Shipwreck

 

“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
To the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.”    —  Gordon Lightfoot

Some say the Great Lakes are haunted. They have caused the demise of many a sailor, and within their waters lives the blood and despair of lives cut short.  This is one such story.

They came from Duluth. From Toledo. From Sturgeon Bay, Iron River, St. Joseph, Ashtabula and Milbury. They worked as oilers, engineers, first mates, captains, cooks, watchmen and deck-hands. Their names were John, James, William, George, Russell, Bruce, Oliver and a few Thomases. They were husbands, fathers, sons and brothers, beloved of many. Some were as young as twenty, on their first trip out.

Karl Peckol, b. 1955, Watchman

Some were in their fifties, making a last voyage before retirement.

Frederick Beecher, b. 1919, Porter

Twenty nine men lost their lives in the wreck of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975.  They are gone but not forgotten.

It started with a mighty ship.

“Pride of the American Side”

The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was built in 1958. At 729 feet long, 39 feet high, and weighing in at 13,362 tons she was, at the time, the biggest ship of the Great Lakes. She was worth 7 million dollars (the equivalent of $46 million today!)

By industry standards, the Fitzgerald’s accommodations were top notch. Her furnishings included deep carpeting, tiled bathrooms, drapes over the portholes, and leather swivel chairs in the guest lounge. There were two guest state rooms for corporate clients, a large galley and two dining rooms. The crew’s quarters were air conditioned. The pilot house was outfitted with “state-of-the-art” nautical equipment and a beautiful map room. In a way she was more like a luxury liner than a freight ship.  Up until a few weeks before her loss, passengers had traveled on board as company guests. Frederick Stonehouse wrote:

“Stewards treated the guests to the entire VIP routine. The cuisine was reportedly excellent and snacks were always available in the lounge. A small but well stocked kitchenette provided the drinks. Once each trip, the captain held a candlelight dinner for the guests, complete with mess-jacketed stewards and special clamdigger punch.”

Yet the Fitzgerald had an ominous beginning. When she was christened on June 8, 1958, she slid into the water at a strange angle, then jolted and crashed back into the dock. Spectators said it seemed like the gargantuan ship was “trying to climb back onto the dock”, as if the vessel had a mind of its own.  One observer was so startled by the sight he actually had a heart attack and died!

For seventeen years, the Fitzgerald sailed the Great Lakes. She carried iron ore from the mines of Duluth, Minnesota to iron works in Detroit Michigan, Toledo Ohio, and other ports. She set seasonal haul records. Her nicknames included “The Mighty Fitz”, “Pride of the American Side”, “Toledo Express”, and the “Titanic of the Great Lakes”.  By November 1975, Edmund Fitzgerald had logged an estimated 748 round trips and covered more than a million miles, “a distance roughly equivalent to 44 trips around the world.”

The Voyage

The weather was balmy on the morning of November 9, 1975, when the Mighty Fitz left out of Superior, Wisconsin. She was under the command of  Ernest McSorley, a seasoned captain with many years experience. They were en route to a steel mill on Zug Island, near Detroit, where they would deliver 26,000 tons of iron ore.

November is storm season on the Great Lakes, and so it was not unusual when the National Weather Service predicted that some turbulence would pass just south of Lake Superior that night. The crew probably thought nothing of it.

At around 5 pm, the Fitzgerald joined a second freighter, the S.S. Arthur Anderson,  which was under the command of Captain Jesse Cooper.  Through the two captains’ communications the final reports of the Fitzgerald’s demise would be recorded.

At 7 pm on the night of November 9, the National Weather Service issued a gale warning for all of Lake Superior.  The captains decided it would be best to alter their course northward, seeking shelter along the Ontario coast. At around 1 am the gales turned into a severe winter storm. The Fitz reported winds of 52 knots (60 mph) and waves 10 feet high. That is a pretty bad storm! But by daybreak it had gotten worse. Waves up to 35 feet high were crashing over the deck of the Fitzgerald. McSorely and Cooper, both veteran captains,  thought they had seen everything. They were about to meet their match.

The storm increased to a near hurricane.  Captain Cooper later stated, “I don’t think I even believed it at the time, but they had reports of 92 mile per hour gusts at the Soo.” (He refers to the Soo Locks of Sault Ste. Marie, where ships pass between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.)

