Sunday, November 11, 2007

November 11, 1975

I was ten years old, the same age my daughter is today. I lived in Lakewood, a blue collar suburb of Cleveland. My house was a few hundred yards from the Lake Erie shore. The lake was many things to me, but never more dramatic than during a storm. I'd run through Lakewood park and cling to the chain-link fence and watch the beautiful terrible violent storms, the towering waves and sworling waterspouts.

I loved and feared the lake.

I loved the ore* boats and their romantic mystery. They were massive and terrifying. I wondered about the men who waved from the decks as the ore boats sailed by the river bars in the Cuyahoga Flats where I'd sit with my dad. I'd sip Shirley Temples. Dad sipped Strohs and lit Marlboro 100s with a Zippo lighter.

Whiskey Island. The Hulett Ore Unloaders. Steel bridges that moved up and down to accommodate the freighters--who said dinosaurs aren't real?

On November 11, 1975, towns like Cleveland learned that they'd lost a few of their own brand of Veteran in the night. I will never forget it. Tears welled in my eyes as I watched the following footage.




Cleveland Bridges:

Photos

Essay

* * *


*When I originally posted this, I misspelled "ore" as "oar" throughout. Thanks to Paul for pointing this error out to me. The funny thing is that I intentionally went through the essay to ensure I had the right 'ore' up there, but I guess my own oars weren't quite in the water that day. Pray I am forgiven before all of blogland!

16 comments:

ajooja said...

I love this post. Thanks, Erin.

Chris said...

I hadn't realized the Edmund Fitzgerald wreck was so recent - I know the song, but I always thought it was an 1800's event. I was almost 9 when it happened, yet I don't remember ever hearing about it. For which I feel inexplicably guilty.

Anonymous said...

Goosebumps, sadness and tears!

Erin O'Brien said...

The Edmund Fitzgerald actually sunk on the night of November 10, but I always associate it with Veteran's Day because it wasn't big news until then.

I can't tell you exactly how I feel when I watch this YouTube, which I think is very well done, informative and respectful of its subject, but I feel something deep inside me.

People like me just have this thing about the Edmund Fitzgerald tragedy. I guess because it was our tragedy. We understood the water and the boat and the men. All of it had very real scale in our lives.

Carla said...

Beautiful post. I too am one of those that didn't realize that this was such a recent event.

Ms Baroque said...

Erin, you are a marvel, and that is why there is an award waiting for you over at my place. Go check it out!

countrymouse said...

It wasn't until a couple years ago that I realized how recent this event was. I can barely listen to the song, having been a fisherman's wife . . .

World Champ Stephen Neal said...

eh... it's ok. You can't expect much out of Cleveland.

Maureen McHugh said...

I'm fascinated by the story, too, Erin. When I first heard the song, I was astonished to find out that the ship had sunk in the 70's.

The families won a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the main hatch (the reference in the song to the 'main hatchway gave in'.) But actually, the Fitzgerald never radioed in any problems. They have pretty much determined that the ship was caught between two freak waves that probably split the big ship into two. The waves were spaced to just lift the ship out of the water like a board suspended between two sawhorses. The ship was too heavy when loaded to hold it's own weight and it broke in half. It probably sank in less than a minute and half.

The song is sentimental and old fashioned, but I still love it. And when someone asks me to name the five great lakes, I play the song in my head because otherwise I always forget Lake Ontario.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Love the song....


Friend of Goat's Bro....K

Anonymous said...

You going to post any more Gordon Lightfoot songs?

josh williams said...

That was big news in our parts and the song galvanized the event.The song does sound like an old ship wreck song, great song. Thank you Gordon Great post Thank you Erin

emmapeelDallas said...

I remember so well when this happened. Beautiful post about it. Thanks.

Paul said...

Great Post, E! One thing though, it's ore boats -- oar boats are significantly less impressive!

Such a seminal event for Clevelanders, and especially for kids of that era. I remember when this song came out the local news (Channel 5?) ran it over a slow crawl of all the names of the sailors who had died. I sat there in front of the little B&W TV on our kitchen counter and I started weeping -- 12 years old and crying for a bunch of guys I didn't know. It seemed such a cold, lonely way to die.

In high school, my buddies and I loved to quote the line, "Fellas, it's been good ta KNOW YA!"

Elisson said...

This made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

The song has always been a beautiful memorial to the people who perished that day. You've framed it so well...thank you.

RAC said...

Thanks, Erin, I listened to this obsessively as a teenager, and when I lived in Michigan and finally saw the Great Lakes, it was overwhelming.