Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Witch of November

A wonderful sad song, and a recurring memory of my youth.

Is it really 34 years ago?

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call 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 - 26,000 tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty.
That big 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 feeling?

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
and a wave broke over the railing.
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
t'was the witch of November come stealing!

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
when the gales of November came slashing.
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
in the face of a hurricane West Wind.

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
saying "fellows it's too rough to feed ya."
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
he said "fellas it's been good to know ya."

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
and the big ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does anyone 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 ruins 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 29 times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee.
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early.

Gordon Lightfoot 


artandsoul said...

Wow. Thanks for this.

Last year we toured all around Lake Superior and went to the Shipwreck Museum ( it was incredibly moving.

If you ever get a chance - go.

Schmutzie said...

I was just out driving around the North Shore, having grown bored with the Bears. 66 degrees, sunny, a perfect freakin' day. It dawned on me just how unexpected it was when those gales of November came early in '75.

Anonymous said...

I saw one documentary that speculated she snapped in half with the weight of the ore in the middle bringing her down between two monster swells holding up fore on one side and aft on the other. Snapped in two. Quick like.

Actually saw Lightfoot sing the song at Chicagofest, looking out over Lake Michigan.

Did you hear the song today on the radio? Wondering what incurred the thought.

- - Robert

artandsoul said...

I always used to think it was an ocean phenomenon, those gales and hurricanes.... when I really got to understand what happened here, it was mind-boggling.

And those are some killer storms that wreak such havoc in the Great Lakes.

Schmutzie said...

I think of it every November Robert. Not exactly sure why. It happened just about a month before my 16th birthday, and I recall thinking then, that some of these guys weren't much older than I was.

Much of what I've read about the wreck suggests the two-rogue-wave theory, but the close proximity of the two large pieces of the lake floor seems to indicate that it broke in half on impact down there. The Discovery Channel did a nice doc on it, perhaps that's the one you saw.

Keifus said...

The place we stayed this summer (Lake Erie), the landlord told us to use anything we wanted, but whatever you do, don't touch the enormous model of the Edmund Fitzgerald up on the mantel there. Anything else, have at it. Lots of EF kitsch on the walls, there.

Schmutzie said...

Something about the line "Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms when they left fully loaded for Cleveland." really drives home the humanity. Just 29 guys going about their usual routine.

And 26,000 tons more than when empty? Man, that's a lot of ore.

Also, Erie is on my list. Some walleye fishing I have to do there.