Anselm Appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, 1093

2022-12-05T11:08:22-06:00December 5, 2022|HH 2022|

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” —Acts 17:11

Anselm Appointed Archbishop of Canterbury,
December 4, 1093

Scholasticism is the term given to the theology of the Middle Ages (c.500-1500 AD). The Schoolmen “collected, analyzed and systematized” the doctrines of the Church worked out by the post-Apostolic Fathers, and argued their “reasonableness against all conceivable objections.” (Schaff, Vol. V, p. 587) They accepted the authority of the Scriptures but never attempted to discover the best ways to interpret them; they set out to confirm the traditions they had been handed by the Church Fathers and the papacy. The Scholastics made no contributions to exegesis and biblical theology but did pass on the dogmas developed by their predecessors. Most of them were monks, living in cloisters, devoted to God and scholarship. Their ultimate goal was to reconcile dogma and reason and to arrange the doctrines of the Church in an orderly system called summa theologiae. Anselm of Canterbury was the first of the great Scholastics. He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury on December 4, 1093.

An ailing King William II of England (c. 1056-1100) forces the unwilling Anselm to take the crozier (shepherd’s crook) as a sign of his appointment to the position of
Archbishop of Canterbury

Anselm (1033-1109) began life in Aosta in the region that divides Italy from western Switzerland. He claimed that as a child he conceived that God sat on a throne at the top of the Alps, and in a dream, Anselm climbed up the mountain to meet Him. He was served white bread and treated kindly and, in the morning believed he had actually been to Heaven and back. His father opposed his taking the cowl and leaving for a monastery, but Anselm did so anyway, settling in and taking orders at La Bec in Normandy, France. Anselm wrote most of his works at La Bec and became prior, and in 1078, abbot. He succeeded his friend and mentor Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury in England, where he served until his peaceful death in 1109 at the age of seventy-one. He is venerated by Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans and respected by other Protestants as well.

The averred birthplace of Anselm in Aosta in what was formerly Upper Burgundy, now part of the Republic of Italy

Bec Abbey, western face—on the left, the old gatehouse and, on the right, the abbey dwelling

His writings were theological, pastoral, and personal, with several major treatises, homilies, meditations, and 412 letters to friends and colleagues. As was evident, “love to God was the soul of his daily life and love to God is the burning center of his theology.” One of his most famous theological aphorisms has been quoted a million times: fides praecedit intellectum—faith precedes knowledge, which churchmen have seen as a harmonization of supernaturalism and rationalism. He was so close in theology to St. Augustine that he has often been called “the second Augustine” and the “tongue of Augustine.” For Anselm, the two sources of knowledge were the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, which were in perfect agreement, according to Anselm. That belief set the tone for all the other scholastics that followed him.

The west front of Canterbury Cathedral in 1821 showing the Norman north west tower prior to rebuilding

Canterbury Cathedral today

On November 29, 1943, the crew of Riki Tiki Tavi flew their fifth bombing mission—target: Bremen, Germany. After dropping their payload, the plane headed for home in England. For some reason, the plane fell behind the fleet—perhaps the engines had been struck by flak or machine gun fire. As the Riki Tiki Tavi fell behind, the German fighter planes pounced, machine guns and cannons firing. In the chaos of the fight, eight of the crew were killed, the navigator successfully bailed out, and Gene was severely wounded in both arms and his parachute shredded. The battle had been fought four miles above the earth so Gene’s arms bled little in the fifty-degrees-below-zero temperature. As he reached for his backup chute, the tail section broke off from the plane and began spinning toward the ground, four miles below, with nineteen-year-old Eugene Moran clinging to the seat. The speed and air pressure popped the gold teeth out of his head and blood pooled in his eyes, obscuring his vision.

Anselm dons the pallium, a symbol of his position as Archbishop of Canterbury

The meeting of Countess Matilda and Anselm of Canterbury in the presence of Pope Urban II
—Matilda was a staunch and abiding supporter of Anselm

Anselm also set out to prove that Christ’s atonement was necessary using the processes of pure reason. Again, logical argument was the monk’s vehicle to prove that Christ’s satisfaction of justice for sin required the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. All sin must either receive punishment or be covered by satisfaction. Can man make this satisfaction? No. Only the God-man could provide atonement. Anselm’s desire was to provide the pagan with no logical way out but through Christ.