The worst of the weather was blowing right toward the ships, so the captains decided to change course again.  They would head south, attempting to reach the safety of Whitefish Bay.  This, however, involved crossing the dangerous ‘Six Fathom Shoals’ – a bed of jagged rocks, hidden in a mere 36 feet of churning water. The shoals could tear a ship to shreds. To make matters worse, it began to snow! In the blizzard white-out, nothing was visible and the captains then had to rely on their radar systems.

At around 3 pm, McSorely reported that his guard rails had collapsed and two vents were damaged. Water was coming in. The bilge pumps were on but unable to empty the ship fast enough. To make matters even worse, within an hour, the Fitzgerald’s radar system failed! The crew now sailed blind, with only radio communication to guide them. Meanwhile, 30 foot waves washed the deck. McSorely, who had been sailing the Great Lakes for 44 years, said this was the worst storm he had ever seen.

At 7 pm the Mighty Fitz had her last communication. Cooper radioed to ask how they were doing. McSorely replied: “We are holding our own.”

They obviously weren’t.

Deadman’s Cove

By 7:30 the snow had cleared. Cooper tried to locate the Fitz, but she had completely vanished. The Arthur Anderson sailed to safety in Whitefish Bay. Cooper then contacted the US Coast Guard and they began a search.

Because the Coast Guard lacked sufficient crew for a full rescue, they asked Cooper to take the Anderson back out and help. Cooper was reluctant to re-enter the terrible storm. But he agreed, further risking his own life to help save the men of the Fitz. Another ship, the S.S. William Clay Ford, bravely joined in as well.  They searched for three days. Reportedly, they found a torn lifeboat and some debris, but nothing else.

On November 14, a US Navy Lockheed aircraft, piloted by Lt. George Conner and equipped to detect “magnetic anomalies” that were usually associated with submarines, found the wreck.

The Edmund Fitzgerald lay about 15 miles west of an inlet in Ontario which was called (ironically, or appropriately) “Deadman’s Cove.” The ship was split in two pieces at the bottom of 530 feet of water.

The bodies of the crew members were never found.

The Fitz had been only 17 miles away from the entrance to the safe harbor of Whitefish Bay.

Legacy

“All that remains are the faces and the names of the wives, and the sons, and the daughters.” — Gordon Lightfoot

One can only imagine the sadness and shock the families faced when they got word the men had been lost on the lake. Doreen Cundy, the widow of watchman Ransom Cundy, received a phone call from a friend, but refused to believe the ship had sunk. She turned on the news and to her horror, saw that her friend had been right.

Ruth Hudson, the mother of deck-hand Bruce Hudson, remembered her son as “adventurous, friendly, and very fond of the Fitz.”

The most bizarre thing about the shipwreck is the quickness in which the ship went down. She had been in steady communication for so many hours, then she just disappeared without so much as a mayday call.  Captain Cooper believes that the Fitz may have hit a shoal that produced a leak, unbeknownst to the crew.

The day after the wreck, Mariner’s Church in Detroit conducted a service for the deceased. The names and occupations of each man was read, and the bell was rang 29 times, once for each man of the Edmund Fitzgerald. A full list of them can be found here.

Sailors RIP.

Gordon Lightfoot, a Canadian composer, saw a news story of the shipwreck in which ‘Edmund’ had been spelled ‘Edmond’. He thought this showed incredible disrespect for the captain and crew. In response, he wrote his ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

The haunting melody does justice to the men of the Fitz.  If you are ever out on Superior, on a moonlit night, listen for their cries…

They came from Duluth. From Toledo. From Sturgeon Bay, Iron River, St. Joseph, Ashtabula and Milbury…

 

 

 

 

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Respect!

 

Her musical accomplishments were unprecedented. The Queen of Soul could belt a ballad to beat any band. But Aretha Franklin taught us what is perhaps the most important lesson one can learn in a lifetime: We deserve Respect.

Today we bid good-bye to this talented icon.

Ironically, she shares this death date with another all time great, Elvis “The King” Presley, whom we lost way back in 1977. There seems to be a great symmetry in this. The King of Rock and the Queen of Soul had a lot in common. Both started from humble beginnings, singing Gospel. Both went on to conquer every corner of the music industry including Soul, Blues, Jazz, Ballads, Rock and R &B.

