived with the bow hitting the bottom violently from the shifting weight of the iron ore. The bow is sitting battered but dignified facing southeast towards the safety of Whitefish Bay. The torque created in the middle of the ship upon impact twisted the stern so that it now rests upside down some few hundred feet away from the bow.
No one will ever know with certainty. What has always fascinated me about the Fitzgerald is how violent and fickle Lake Superior can be. The other thought I have is what the 29 men thought in those precious few seconds they had when they knew they were about to die. I wonder what I would have thought and done in a similar circumstance. Gordon Lightfoot captures the sentiment so well in his line, "Does anyone know, where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?"
The book is very readable and I couldn't put it down. Also of note are recent developments in which there is a movement on the part of the families to declare the site as a graveyard and off-limits to all future dives. I completely agree. A survey has been made. There are no definitive clues because the impact on the bottom has caused so much damage there is no way to determine what damage happened above or below water. There is no way to determine whether there is a hole under the bow section that may have caused the flooding in the first place.
It will be impossible to forget the Fitzgerald and we should not. But at the very least, we should let the 29 dead men at the bottom of the lake rest in peace by prohibiting all future dives. Schumacher's book is an moving compilation of 30 years of theories and shed tears over this modern day mystery.
"Mighty Fitz" arrived on the shelves of our local library in early December. It has already been checked out 9 or 10 times indicating to me that there is still a remarkable level of interest in trying to ascertain just what happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald on that stormy November day three decades ago. Unlike some of the other reviewers I had not read anything about the Fitz prior to this. I must admit that at times I was absolutely spellbound by author Michael Schumacher's chilling account of the demise of this formidable vessel.
For those unfamiliar with the history of Great Lakes shipwrecks "Mighty Fitz" offers a crash course on the subject. Michael Schumacher has devoted much of his adult life to studying these wrecks. You will discover the circumstances surrounding the sinkings of the Carl D. Bradley and the Daniel J Morrell in the late 1950's. And when you read the account of the great storm that claimed some 30 ships over a three day period in late November 1905 you will come to understand the powerful forces of nature that the Edmund Fitzgerald was up against back in 1975. The fact of the matter is that there are still a lot of unanswered questions as to why the Edmund Fitzgerald plunged to the bottom of Lake Superior. Was it human error? Had the crew been negligent in securing the ship? Was there too much weight on board? What about the possibility that the Fitz was structurally unsound? Or did Captain McSorley make a fatal navigational error when he took the vessel too close to the Six Fathom Shoal? "Mighty Fitz" explores each of these possibilities and many others in great detail. Michael Schumacher also discusses the continuing odyssey of attempts to get to the bottom of the Edmund Fitzgerald tragedy. There are so many competing interests at play here. Family members want to ban furthur exploration of the wreckage and designate the site off-limits to everyone. And as new technolgies emerge others are bound and determined to discover once and for all just what happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald. The truth is that there are compelling arguments on both sides of these issues.
I found "Mighty Fitz: The Story of the Edmund Fitzgerald" to be a very well-written and entertaining book. It is clear that Michael Schumacher is passionate about his subject. I must say that I agree with at least a couple of the other Amazon reviewers who found that the lack of any kind of maps was a drawback for them. Had such illustrations been included I don't think I would have had any trouble rating "Mighty Fitz" a full five stars. It comes awfully close anyway. Highly recommended.
on August 2, 2007
On a blustery day in November, 1975, two ships, the Arthur Anderson and the Edmund Fitzgerald, set off across Lake Superior with their cargoes. Only one ship would reach its destination. The other would founder under the weight of an incredible November storm and would go on to live in the memory of every other Great Lakes sailor. This book tells the story of the Fitzgerald and how its legacy has lived on for over three decades.
The Fitz was loaded with 26,000 tons of taconite pellets which were to be delivered to Indiana. After receiving its load, Captain Ernest McSorley manuvered the ship out onto Lake Superior and began his journey across the lake. At this time, a massive storm, fed by unseasonably mild southwest winds, began to push northward. While this storm was proceeding northward, a cold Canadian air mass was making its way south. These two fronts collided and unleashed its powerful fury across Lake Superior. For the men of the Anderson and Fitzgerald, they were now finding themselves smashed by winds approaching 90 miles per hour.
The Anderson handled the storm well, but the Fitzgerald was not as fortunate. The winds blew the radar antennas off the ship, and water was entering the cargo hold. As each burst of water fell into the hold, the ship began to settle deeper in the water. However, McSorley didn't seem overly concerned about his situation. He still maintained radio contact with the Anderson and, around 7:00 p.m. on November 9, 1975, told Bernie Cooper, Anderson's captain, that they were holding their own. This was the last communication received from the Fitzgerald.