The Church historian Phillip Schaff summed up Anselm’s character and contribution to the Church:

“He was the first of the Great schoolmen, was one of the ablest and purist men of the medieval Church. He touched the history of his age at many points. He was an enthusiastic advocate of monasticism. He was archbishop of Canterbury, and fought the battle of the [papal] hierarchy against the State in England. His Christian meditations give him a high rank in the annals of piety. His profound speculations marks one of the leading epochs in the history of theology and won for him a place among the doctors of the Church. . . . He was the most original thinker the Church had seen since the days of Augustine [4th Century].”

Anselm washes the feet of the poor

The Life of Anselm as told via a stained glass window in his honor, St. Corentin Cathedral in Quimper, Finistère, Brittany, France

Anselm laid the intellectual groundwork for those brilliant Scholastic churchmen who came after, as they systematized dogma and doctrine; the clergy were trained in logic and scholastic argument right up through the Protestant Reformers, who turned to the Scriptures themselves rather than just the early Fathers of the Church and their medieval exponents. After Anselm came Roscellinus, Abelard, Bernard, Hugo de St. Victor, and Gilbert of Poietiers. The second period provided Peter Lombard, Alexander Hales, Albertus Magnus, Bonaventura, Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, Ockam, and the greatest of them all, Thomas Aquinas. In the fullness of time, by the marvelous Providence of God, they were all superseded by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Knox who loved Augustine and Anselm and appreciated some of those who presented the Scholastic way, but returned to Sola Scriptura to reform the Church.

Anselm of Canterbury (1033/4–1109)

Resources for Further Study

For a good introduction and succinct narrative of the Medieval Church Scholastics, we recommend Volume 5 of Phillip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church.

Gene Moran Falls from the Sky, 1943

2022-11-30T15:26:02-06:00November 30, 2022|HH 2022|

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” —Jeremiah 29:11

Gene Moran Falls from the Sky,
November 29, 1943

In war there are a million ways to die. Occasionally someone, by the providence of God, survives what killed almost 100% of men caught in the same situation. A Wisconsin farm boy, eager to enlist in the Army Air Corps the second he turned 18, finally got his chance to fly against the Axis enemies of his country. Gene Moran would spend his combat time in Europe as a tail gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress and experience one of the million ways to die. Only he didn’t.

Gene Moran posing in uniform in 1943, the same year his plane was shot down (photo courtesy of John Armbruster)

A farm in the Kickapoo River Valley of Wisconsin

Raised in the Kickapoo Valley on a dairy farm, 17-year-old Gene Moran saw the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor as his ticket out of shoveling cow manure and farm chores. His mother did everything in her power to keep the boy out of the war, arguing that serving his country as a farmer was a perfectly acceptable alternative to getting killed on a battlefield. And since he wanted to join the Army Air Corps, a parental signature was needed after he turned 18, for without it, the enlistment age was 21. After trying three times to lie his way in with fake signatures, he lied to his parents about already enlisting, and they signed to keep him from getting picked up for being AWOL.

A B-17 Flying Fortress in flight, 1942

After completing gunnery school, Gene was promoted to Sergeant and ordered to join a B-17 Squadron as a tail gunner. The Boeing bomber carried a crew of ten. It was constructed as an offensive platform sporting a load of bombs and 13 .50 Cal. machine guns in nine positions (the Germans called the B-17 “the porcupine”), with a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, radio man, ball turret, and top turret gunner, two waist gunners, and a tail gunner. Their “job” was to drop up to 8,000 pounds of bombs on enemy factories, railroad yards, and war installations. The B-17 provided the backbone of the Eighth Air Force bombing fleet in the European Theatre of the Second World War.

The tail gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress

Part of the crew Gene Moran flew with during World War II. Kneeling from left to right: Donald Curtis and Jesse Orrison. Standing from left to right: Walter Reed, Edmund Swedo, Gene Moran and Wilbert Provost (photo courtesy of John Armbruster)

The rear gunner sat on a bicycle seat and leaned into a steel chest plate to fire his twin machine guns, protecting the rear of the plane from enemy fighters. Gene Moran held that position on the plane named Riki Tiki Tavi, one of the ten-man crew. They were assigned as one of the forty planes of the 96th Bomb Group, one of forty Groups of the 8th Air Force, stationed at Stetterton Heath in East Anglia, England.

