The Sinking of the S. S. Edmund Fitzgerald
A psychic investigation by Marie Saint Claire, 2004
In the early evening of November 10, 1975, during a heavy storm on Lake Superior, the S. S. Edmund Fitzgerald sank. Her captain and crew of 28 were never found. No one knows why the ship sank so quickly or why the captain never sent out a distress call. And though many years have passed since the incident, mystery still surrounds the tragedy.
My memories of the sinking are sketchy, because I was so young when it happened. I recall Gordon Lightfoot’s popular ballad about the sinking, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” How could one forget that haunting song? I began this psychic investigation knowing next to nothing about the ship, it’s crew, or the sinking. I knew only that she sank during a vicious storm, taking all of her crew to the depths, and no one knows why or why the captain failed to send out a distress signal. I studied pictures of the ship and a map of the location where the ship sank before I attempted a psychic connection.
At 1 AM, I got into my relaxation mode and successfully connected to the Edmund Fitzgerald. The connection was frightening at first, because I arrived before the ship sank while it was being battered by a terrifying storm, what’s known as the dreaded “Witch of November.” It was as if I was watching the ship on a television screen, and, at the same time, I was there. I couldn’t feel the cold or water as I was there in spirit and not in bodily form.
Yet I could almost feel the malevolent essence of the storm as I watched great and punishing waves turn the water into jaws with the strength to cut metal. All the while, great winds launched their own assault, prying at the deck and pummeling the already compromised hatch covers. She was heavily loaded with iron and traveling low in the water, which only contributed to her taking on water from the unimaginably huge waves.
And the captain and crew in the pilot house realized that the ship was taking on a lot of water and that there was a problem with the hatch covers. I saw two men go on the deck–perhaps to close a hatch cover that had blown off. A great wave lashed out at the deck and carried the two men away. The captain said something else that I couldn’t make out, and then the bow was abruptly hit by another wave, while the stern was rocked by another.
Below, I saw water rising up through big stacks of metal pellets. I saw metal pellets shift toward the bow and could almost feel the ship strain from the unimaginable tug on her bones. I saw the bow listing precariously. Yet on the radio, the captain said something along the lines of: “We’re holding our own.”
And then the vessel was swamped by water, literally beaten and broken by waves and gales. And–much to the crew’s shock–the ship split at a point that was about two thirds of the way down from the bow. There was no time to react. The ship went down headfirst, almost instantly, and the stern followed, taking the crew with it.
I watched the undulations of the black water for some time, reflecting on what I’d seen, an overwhelming sense of dread and fear welling up inside me as I pondered the crew’s terrible fate. I was afraid to follow them into the depths and had to remind myself that I must in order to find the information that I sought, and that it was entirely safe for me to do so as I was not there in body. And finally, I summoned enough courage to take a dive where I came upon the wreckage.
I was met by an older, gray-haired man in the front of the ship who identified himself as the captain. He told me his name was “Sorely,” or at least that’s how I heard it. He was evasive about the ship’s sinking, seemed not to want to discuss the incident or maybe he didn’t know how to mentally convey information to me. He didn’t seem opposed about my being there, but was somewhat intimidated about my presence. The other members were too and stayed away, hiding within the ship’s stern, but I knew they were listening to the conversation with great interest.
This is not the first time that I’ve experienced this strange “fear” reaction from those I’ve made a connection to. Read some of my other Case Files to see what I mean. Since I was meeting this resistance from the men, I started to explain to the captain that I’d come for research purposes, telling him that the world wants answers about why the ship sank and about the men who went down with her. He seemed to relax, and so I began to ask questions.
I asked why the ship had sank, and he said: “Storm.”
I asked again and was told: “Brittle metal”
When Questioned further, he said only, “Metal fatigue,” and I got a strong mental picture of the weak metal and the great stress going against it. It had to cut itself loose from the grind, could no longer contain itself. It broke in two just as I’d seen.
I asked why no distress signal was issued and why no one tried to abandon the ship.
He said: “No time.”
Such short statements from spirits are not uncommon. I would be more surprised if the person I connected to issued full and descriptive sentences. The short replies don’t generally represent the person’s reluctance to tell their story. Instead, I believe that the lack of verbosity is due to some kind of physical resistance or block. It could due to the spirit’s difficulty in relaying information to another like someone talking on a defective phone line. After all, we’re thinking to each other, not using our lips. I believe that it’s not easy for all to accomplish this feat and is a skill that must be mastered. I also believe that spirits are, for the most part, not allowed or are unable to convey information to me unless I ask them something specific. Sometimes, however, that’s not true, as another spirit aboard the ship reveals.