Shortly thereafter, the Fitzgerald was hit by two mammoth waves. The first pushed the Fitzgerald's bow underwater. It never re-surfaced. The second wave sent the crippled ship straight to the bottom of Lake Superior. No one survived; no one tried to abandon ship. It all happened in a matter of mere minutes.
Days later, some debris from the wreck was retrieved and everyone's worst fears were realized; the Fitz was lost.
Many different investigations were held into the loss of the ship, but none could offer a firm explanation as to how the ship sank, but the most commonly accepted theory is that water entered the cargo hold through the hatch covers, causing the ship to lose buoyancy and, ultimately, to sink.
Over the years, many undersea expeditions have taken place, which have brought back many underwater images of the Fitz. The ship's bell was retrieved and restored as a memorial to the men who served aboard her. And, the families of the survivors have petitioned to have the wreck recognized as a grave site, which would end further exploration of the wreck.
This is a fine book. The author does an exemplary job of describing the Fitzgerald's early days on the Great Lakes through its perilous journey across Lake Superior on that fateful night in November, 1975. The aftermath, investigations, and dives on the ship are also described in great detail.
I give this book my highest recommendation. Read this book and experience the true plight of the Edmund Fitzgerald. In the words of Gordon Lightfoot "The lake it is said never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy".
"Mighty Fitz" is a compellingly-written account of the loss of the "Edmund Fitzgerald." The book is a good introduction to the ship and the shipwreck, and does a generally fine job of relating the personalities of the people involved. I appreciate that Michael Schumacher went to the trouble to interview family members of the crewmen as well as others with a substantial role in the story rather than simply relying on previous interview accounts in the many other books, articles, and reports written on the "Fitzgerald." Schumacher writes quite well, and his prose is interesting and easy to read, likewise he is good at relating concepts that readers may not be familiar with in a comprehensible way. These good points make the book worth reading for someone interested in Great Lakes shipping or maritime accidents.
The book is not without fault, however, and a couple of the issues are significant. The most obvious is a complete absence of maps, drawings, or photographs in the book. This is fairly inexcusable, as the story is much easier (and more interesting) to follow with those aids; in particular, charts showing the tracks of the "Fitzgerald" and the "Arthur M. Anderson" on the night of November 10, 1975 would have been helpful to those unfamiliar with the accident and their proximity to Six Fathom Shoal, etc.
My other main objection to the book is that while it gives a good factual accounting of the voyage and accident, in my opinion it does seem to lean to the sensationalistic, and Schumacher's personal opinions seem to creep into the narrative. An example is on p. 69 where the author writes "[Captain] McSorley, in fact, was growing more desperate. Success in sailing through the storm depended upon his staying in control of the 'Fitzgerald,' and with the radar out, water boarding his ship, and the Whitefish Point lighthouse inoperative, he was gradually but most definitely losing control of his ship's destiny." It goes on, but that's illustrative of the larger point. How does he know McSorley was "Growing more desperate?" Most people believe that he never truly understood how much peril he was actually in. "Losing control of his ship's destiny?" Not only is that sensationalistic, but how could he believe that he was losing control if he didn't understand the true damage to his ship? The author may be right about what McSorley was feeling and what his opinions were at the time, but I can't imagine how he can know for sure, and that's my issue with the way it's written.
On balance this is a highly readable account of the demise of the "Fitzgerald," and I recommend it with the reservations I mentioned above. It is a great introduction to the accident, and is probably the best organized book I have read on the subject, but it's important to really think about the beautifully written (if occasionally trite) prose. Despite it's sometimes rambling nature and disparaging remarks about the Coast Guard, I still prefer Frederick Stonehouse's classic "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," which is a more analytical book that is very well illustrated. Better yet, read them both and compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of each.
on January 9, 2008
Michael Schumacher's "The Might Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is a very good but superficial narrative of the tragic loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald in November 1975 and the subsequent investigations, theories, and activities surrounding its loss.
Schumacher does an excellent job in this short, readable book describing the "Edmund Fitzgerald's" last voyage and eventual loss. He never gets bogged down or sidetracked with too many details. He also covers the various investigations that followed the sinking and the competing theories about the cause of her sinking, without pushing any one theory. Finally, he briefly touches on some of the latest efforts to memorialize the "Edmund Fitzgerald," along with some of the legal battles that have arisen over the artifacts at the site.
My one criticism is that this book would have been much better with just a few maps, pictures, and charts. Maps are important to explain the location of the ship and its track; pictures to give life to the "Edmund Fitzgerald" and the men who crewed her; and charts to explain the setup of the ship and some of the theories as to why she sank.