An RAF airfield in Ayshire, Scotland during WWII, typical of the makeshift airfields that served as home base for Allied air power

On November 29, 1943, the crew of Riki Tiki Tavi flew their fifth bombing mission—target: Bremen, Germany. After dropping their payload, the plane headed for home in England. For some reason, the plane fell behind the fleet—perhaps the engines had been struck by flak or machine gun fire. As the Riki Tiki Tavi fell behind, the German fighter planes pounced, machine guns and cannons firing. In the chaos of the fight, eight of the crew were killed, the navigator successfully bailed out, and Gene was severely wounded in both arms and his parachute shredded. The battle had been fought four miles above the earth so Gene’s arms bled little in the fifty-degrees-below-zero temperature. As he reached for his backup chute, the tail section broke off from the plane and began spinning toward the ground, four miles below, with nineteen-year-old Eugene Moran clinging to the seat. The speed and air pressure popped the gold teeth out of his head and blood pooled in his eyes, obscuring his vision.

A local newspaper recounting Gene’s remarkable survival story (photo courtesy of John Armbruster)

The crew of Gene Moran’s plane that was shot down on Nov. 29, 1943 during a bombing mission in Germany (photo courtesy of John Armbruster)

“The severed tail blasted into a forest, snapping limbs from trees. The crash spun Gene around in a half loop. His head slammed into the steel cables housed in the tail above him. The open end of the tail swung toward the ground and came to a screeching halt.” He crawled toward the dim light and out on to the forest floor. He was alive but with all his ribs broken, compound fractures in both arms, and a piece of his skull missing, exposing his brain! Gene was rescued by German soldiers and put back together by Serbian doctors in a German POW hospital. He spent the next two years in four different POW camps, survived a death ship and a six-hundred-mile death march, and was rescued by American forces at the end of the war. He lived until March of 2014, having fathered nine children with his beloved wife Peg, and died at the age of 92. They sang his favorite hymn at his funeral—“The Old Rugged Cross”.

Gene Moran in 2011 (photo courtesy of John Armbruster)

Of the approximately 120,000 American airmen who died in the war, historians believe only three men who fell without parachutes from such a height survived, and the only full-length detailed story that has been recorded is that of Eugene Moran, the farm boy from Wisconsin who couldn’t wait to get off the farm and into the fray.

Resources for Further Study

  • For the whole story, read Tailspin by John Armbruster (2022).

Death of Leo Tolstoy, 1910

2022-11-22T11:01:38-06:00November 22, 2022|HH 2022|

“And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.” —Ecclesiastes 1:17

Death of Leo Tolstoy, November 20, 1910

Several Russian novelists produced works that appear on almost every list of “the greatest novels ever written;” Count Lev Nickolayevich Tolstoy usually sits atop that list. On November 20, 1910, he died of pneumonia after collapsing in a train station at age 83, while apparently trying to escape his wife’s tirades. He spent his last hours preaching love, non-violence, and the value of a single tax system to anyone on the train who would listen.

Count Lev “Leo” Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Tsar Peter I, “The Great,” granted the title of Count to Pyotr Tolstoy in the early 18th Century, a grandee of an ancient noble family of Russia. Lev, usually known as Leo, was born in 1828 at the family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, 130 miles south of Moscow. He was the fourth of five children born to Count Nickolai Ilyich Tolstoy—a hero of the war against Napoleon—and Princess Mariya Volkonskaya, who died when Leo was two years old. Upon the death of his father seven years later, Tolstoy’s very loving relatives, grandmother and aunts, took him and his siblings and raised them as their own. He was schooled by tutors until he entered The University of Kazan in 1844.

The Yasnaya Polyana estate, birthplace and childhood home of Tolstoy

Leo was not a great student, trying out several majors and transferring to another school. He pursued literature and ethics academically, attracted to the writing of Charles Dickens and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Tolstoy tried to conform to the social conventions of his day by gambling, drinking, and debauchery, finally just abandoning the University and returning to the estate, where he hoped to learn management of the property and the serfs, and live the life of an autodidact (self-taught learner).

Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

The leopard could not change his spots, however, and he fell back into his previous addictions, finally leaving home again, to serve in the army with his brother. Tolstoy fought in the Crimean War in an artillery unit, serving heroically, but leaving the service after it, shocked by the senseless slaughter. After that experience, and witnessing a public execution in France, Tolstoy left his former life and became a “a non-violent spiritual anarchist” writing that “the truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all, to corrupt its citizens . . .I shall never serve any government anywhere.”

