The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one of the better-known tragedies of the Great Lakes.
On Nov. 10, 1975, the freighter was lost with its 29-man crew in Lake Superior near Whitefish Point, Michigan. The exact cause of the sinking isn’t known.
Every year since the incident, the Mariners’ Church of Detroit has held a memorial service for the Edmund Fitzgerald crew. This year’s service will be at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10, at the church, at 170 E. Jefferson Ave in downtown Detroit. The service will last for about an hour and a half.
Information on parking can be found at visitmariners.org.
Great Lakes Now spoke with Father Jeff Hubbard, the rector of the Mariners’ Church of Detroit. Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Great Lakes Now: What happens during these services?
Father Jeff Hubbard: It’s a service of remembrance. It has its roots during the sinking of the Fitzgerald.
After the Fitzgerald sank, very early the next morning, at the break of dawn, rector of the church Rev. Richard Ingalls got a phone call that the Fitzgerald had sank, and he came to the church, prayed prayers for those who lost their lives and rang the bell 29 times, for each man who lost his life aboard the ship. And that event was commemorated, of course, in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” the song by Gordon Lightfoot, and since then the church has been holding a memorial service.
A while back, about 20 years ago, the service was expanded to honor everyone who has lost their lives on the Great Lakes.
It’s a service of worship and prayer. We sing hymns. We pray prayers remembering everyone who’s lost their lives on the Great Lakes and after each prayer, the bell is tolled.
The service begins with the national anthems of the United States and Canada being sung. We recognize that the Great Lakes are shared by both of our countries so we definitely include Canada in this remembrance.
There are just a lot of people there from the Great Lakes maritime community and branches of the military that come to the service in uniform and participate in the service.
GLN: About how many people do you usually see at these services?
FJH: Between 250 and 300. It varies from year to year.
GLN: Why is this memorial so important to the Mariners’ Church?
FJH: Mariners’ Church was founded as a church for sailors. At the time it was founded, which was 1842, our founder Julia Anderson wanted a place for sailors to come worship when they were docked in the port of Detroit. At the time, there were pew rentals in churches, and so for a sailor whose home isn’t Detroit, they didn’t really have a place to worship because they didn’t have pews rented. So at Mariners’ Church, the pews were free.
We’ve also always, for the entire length of our history, had a very central part of our mission involving the sailors of the Great Lakes, and so this service is part of that mission. It’s an opportunity to gather together and to pray and remember those who lost their lives on the Great Lakes.
And for those of us who live in this area but might not have a connection to the Great Lakes or the maritime community, it sometimes escapes awareness that the Great Lakes are an integral part of our region’s commerce and culture.
GLN: How can people appropriately memorialize this occasion?
FJH: By coming to this service. Everyone’s welcome.
For those that aren’t able to be here, make it a point to learn about that aspect of our history, because it’s so important and there are resources out there like the Dossin Great Lakes Museum and there’s also the (Great Lakes Shipwreck) Museum in the Upper Peninsula. There have been many books written.
Just making it a point to learn and say a prayer, no matter where they may be on Sunday, for those who lost their lives, for the loved ones who grieve and for the safety for those on the waters.
Great Lakes Now compiled an interactive map of waterfront museums, including the Dossin and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Click HERE to view it.
Featured Image: Mariners’ Church of Detroit holds a memorial service every year for lives lost on the Great Lakes. Photo by of David Pennock, courtesy of Mariners’ Church of Detroit