There was a strong and passionate voice among the men. Though I could make out few details about him, since he continued to hang back in the shadows, I, nevertheless, sensed that he was a younger man with brown or reddish hair. He yelled repeatedly: “Tell Elaina (or Alena) I love her!” He virtually yelled this message at me often during the connection. It was important to him that I carry this message to the world, and I assured him that I would deliver his message if possible.
If there’s an Elaina out there who had a loved one on board the ship, I would certainly appreciate it if you’d let me know. It would make me feel so much better to know that you’d received the man’s heartfelt message.
As the captain escorted me about the battered remains of the vessel for what I can only call a tour, the others started venturing closer. By the look of things, I’d started out many years after the wreck–in the ship’s present state, but as we proceeded, its condition changed. It didn’t seem like the ship was wrecked or under water. Instead, it was suddenly in perfect condition, and I could have been on board during a beautiful day when it was getting ready to set out on its next adventure.
I believe this is how the crew perceives the ship and their surroundings.
The tour ended in a room with a long table. I sensed that it was the men’s favorite room, the place where they most liked to gather–perhaps the galley. And we talked for some time. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what we said, but I apparently gained the men’s trust, and they no longer feared me. In fact, many of the men who’d seemed fearful about my presence earlier now seemed to want to be near me, seemed glad that I was there. Many of the men wore big smiles as they gathered around the table.
I don’t wish to upset any family members with my account, but I feel that I must be truthful when revealing what I saw and sensed during a connection, and I’m sorry to say that despite this amiable environment, in which I found myself, I feel that many of the men are not entirely at peace. Some had not accepted the tragedy or their own death. Even the captain, on some level, seemed unwilling to accept his fate. I also strongly felt that not all 29 men were there. Some had either moved on to the other side or were still hiding from me.
I told the men that I believed it would help them if we prayed together. They honored my request. Holding hands, we formed a circle and prayed. I asked God to give these men peace and comfort and to let his healing light flow through them and lead them home.
Then I snapped out of the vision. Stunned, I could only sit there for a long while, hoping that my prayer had been answered. I realized that I’d had a greater purpose in going there than merely to learn information about the tragedy. I unknowingly went there to help those men cross over. And perhaps I’d accomplished this as, following the prayer, I was suddenly ejected from the scene from some unseen force. I knew that God had had another purpose in my mission there. I was supposed to connect to those men and help them.
I glanced at the clock. It was 5 AM. I had been on board the ship for more than 4 hours. This was the longest that I’d ever been in a vision. I was ravenous, something that often happens after I make a psychic connection, especially a very strong one like this. I immediately began to evaluate what I saw.
I learned that before she went down, the Edmund Fitzgerald’s radar had malfunctioned. Roughly four hours earlier, the Arthur M. Anderson, an ore carrier in the U.S. Steel fleet, commanded by Captain Jessie B. “Bernie” Cooper, had been trailing the ship and providing it with navigational aid.
The Fitzgerald Captain, McSorley (I was close. I got the name “Sorely” in my connection) had radioed the Anderson several times in the course of the storm, reporting that the ship had “a fence rail down, two vents lost or damaged, and a list.” It had apparently taken on the list after it passed Caribou.
Captain McSorley had activated two large ballast tank pumps to control it. In addition, he had reduced the speed to allow the Anderson to close the 17-mile gap between them. At that time, the ship didn’t seem to be in imminent danger and no one in the Anderson’s pilot house or on board the Edmund Fitzgerald had a cause to be overly concerned.
Later, McSorley radioed the Anderson again, saying that the Fitzgerald “had a bad list, had lost both radars, and was taking heavy seas over the deck.” And yet, the situation still didn’t seem overly dire to either crew. In fact, when Captain Cooper radioed the ship, asking how it was doing, Captain McSorley said: “We are holding our own.”
Those were the last words that anyone ever heard from the Edmund Fitzgerald’s crew.
Later when the snow stopped and visibility improved, the Edmund Fitzgerald was no where to be seen. Cooper and his crew were alarmed. They searched for the vessel and radioed the ship endlessly without success. The Edmund Fitzgerald wasn’t showing up on radar, and they couldn’t see its lights ahead. They could see the lights of three other ships that were supposed to be much further ahead than the Fitzgerald.