Aretha’s accomplishments are no less that royal.  Born in Detroit, Michigan on March 25, 1942, she began her career singing Gospel in  the New Bethel Baptist Church where her father was a minister. This daughter of a preacher-man would go on to gain unprecedented fame and fortune.

Franklin won a total of 18 Grammy Awards and sold over 75 million records worldwide. In 1987 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. She was the first female artist to be inducted! Yes, Aretha called for “Respect” and got it!

In 2002 she was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. Ironically, although her roots were in Gospel, it was not until 2012 that Aretha was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She was listed in Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

That is a lot of awards and inductions! 

As a native Chicagoan and a Blues fan, one of my favorite comedies is “The Blues Brothers” starring the late great John Belushi, with a cameo from Aretha.  (If you have not yet seen it and you like to laugh, stream it immediately.)

Elwood Blues and his brother Jake (who just got released from the Joliet Maximum Security Prison)  embark on a “mission from God”. Their aim is to collect money for the orphanage where they were raised to prevent its closing. They will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. (Besides, if they lose they will face the wrath of The Penguin, their childhood nun. She is pretty scary.)

However, the only way Jake and Elwood can possibly earn any money is through music, in which case they must Get the Band Back Together.

At the local soul food diner, they attempt to recruit Matt “Guitar” Murphy. His wife Mrs Murphy, played by Franklin, has other ideas! (Obviously Jake and Elwood missed their mark. They would have done better to just recruit Aretha and the Murphettes!)

Aretha demanded Respect,  taught us  the importance of A Natural Woman and engaged in a good deal of Day Dreaming. But my favorite Aretha song is “Spanish Harlem” written by Ben E, King.

“It is the special one, it’s never seen the sun
It only comes out when the moon is on the run
And all the stars are gleaming
It’s growing in the street
Right up through the concrete
But soft and sweet and dreaming”

Performed here by the Queen of Soul herself.  Hope you like it!

Aretha Franklin Rock In Peace.

 

 

 

 

All About Blue

 

It is a lovely color. It represents the sky and the sea, peacocks, cornflowers, turquoise, sapphire and lapis. Not to mention glaciers, Kentucky grass, robin’s eggs, blueberries, bluebells and blue jays. So how does such a beautiful color get such a bad rap?

Think about it.

When we’re sad, we’ve got the blues. We can be in a blue funk, a blue mood, full of blue notes, and this might even occur on a Blue Monday.  In which case we might find ourselves listening to  – The Blues — an musical institution fueled by hard luck, rough times and downtrodden guitar players.

Not feeling well?  You might be blue around the gills.  A hangover is called the blue flu. In fact, drink enough alcohol and you might get the blue devils (delirium tremens).  Even your malfunctioning computer faces the blue screen of death.

One might impulsively do things out of the blue.  A non-stop chatterbox will talk a blue streak.  An angry person will curse a  blue streak or even scream blue murder. Stubborn people might do something repeatedly, until they are blue in the face.

Afterward they may wonder what in the blue blazes prompted them? On the other hand, their behavior may only occur once in a blue moon.

Get in a fight and you’ll end up black and blue. Worse yet, the blues and twos (ambulances) might take you to the hospital. And if things get really violent. someone may have to call the Boys in Blue.

Just hope you don’t end up in the notorious blue room made famous by the French madman Blue Beard, who murdered several of his wives, left them to rot there and forbade anyone to enter.

When facing  a choice of two evils, you are between the devil and the deep blue sea.  If you continue to look at the matter through blue glasses (as opposed to “rose colored glasses”) you will have a distorted and gloomy view of things.

By remaining ignorant and closed to new ideas, you take the blue pill. (Although Neo in the Matrix chose red.)

Then there is blue and sex.

An unsatisfied man gets blue balls.  Prostitutes were once referred to as blue gowns because of the garments they wore in jail. A bawdy person might tell a blue joke or enjoy a blue movie (pornographic). When we dip into the blue we say something obscene. And of course, novices should always be careful, lest they end up screwed, blued and tattooed.

But it is not all bad. There are plenty of positive blue references too!

Elvis Presley had a Blue Christmas and a bad case of the GI Blues, but he also ended up in Blue Hawaii! 

She wore blue velvet.  (At least in David Lynch’s dreams.) Picasso, Van Gogh and other artists went through very creative painting stints known as blue periods, producing some of their best work.