Tolstoy in uniform, 1854

Victor-Marie Hugo (1802-1885)

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865

During a two year sojourn through Europe (1860-61), Tolstoy met Victor Hugo and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, both of whose impact on his thinking and writing can be seen in his novels, especially in his greatest work, War and Peace, published in full in 1869. As a novel, some consider it the greatest ever written; he mixes in powerful narrative history and profound philosophical tropes. Fictional narratives express a worldview that the author desires to communicate, and Tolstoy’s work best expresses the ideas that motivated him the rest of his life, and effect many people since his times. Mahatma Gandhi in India was so moved that he corresponded with Tolstoy and adopted his non-violence ideas, which in turn, transformed the history of India and the British Empire. In the middle to late 20th Century, Martin Luther King cited Tolstoy as a great influence on his thinking and actions.

Mohandas “Mahatma” Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)

Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr.; 1929-1968)

Russia emancipated its serfs in 1861 and Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana and founded thirteen schools for the newly liberated peasants. Tsarist secret police shut them down. Tolstoy married the following year, Sophia Andreyevna Behrs (known as Sonya), who bore him thirteen children, all of them Counts and Countesses, the last one dying in 1979. His last grandchild died in 2007. During the Bolshevik Revolution in the early 20th century, many Tolstoys left Russia, and his descendants are found today in Sweden, Germany, Denmark, the U.K. and the United States. In Russia, some of them are internationally known persons and one is a cultural advisor to President Putin.

Countess Sophia Andreyevna Tolstaya née Behrs (1844-1919)

The Tolstoy family at the family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in 1887

Leo Tolstoy drew on his life experiences in writing his novels and short stories, some of his earliest works concerned the war and his life growing up at the Tolstoy estate. War and Peace and Anna Karenina remain his most popular and greatest books. The former tells the story of the Napoleonic Wars, fictional biographies of the main characters of the story, and essays on his philosophy of history. He rejects Carlyle’s idea that great men make history and teaches that it is actually made by an infinite number of decisions by ordinary people. History is therefore, virtually unknowable regarding causality and appears as a result of randomness, in Tolstoy’s vision.

Tolstoy fell into a deep depression, afraid of death. He turned to the Russian Orthodox Church for answers, but decided that all Christian churches had failed to discover the true faith. He rejected the Trinity, deity of Christ, immortality, existence of the soul and other salient doctrines. He ignored his excommunication and preached a religion based on five tenets which included love your enemies and do not resist evil, principles that attracted the Pacifists of the world, especially the aforementioned Gandhi. Tolstoy told his followers to avoid military service, voting, government work, or using the courts. His increasing irascible negativism caused a rift with his wife and their relationship became stormy and irredeemable although loving one another was at the core of his teaching.

Tolstoy in 1905

Leo and Sophia in 1910 on their 48th wedding anniversary, 6 weeks before his death

He continued writing popular novels, novellas, plays, and short stories until his death in 1910. His family remained essentially hostile to his beliefs. Both he and his wife kept intimate diaries for about 60 years, which have become grist for the literary mills themselves, regarding marriage, hypocrisy, and satire. His fiction remained realistic and often expressed moral lessons, and his international reputation exceeded all other Russian writers although, as he developed his cranky and unorthodox ideas, he criticized his own greatest works. He died at 82, an inspiration to some of the greatest writers of history and of socialists as well as anarchists. His life was so full of contradictions that he could be admired or vilified from every point of the political and literary compass.

Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana, 1908, the first color photo portrait in Russia

The Legacy of Robert Fairlie of Edinburgh, 1572

2022-11-14T13:27:20-06:00November 14, 2022|HH 2022|

“And the promise belongs to you and your children and to those who are afar off, those whom God shall call.” —Acts 2:39

The Legacy of Robert Fairlie of Edinburgh, November 16, 1572

If Christians paid more attention to history and genealogy, they might find godly lines of many generations in their own past. A good example of such is the life and legacy of Robert Fairlie, who, of course never saw or knew who would benefit from his own covenant faithfulness.

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, with the iconic crown-shaped tower of St. Giles Kirk

On Sunday, November 16, 1572 Robert Fairlie walked down the street from St. Giles Kirk to visit a dying friend, the “Trumpet” of the Protestant Reformation, John Knox. He pulled up a table close to the Reformer’s bed and they ate together for one of the last times they could do so alone. The end of life was near and Fairlie returned four days later. Knox leaned over to his old friend and whispered “I have been greatly indebted to you. I shall never be able to recompense you, but I can commit you to One who can do it—to the eternal God.” Remembering those final words, Fairlie passed them on to his children, and they to theirs, down the generations. Young Marion Fairlie was told by her father that her great grandfather Fairlie “was committed in prayer to the Eternal God by His servant, John Knox!”

