What would it be like to have a long, useful live, but only be remembered by the way you die?
Such is the case with the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in a Lake Superior storm 40 years ago today.
But there’s a new documentary that focuses on the life of the Edmund Fitzgerald and what the ship did in her time on the Great Lakes.
The film is called A Good Ship and Crew Well Seasoned, and it’s produced by the Great Lakes Historical Society.
National Museum of the Great Lakes Executive Director Chris Gillcrist tells us that while “everybody remembers the Fitzgerald in its last seconds” on Lake Superior 40 years ago, the freighter’s story is much larger than that.
“There are 17 years of history before the Fitzgerald sank and 40 years after it sank of impact on friends, family, and the maritime community,” Gillcrist says. “We created a documentary that doesn’t talk about the loss of the boat, but really concentrates on the lives of all those who were impacted over that time period by the boat and their service on the boat.”
Gillcrist tells us that when it was launched in 1958, the Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest American vessel in the Great Lakes.
Though she was overshadowed by even larger ships by 1975, Gillcrist says the Fitzgerald had a lingering presence, due in part to the men who sailed her.
“One gentleman in particular, Peter Pulcer, helped create kind of a legend of the Fitzgerald,” he says. Pulcer would lecture onlookers on particular parts of the ship as it passed through the Soo Locks, as well as play music through the ship’s speakers to provide entertainment.
“It helped the Fitzgerald become the peoples’ boat,” he says. “And so there was just a following of people who really enjoyed seeing her over the years, and it kind of created a legend before the sinking.”
Ed Perrine is an author who served aboard the Fitzgerald. He tells us this ship’s route and quality really made the Fitzgerald special.
“She always ran … to Toledo. And so if you lived in Toledo you got to see your family every five days,” he says, a luxury compared to the months sailors on other ships would have to be away from their families.
Perrine tells us the ship had great quarters, ran very well, and because it was such a good ship, only the best sailors were given a position aboard her.
He hopes the documentary gives people a better understanding of what sailing is like and the importance of the Great Lakes.
A Good Ship and Crew Well Seasoned premieres tonight in Toledo.
Chris Gillcrist and Ed Perrine tell us more about the Fitzgerald's legacy and how Gordon Lightfoot immortalized the ship in our conversation above.
– Ryan Grimes, Stateside