It wasn't until we grew up that we learned the Edmund Fitzgerald wasn't an old tragedy being revisited by Lightfoot. It was fresh, hard news, distilled into an emotional essence by Lightfoot.
The Edmund Fitzgerald sank, killing all 29 men aboard, on Nov. 10, 1975. Thirty years ago Thursday.
The Star-Tribune's story of the anniversary is a great read, with a lede to remember:
Having lived all of his life on the shores of Lake Superior, Bruce Kalmon knows how cruel November can be.
How the sky deadens to a relentless gray. How cold winds bring storms that summon waves the size of semis. How those waves crash onto the rocks and explode in spectacular showers of spray.
And how a certain haunting song comes back again, as if carried on the wind, and cuts straight to his heart.
Kalmon says he can only hope he's alone when "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is played on the radio, as it frequently is around the Great Lakes this time of year. He likes the Gordon Lightfoot ballad, but it can get to him, especially "that line about the old cook."
His father, Allen Kalmon, was second cook on the Fitzgerald when the freighter sank with all 29 of its crewmen 30 years ago today. Allen Kalmon was 43. His son was 11 and at home in Washburn, Wis., with his mother and four sisters that night.
He and a sister were waiting for Johnny Carson's monologue when the Duluth TV station they were watching broadcast a bulletin with the unbelievable news that their father's vessel was missing.
"My first thought was, 'How could that huge boat be missing?' " Kalmon, now 41, said last week at his home in Ashland, on the lake's south shore. "I told myself that at least dad is a good swimmer."
He prayed in bed while his mother stayed up making urgent phone calls. In the morning, she came to his bedside and gently asked if he knew what the missing-ship report meant.
"It means that dad's dead," he remembers replying.
I found Lightfoot's song haunting, and still do. Visited the area on the north shore about where the ship went down 7 or 8 years after the sinking, as well as the port on the Michigan side the Fitzgerald was heading for when it sank. That song played over and over in my head. I was living in Michigan when they raised the bell from the Fitzgerald and placed a memorial plaque on her. The rang that bell 29 times at the ceremony and I can still here it. Still get a chill thinking about it.
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