A memorial stained glass window inside of John Knox’s home in Edinburgh

The “John Knox House” on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Born in 1638 at the very beginning of the “Second Reformation,” Marion Fairlie committed her life to Christ at a young age, and when she grew up, married one of the boldest and bravest of the Scottish Covenanter preachers—William Veitch, to whom she bore nine children, three of whom died in infancy. She also kept a diary which was discovered and published two hundred years later by the Free Church of Scotland (1846). Ironically, she was married almost exactly 92 years to the day after her great grandfather’s last visit to John Knox.

The small village of Roberton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland, birthplace of William Veitch

William Veitch was the son of John Veitch, both of whom had been ejected from the pulpit as non-conforming Presbyterian pastors. Marion’s friends tried to convince her not to marry a man whose future indicated both poverty and trouble with the government, since the Veitches were meeting for worship in the illegal conventicles and were hated by Murdoch McKenzie, the Bishop of Moray, and declared outlaws by the King of England. Marion—a woman of deep conviction and constant in prayer—was a member of the congregation in Lanark, where William came to preach after his expulsion from Moray. Marion declared that God was faithful and would see her through difficulties, as he had her family in the past, believing it His will to marry William.

A coventicle—a secret meeting of the Covenanters—for which many paid dearly

Two years later, her husband—a “bold and daring man”—joined the Covenanter forces assembled to petition the Scottish General Assembly, but who were confronted by the government army at the Pentland Hills and slaughtered. Marion concealed officers fleeing the battlefield and pursuit. Within two days, enemy General Dalziel arrived at Veitch’s home seeking the preacher, although he had escaped and was in the process of making his way to England. Troopers continued to surround the Veitch home every few weeks, but Marion just assembled the children and truthfully denied having seen her husband lately. She eventually joined him in England, and he continued preaching there at illegal conventicles. In 1779 the authorities finally caught Veitch at home. Marion stated to her family that the justices could only do what God permitted them to do, so she was not worried over their situation.

Sir Thomas Dalyell (or Dalziel) (1615–1685), a great persecuter of Covenanters

A replica flag as carried by the Army of the Covenant

Travel to Scotland this summer and walk where Robert FairlieJohn Knox and William Veitch trod out the Gospel everyday. Hearing these reformation stories on the ground where they happened is both instructive and inspiring. Take advantage of our Early Bird rates and register today!

Word came from the jail that prosecutor Thomas Bell had pronounced sentence and the pastor was to be hanged the following day. Marion hurried through the snows to be with her husband in jail. That night, Bell “tarried at a friend’s house drinking” before going out into the night. He never arrived at home and his frozen body was found in the river next day. William Veitch was released from prison shortly thereafter, no one with the authority to carry out the sentence being present. He was eventually also pardoned by royal authority.

The village of Dumfries, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, with St. Michael’s Church

William and Marion both lived to a ripe old age, their home being known for hospitality, friendship, and prayer. Two of their sons became captains in the Prince of Orange’s army (later King of England), one became the Governor of Nova Scotia, and one moved to America and raised a godly family in Philadelphia. Another son became a minister in Ayr, and one daughter married the pastor at Caerlaverock. All of them were taught the scriptures at home and passed on to their own children that covenantal legacy begun centuries before at the bedside of John Knox. William and Marion died one day apart in 1722, but the faith lived on in their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Samuel Vetch (1668-1732), son of William and Marion Veitch, was a Scottish soldier and colonial governor of Nova Scotia

Caerlaverock Parish Church and graveyard, Caerlaverock, Dumfriesshire, Scotland

The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, 1975

2022-11-08T14:49:32-06:00November 8, 2022|HH 2022|

“They that go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters; These men see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. For at his word the stormy wind ariseth, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep.” —Psalm 107:23, 24

The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald,
November 10, 1975

The Great Lakes contain 21% of the world’s fresh water by volume—more than 94,000 square miles of surface. Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario interconnect with one another and access the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River and Seaway. They have often been called inland seas due to their rolling waves, high winds and currents, as well as ocean-like depths, not to mention about 35,000 islands. Lake Superior is the largest freshwater surface lake in the world and provides shore-line to Canada, and the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It is larger than five New England states combined and receives water from more than three hundred rivers and streams. It is known for the ferocious storms that occasionally arise on its waters.

A 2010 satellite image of the Great Lakes region, showing Lakes Superior,
Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario (L-R)

Collectively there have been more than 6,000 ships sunk in the Great Lakes, with the loss of about 20,000 lives. Three hundred fifty of those ships went down in Lake Superior. The most famous of the lost ships, immortalized in song, was the iron ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank with all hands on November 10, 1975.