In the end, though, Schumacher does a very good job bringing this tragedy to life and making the reader feel the loss of the ship and its crew. This is a very good book for someone wanting an overview of the second most shipwreck in modern history, but it is probably too superficial for "Edmund Fitzgerald" aficionados or anyone wanting an in-depth, detailed study of this tragedy.
Based on the number of search referrals I get, the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is a popular search. So, while perusing the new books at the library, I came across a book by Michael Schumacher, Might Fitz: The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Chapter One: The Toledo Express
Chapter Two: The Final Voyage
Chapter Three: Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Chapter Four: Search for Answers
Chapter Five: The Marine Board Report
Chapter Six: Tarnished Gravesite
As you can tell by the Chapter List, Schumacher doesn't waste any time getting to the actual event. However, don't be fooled by the apparent lack of build-up, he does an excellent job framing the story, providing all of the backstory you require to become fully acquainted with the ship, the crew, and the events leading up the sinking. The most heartbreaking parts occur after the ship goes down. He has talked to the families of those men that were lost, their stories of how they learned of the wreck, and its aftermath. Even though the ship lies at the bottom of Lake Superior, the controversy surrounding it continues. First, Schumacher researches the Marine Board Report and its finding that the hatch covers were improperly secured, thus allowing water into the holds. Then he concludes with a research vessel that investigated the wreck, and to some, desecrating the grave (apparently, while filming, they discovered some bodies). And, don't forget the issues with the removal of the bell and replacing it with another one, as a remembrance of the sailors. All of this was new to me, and fascinating.
For those of you looking for more about the Edmund Fitzgerald, I don't think that you will find a better book on the subject. My only complaint is the lack of maps and pictures. I find it difficult to believe that Schumacher allowed this book to go to print without these items. I feel that they would have increased my enjoyment of the book, being able to follow the route, seeing actual pictures of the ship and the crew. However, he does a great job with his Notes and Bibliography. So, you will have some other reference material to check out (and find some of those missing maps). He has done an exceptional job reporting, without sensationalism, the life and death of the great ship and its crew. The aftermath, as I mentioned before, was, at times difficult to read. You tend to forget that there are people that must keep living, and Schumacher brings these people and their stories to you.
on October 9, 2015
This is the best book (to me) on this tragedy as it gives various points-of-view on the causes as well as the searches. Easy to read and yet gripping. Just a sad, sad and unfortunate story. This is the best book I've read on the topic.
on September 24, 2015
An excellent account. Quibbles out of the way first: there are a few strange typos (the ship lost before the Fitzgerald was the Daniel J. Morrell, though the various weird representations of the middle letter (looking like lower-case 'f' and so on) completely obscure this. The Kindle edition does not give numbers for the diameter of the taconite pellets the ship was carrying: instead, weirdly, we get percentage signs (%), which tell us nothing. As well, the book says that the captain, Ernest McSorley, was born in 1913, but a website claiming to show his gravestone shows the year 1912, leaving this reader a bit confused. Wikipedia also uses the date of 1912. Also, the book says that McSorley was born in upstate New York, but the grave website and Wikipedia both claim that he was born in Canada and arrived in the United States as a child (aged 11, according to the latter source).
That said, the book is a workmanlike, rational, thorough and readable account of the life and times of the Edmund Fitzgerald and some of those that sailed in her. It is a riveting story, well-told and pacy, telling much about the nitty-gritty of how such a mighty ship can sink. I highly recommend it for those fascinated by this sad true mystery of struggle and death on the freshwater 'sea'.
on April 7, 2015
I'm from Michigan and remember the popular folksong by Gordon Lightfoot about this massive ship sinking. I always wanted to know more about the details so I finally got this book to learn, and it was a wonderful source of details about the mystery, and many of the probabilities of what likely happened that night it went down fully loaded in a storm 15 miles from land.
It delved into some of the attempts and dives to get to the wreck and view or recover things, and how this upset the surviving family members. Many of whom felt it should be treated as a grave and left alone. Especially when filming was started. There were some drawings and a few pictures of the wreck, which made you really want to see what was later filmed, when they had better equipment and better lighting. Similar to a fascination with the Titanic I suppose, which sent me going off to a museum in St. Petersburg, when I lived in Florida, to look at all the items there, which I was totally entranced by, including the small submarine thing that they went down in to get the pictures and items.
But the main curiosity was mostly to try and figure out what happened, and I don't think even the experts really agree on that topic. I believe they can agree on a couple or a few probable things that may have happened, but even with a ship following not all that far behind, its still a mystery. Beyond that it needed to go to the family's wishes being honored, and they were. The site was consecrated as a gravesite by a ceremony with family and others present, so that it should no longer be explored or disturbed again.