Wreck continues to churn up speculation

Archaeologist to offer theories Wednesday

The Edmund Fitzgerald unloads a record 25,172 tons of iron ore at the Toledo Lakefront dock June 21, 1960
The Edmund Fitzgerald unloads a record 25,172 tons of iron ore at the Toledo Lakefront dock June 21, 1960

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald has been gone for 38 years this month, but the disappearance of the Great Lakes freighter in a severe Lake Superior storm and the loss of its 29 crewmen, continues to fascinate.

Carrie Sowden, archaeological director of the Great Lakes Historical Society, will talk about the Fitzgerald and theories offered to explain its sinking at the Perrysburg Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday at the Carranor Hunt and Polo Club, 502 E. 2nd St. The cost is $20 for nonmembers and $17 for members.

Ms. Sowden, an accomplished diver, has never been down to the Fitzgerald, and for good reasons: It’s in more than 500 feet of water, just inside Canada, and has been declared off limits by the government.

“The people who have gone down have used ROVs [remote operated vehicles] and submersibles,” she explained. “No amateur diver could do it.”

Her presentation in Perrysburg will be called “The Edmund Fitzgerald: What Really Happened.” Not that Ms. Sowden, or anyone else, can say for sure what caused the Fitzgerald to go down in near hurricane force winds and waves up to 35 feet, the largest ship to sink in the Great Lakes.

“I’m going to talk a little about the history of the Fitz and what happened that night. I tell them I’m not going to say what happened, because I don’t know,” she said.

The Coast Guard’s explanation blames the sinking on water getting through the hatch covers and into the hold, but “only the Coast Guard believes that hatch-cover theory,” Ms. Sowden said.

Other theories include “shoaling,” the possibility that the Fitzgerald hit an underwater mountain in the middle of Lake Superior, or the rogue waves that pushed the ship down or picked it up caused structural damage.

Ms. Sowden said she believes it was a combination of shoaling and rogue waves that doomed the ship. It lies on the bottom in two pieces, but “I don’t believe she broke up on the surface from the way she sits underwater.”