The Edmund Fitzgerald underway in 1971

The Lake Superior iron ranges supply about 85% of the iron ore demands of the United States iron and steel industry, which today makes it a two billion dollar industry. An iron ore range is an “elongate belt of sedimentary rocks in which one or more layers consists of a banded iron formation . . . on a scale of a few centimeters.” Most of the iron ranges in the three states were discovered in the 1840s and 50s, and by the 1880s were in full iron ore production. Lake Superior became the super-highway of transporting ore to the factories around the United States, from the foundries and blast furnaces of Gary, Indiana to those in Elyria, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. In the 1950s, the shipments were changed to taconite, a pelletized version of the best ores, created at the mines.

The probable respective routes of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Arthur M. Anderson the fateful night of November 10, 1975

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was launched in 1958 and was the largest ore transporter on the Great Lakes. Her length was seven hundred twenty-nine feet and seventy-five at the beam—more than two football fields long. For seventeen years the “Titanic of the Great Lakes” shipped out of Duluth, delivering taconite pellets to Detroit, Toledo and other ports. By ore freighter standards the “Mighty Fitz” was positively luxurious with deep pile carpeting, tile bathrooms, and leather swivel chairs in the guest lounge. The crew quarters were air-conditioned and fully stocked pantries for the two dining rooms. The pilothouse boasted state-of-the-art nautical equipment and an elegant map room.

The Northwest Mutual Company named the ship after its president and chairman of the board, a man whose grandfather and uncles had all been lake captains. The sideways launch of the new ship in 1958 created a wave so large it doused the 15,000 spectators! The Fitz quickly became the record-setting workhorse and flagship of the Columbia Transportation Fleet. She became a favorite of boat watchers, and the captain piped music day and night over the ship’s intercom system. Ore-carrying ships were built to last fifty years, but the Edmund Fitzgerald met an ill-wind of providence on that Sunday in 1975, after leaving with a load of taconite from her Superior, Wisconsin port, bound for Tug Island near Detroit.

Captain Ernest Michael McSorley (1912-1975)

The Arthur M. Anderson unloading at Huron, Ohio, November 29, 2008

Captain Earnest M. McSorley decided to follow the regular route despite the weather report of a possible storm, a normal forecast for that time of year. The Fitz was joined by the Arthur M. Anderson out of Two Harbors, Minnesota bound for Gary, Indiana. At 7:00 p.m., the National Weather Service issued a gale warning for the whole of Lake Superior. Both ships altered course seeking shelter along the Ontario shore, where they encountered a winter storm at 1:00 a.m. By 2:00 the Anderson registered winds of 50 knots (about 58 miles per hour). Within forty-five minutes snow obscured visibility and the Anderson lost sight of the Fitz. Captain McSorley radioed the Anderson that his ship was taking on water and a few minutes later reported they had lost their radar and were slowing down to rely on the smaller ship for guidance. McSorley hailed any ships in the area for information about a nearby lighthouse and reported that the Fitzgerald was listing badly and the seas were “over the deck” in the “worst seas I’ve ever been in.” The Arthur M. Anderson recorded waves twenty-five feet high and sustained winds at fifty knots and gusts up to eighty-six knots. At 7:10 Captain McSorley radioed that they were “holding their own,” but was never heard from again. There are many theories regarding the breakup and sinking of the ship, too many to summarize in this brief article.

Lifeboat No. 2, recovered after the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

A three-day search off Whitefish Point turned up a few lifeboats and wreckage, but no survivors or the ship. A Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion flying over the region with special radar found the Edmund Fitzgerald in two pieces, fifteen miles west of Deadman’s Cove in 530 feet of Canadian waters on November 14. A number of dives have been held on the wreck, and the ship’s bell has been recovered. The remains of one seaman with a life vest was recovered. An historical marker has been erected at Whitefish Point, Michigan and a replica of the bell etched with the twenty-nine crewmen’s names is on display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Chippewah County, Michigan. Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot composed and sang “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in 1976. It became one of the most famous ballads in American history.

A sketch of the wreck as it was found

Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot, who commemorated the loss with his famous ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in 1976

Keep your eyes open for a new and exciting Landmark Events tour (late August or September of 2023) as we visit the numerous historical sites of the Duluth, Minnesota area, including the William A. Irvin, a floating iron ore ship museum that plied the Lakes for 40 years.

Annual lighting of the Split Rock Lighthouse to commemorate the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald

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