The very rich are called blue blooded, the best prize of all is the blue ribbon, and the only kind of friend worth having is a true blue one.

Your blue sky thinking just may result in a flash of genius, a new invention or an out of the box solution.  Similarly, you may be inspired by a bolt from the blue, and if you are lucky, you may even travel into the wild blue yonder! Blue can be a great source of happiness and inspiration.

Different colors affect people in different ways. What do you think of blue?

And finally, no study of blue would be complete without this song.

Baby Blue was first recorded by Badfinger in 1972. Sadly, two of the band members, Peter Ham and Tom Evans, had SERIOUS cases of the blues.  Suffering depression, they would both meet their deaths by suicide in the years to come.  Nonetheless, it is a beautiful song.  Hope you like it!

 

 

 

 

Remembering Michael Hutchence

 

hutch 1

It was twenty years ago today.

On November 22, 1997, Australian rock star Michael Hutchence was found dead in a Ritz-Carlton hotel room in Sydney. His death was ruled a suicide, although family and friends have continued to dispute this.

The question remains: What would cause a young man, at the top of his game, a wealthy international superstar, a new father, much loved by family, friends and the public, to take his own life?

But maybe there is more to this story.  The human mind is a complexity, full of perceived tragedies and horrific imaginings.  There are dark nights of the soul when problems explode and life simply gives no mercy. 

Hutchence was apparently in the middle of one.

Michael Hutchence

Michael Hutchence was born in Sydney, Australia on January 22, 1960, to working class parents. The family lived in Hong Kong for much of Michael’s childhood, but returned to Australia in 1972.  Michael joined a rock band with his friends the Farriss brothers when he was just 17 years old. That band was eventually named INXS. They rose to fame and fortune in the 1980’s and 90’s. Some critics consider INXS to be one of Australia’s finest bands.

inxs

They had a fresh, funky sound, exemplified in their best selling album ‘Kick’.  Writing team Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence came up with catchy pop songs as well as deep and soulful ballads. The six talented musicians included horn, keyboard and saxophone players.  None, however, could match the illustrious Hutch on stage.

As the band’s lead singer, he had a seductive voice, plenty of feral cat moves, and a Mick-Jagger-like star quality that is rarely duplicated.  Anyone who saw Hutch in concert was hooked.  And I mean anyone!  Men, women, young, old, straight, gay, no matter.  All went gaga for Hutch.

Michael Hutchence

In 1994, Hutchence began having an affair with celebrity Paula Yates, who was then married to another famous rock star, Bob Geldoff.  Eventually Paula divorced Bob, but what followed was a nasty custody battle that apparently made everyone miserable. In the meantime, Hutch and Paula also had a child of their own, a daughter named Tiger Lily. Legal issues forced Paula to remain in England, continually separated from Hutchence.

hutch 4

Hutch had also experienced a terrible head injury which reportedly left him with a bunch of physical ailments, including loss of his sense of smell. These difficulties were exacerbated by the fact that the band was, by then, losing its star status, no longer filling stadiums and playing to smaller crowds. According to some, Hutchence had entered the dreaded realm of (gasp!) “aging rock star”. (At the ripe old age of 37.)

I know!  Who makes these dumb rules?

hutch 3

Michael Hutchence’s corpse was found  at 11:50 AM on the morning of November 22, 1997 in the Sydney Ritz Carlton.  He died alone.  Friends and visitors had been partying with him in the hotel room as late (or early!) as 5AM the same morning. Allegedly the activities included lots of alcohol and unnamed drugs.  Strangely, no coroner’s report was filed as to which substances Hutch actually had in his body when he died. The official cause of his death was strangulation by hanging.

But there is another side to the story. By many accounts, Hutch was a bit kinky. He may never have intended to actually kill himself, but was merely involved in a few rounds of autoerotic asphyxiation.

belt

‘Nuff said.

This story gets even sadder. Three years later, Paula Yates died of a drug overdose, leaving Tiger Lily an orphan.  Bob Geldoff became her legal guardian.  She recently began a modeling career,  no doubt owing a lot to her father’s gorgeous looks.

hutch daughter

Michael Hutchence remains one of the great, gone too soon artists. On this day we honor him. Here, INXS perform a patchwork of their song ‘Mystify’. Hope you like it!

Hutch Rock In Peace!