The 35th anniversary of the Lake Superior sinking of the ore freighter “Edmund Fitzgerald” was held Nov. 10. According to the Washington Post, memorials began as the Split Rock Lighthouse lantern was lit to commemorate the anniversary of the oceanic tragedy.
Earlier this month, the lighthouse was placed on active duty when bad storms pummeled the region much as they did 35 years ago. All 29 members of the ship’s crew were lost as the “Edmund Fitzgerald” was bound for Cleveland on the other side of the Great Lakes. Members of the Maritime Academy in Toledo also held remembrances, according to WTVG.
The first time I heard of the sinking was through Gordon Lightfoot’s haunting song of the event. The sinking was tragic, and the song will forever be one of the iconic yarns told of the sea in modern times.
Another song memorialized a tragic event to later become a popular musical classic.
“American Pie” by Don McLean was part biography and part memorial. The ballad talked about the innocence of the 1950s as it turned into upheaval and war 10 years later.
On Feb. 3, 1959, a plane crash in a cold Iowa field left Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Jiles “the Big Bopper” Richardson dead, according to FiftiesWeb.com. Before families of the deceased had been notified, news wire sources reported the tragedy to the public.
The plane crash changed several things forever. First, it was following this accident that the press began the custom of withholding names of deceased persons until the families had been notified. And, second, this tragedy marked a change in the world of music; America’s innocence was dampened, even lost to a certain extent.
The men killed were three of music’s biggest stars. Don McLean remembers when he first heard of the crash in his song lyrics: “February made me shiver/with every paper I’d deliver/bad news on the doorstep–I couldn’t take one more step.” McLean was a young boy delivering papers, and he felt as if he was informing the world something significant had just changed.
His song continues into the 1960s while he attended high school dances and grew up to be an adult. Much like the United States had to mature with multiple assassinations, the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War–great upheavals caused sudden growth, even before one is really ready for such change.
McLean’s “American Pie” did the same thing, as it changed from fond remembrances to a tale of becoming his own person. McLean purged his soul when he wrote this, his most famous song.
From his innocent boyhood, his father died in 1961, and then McLean left college in 1964 to embark upon a music career. McLean’s life might not have been logical, but he grew and matured with it. America in the 1960s wasn’t logical either as society left post-war ideals behind to suffer riots, demonstrations and anger.
McLean’s journey was the American story for a decade. It’s a song which reminds us that we all grow up, grow old and try to remember what’s most important in our lives. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” also memorializes these same concepts when we remember death can suddenly take us and we should cherish life every single moment because every single moment is a gift.
Bell, Melissa, “The Edmund Fitzgerald story lives on in Gordon Lightfoot’s song”, Wasington Post.
WTVG, “Edmund Fitzgerald anniversary at Maritime Academy”, WTVG.com.
Fifties Web, “The Day the Music Died: February 3, 1959”, FiftiesWeb.com.
LyricsFreak, “American Pie Lyrics–Don McLean”.
Don McLean, “Don McLean’s American Pie”, Don-McLean.com.