Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Greg Peck: Edmund Fitzgerald: Powerful storm, story, song and, now, painting

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Greg Peck
November 10, 2015

I don't know what it is about shipwrecks, particularly those on the Great Lakes, that so fascinate not just me but my aging father. I don't know that Dad has ever been on Lake Superior, and he's certainly not fond of water or boats. While I have a lifelong love of fishing, Dad would rather stay on dry land.

But Dad does love reading and learning about history. I called him Sunday and asked if he knew what happened 40 years ago today. He didn't have a clue. But he was happy to talk about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The Fitzgerald was just one of thousands that have sunk in the five Great Lakes, killing tens of thousands of sailors. Yes, all 29 lives on the Fitzgerald were lost in that terrible storm 40 years ago today. And yes, at 729 feet, she might well be the biggest on the bottom. Why we remember it so, however, might well be because of that haunting ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” sung by Gordon Lightfoot. Those who've heard it can't get it out of their heads.

If you didn't know today was the anniversary of that shipwreck, you probably haven't read today's Gazette print product. It would be hard to miss the picture of Tony DiNicola's latest painting, “Gales of November Remembered.” Tony is The Gazette's talented graphic artist, and obviously a talented painter, as well. As I've written before, he has used several photographs I've shot through the years as the bases for paintings. I'm honored when he does so. He's looking forward to reviewing the album of hundreds of photos my wife, Cheryl, and I have assembled from the trip we took in late summer to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Tony also designed the impressive cover of my revised book, “Death Beyond the Willows.”

Still, I didn't know Tony had done this impressive painting of the Fitzgerald until Monday afternoon, when I proofed today's Page 5A. By then, Tony had left for the day. I knew Tony grew up in the Milwaukee area, but I also didn't know he used to sketch and photograph the iron ore carrier off its home base, the Port of Milwaukee.

Cheryl and I have spent long weekends visiting the lighthouses off Bayfield and in Door County. Off Former UW-Whitewater instructor Steve Karges of Janesville, author of “Keepers of the Lights,” narrated a tour we took off “Death's Door.” Cheryl and I also visited lighthouses on the East Coast. We spent a week's vacation circling Lake Michigan and touring most of its best lighthouses. We've appreciated learning the history of the light keepers, who helped keep ships off the shoals and heroically tried to save sailors of those caught in storms.

We also spent a week visiting Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where we saw shipwrecks in a glass-bottom boat tour out of Munising and visited the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point, near where the Fitzgerald went down in a violent storm for reasons that remain a mystery today. That museum has a nice tribute to the Fitzgerald, as well as the ship's bell on display.

If you're visiting the UP and at all fascinated by Great Lakes shipping history, that museum is worth the long drive.


Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or [email protected]. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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