Having a bad feeling that she went down, Cooper called the Sault Ste. Marie Coast Guard station at 7:39 p.m. and reported the ship missing. They seemed unconcerned and probably assumed that Cooper wasn’t picking the vessel up on radar due to the storm.
Cooper kept trying to contact the missing ship. No response. At 8:32 p.m., Cooper again called the Coast Guard to express grave concern that the Fitzgerald had sank.
Search and rescue efforts started immediately after Cooper’s second call, but the nearest Coast Guard vessel that could sail in the huge seas was the Woodrush, stationed 300 miles away in Duluth, Minnesota.
Coast Guard aircraft were on the scene by 10:55 p.m.
Commercial vessels in the protective waters of Whitefish Bay were requested to form a search effort and several ships including the Anderson, ventured into the storm-tossed sea to search for survivors. None were found. Only the floating debris gave clues that the Fitzgerald and its crew were lost.
Within days, the location of the wreck on the bottom of the lake was pinpointed by U.S. Navy aircraft, and the following spring, the Coast Guard positively identified the wreckage using underwater photography.
But questions surrounding the sinking have been unresolved. Why did she sink so quickly? Why didn’t the captain issue a distress call?
There are several theories about why the ship sank, some feasible, some ludicrous. For instance, some believe that a spaceship came down and zapped the ship.
The Coast Guard launched an extensive investigation into the sinking, and, after many months of research, they came to the conclusions that faulty hatch covers were at fault. According to this theory, water seeped in the hatches, the ship took on too much water, and sank as a result, breaking up beneath the waves. Just before the Edmund Fitzgerald had set out on her last journey, the Coast Guard had an inspection ordered and found that four of the hatch covers needed to be repaired.
The Lake Carrier’s Association blamed shoals, believing that the ship got too close to the deadly Caribou Shoal and “holed” herself without realizing it. The trouble with this theory is that no one is certain whether the Edmund Fitzgerald actually did go into the dangerous shoal area. No one tracked her and no record was kept of the path she took. The Coast Guard, however, believes that it’s unlikely that she hit the Caribou Shoal. Another thing that discredits this theory is Captain McSorley’s experience. He was a capable and experienced sailor, it’s unlikely that he would have struck the shoal, much less have taken on that much damage without knowing it.
Some believe she could have sank due to structural damage, that the heavy seas were too much for her, and she broke apart.
Captain Cooper of the Anderson mentioned the possibility of a stress fracture in his testimony before the Marine Board and also included it in his personal story of the wreck in James R. Marshall’s, Shipwrecks of Lake Superior. Captain Dudley J. Paquette of the SS Wilfred Sykes sailed through the entire two-day storm, was part of the search effort, and is a vocal adherent of the idea that the sunken ore carrier suffered stress damage at what he calls the “hinge area” where the greatest amount of flex is observed in a ship’s hull. Located about a third forward of the stern, this “working area” is approximately the same as the area where the intact stern of the Edmund Fitzgerald separated from the rest of the wreckage.
Following my psychic investigation and research, I feel that the hatch covers contributed to the ship taking on too much water during the storm but was not the ultimate cause of the sinking. Despite the troubles with the hatch covers, I believe she could have safely made it to Whitefish Bay, 15 miles away if not for a major structural fault.
I believe that structural damage was the cause of the sinking. Captain McSorely clearly told me that the ship had “Brittle metal” and “Metal fatigue.” What’s more, I saw the ship crack and snap as if someone broke it like a twig with their two hands. Since the ship was overloaded with 26,116 tons of taconite pellets, it simply broke beneath the onslaught of the punishing waves, unable to withstand the heavy seas that were twisting and flexing the hull.
Those taconite pellets also sat her deeper into the water and allowed more water to get in from the deck. Water infiltrated the ship faster than the pumps could force it out. She began to list heavily, the moving pellets adding more stress to the weakened area. As she took on more and more water, her bow began to plunge deeper, and ultimately snapped. She broke up on the surface, about a third of the way from the stern, breaking along the weakened area and going down by the bow. Shortly afterward, her stern went down, carrying the men to watery graves.
I believe this all happened very quickly and that neither the captain nor the crew knew the ship was sinking until seconds before it did. There was simply no time to send a distress call.
I also believe that shortly before the ship sank, two men went on deck and were carried overboard by huge waves, and that the ship sank shortly afterward as yet another thunderous wave lashed at the vessel.
I tried to help the men cross over. I believe that many did. But some souls may remain and are not yet at rest. You can help them with prayer. Please ask God to give them comfort and to lead them safely home.
Marie St. Claire
© 2004 Underworldtales.com