Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Edmund Fitzgerald came from a Great Lakes Irish family of shipbuilders and sailors

The first click of the day was on a story that turned out to be about the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank 35 years ago today. I hadn't thought about that tragedy in years. I hadn't even heard the Gordon Lightfoot song, which is a good one.

For whatever reason I wanted to know who was Edmund Fitzgerald, after whom the steamer was named. I found a nice little summary about Fitzgerald and his family's roots on a site called Lake Huron Lore (overlooking the fact that the Edmund Fitzgerald sank on Lake Superior).

Fitzgerald was the head of the insurance company that owned the ship. However, Edmund Fitzgerald came from a family that was closely connected with shipping.

Edmund Fitzgerald {photo} was born in 1895 in Milwaukee, WI. Edmund's great grandparents – William and Juilianna – had immigrated from Ireland in 1837 and settled on a farm in Michigan, along the St. Clair river. Six of William and Julianna's sons were more taken by life on the river and lakes than life on the farm.

Three of those sons moved to Milwaukee in the 1850s and each took up different roles in sailing and shipping. John, Edmund's grandfather, became a shipbuilder. John's son William took over the business in the 1890s. Young Edmund believed he'd also work in shipbuilding, but his father died when he was only 6 years old and life took him in a different direction, although he never lost his love for and interest in shipping and the lakes.

Although Edmund didn't want the freighter named after him, his wife and the board of the insurance company made it happen because they knew what it would mean to a man with such a strong family connection to shipping on the Great Lakes. Edmund declared that the launch of the Edmund Fitzgerald was a great day for all the Fitzgeralds.

Edmund Fitzgerald died in 1986 "still deeply saddened by the wreck of the ship named for him."

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