The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper


November 10th is a date that still haunts the hearts of many people in this region, for this was the day in 1975 that nature reminded us that she is not to be taken lightly. Capable of sudden and capricious power she can render helpless even the largest egos and machines of men. Forty years ago on that day, such was the case when the gales of November swallowed the Toledo-based freighter, the Edmund Fitzgerald in the stormy and violent waters of Lake Superior.

The ensuing tale of this big ship's tragedy has survived long after the storm of that night, spawning songs, poems, stories and multiple theories as to her demise and how she came to rest at the bottom of the biggest Great Lake. The enduring tale of the 729 foot long “Fitz” in many ways would become the Titanic of the Great Lakes in lore and legend.

Her story will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Two area women will also not forget the Fitzgerald anytime soon, for they cherish a unique perspective of the big freighter. In the summer of 1973, Carolyn Nitz Schnapp and Patrice Webster, then young teenagers, got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a trip on the Edmund Fitzgerald. It was a five day cruise from Toledo to Silver Bay Minnesota to bring back a load of iron ore pellets - a normal payload for the giant ore freighter which was the largest in the Great Lakes fleet.

Patrice Webster, who now lives in Oregon, recalls that her father Delmar Webster was a First Mate with Ogelbay Norton, the shipping company that operated the Fitzgerald. It was through his friendship with the Fitzgerald’s Captain, Ernest McSorley, that he and his daughter were able to get on board for this summer cruise. Patrice invited her childhood friend Carolyn Nitz along for the adventure.

As Carolyn recalls, it was mid-July of 1973 when they boarded in Toledo and stayed in the crews' quarters of the ship where she and Patrice, spent a lot of time in the galley helping to make meals for the crew and the officers.

“We made fudge and cookies,” she said, and helped serve them to the 29 crew members. “They were very nice to us and spent a lot of time talking with us. It was like having a bunch of big brothers and Dads, they became like family to us.”

Sadly many of the men they were to meet and befriend went down with the ship when it sank in 1975. Patrice and Carolyn both remember Captain McSorley, of Ottawa Hills, as a very kind and gentle man. They also recall the friendliness of many of the crew, some not much older than they were at the time. They describe them as fun-loving characters with a good sense of humor. For two 13-year old girls, the journey was a thrilling and indelible experience. But, 40 years after the ship's sinking, their shared experience remains a bittersweet memory, as some of the men they got to know were aboard the night hurricane-like storms began to churn the waters of Lake Superior and sent the ship and the men to their watery graves.

“It's hard for me every November 10th,” says Carolyn, who now lives near Trowbridge. “I usually just like to be by myself every year on the anniversary day.”

Carolyn's memories of that trip on the Mighty Fitz are brought to life by the paintings, pictures, articles and other memorabilia of the ship she has collected over the years. They are kept in a special room of her house.

For Patrice, the deep feelings for the crew are the same. “It's really surreal to know that you were on that ship which is now so famous.” Her memories and attachment to the tragedy were made even more relevant as her father Delmar Webster, would become Captain on the “Courtney Burton”, the ship that eventually replaced the Fitzgerald as the Oglebay Norton flagship.

For a number of years, Patrice accompanied her father every November 10th to the Mariner's Church in downtown Detroit where special services were held to honor and remember the crew and the ship. For Carolyn, her recollections of that special trip are leavened by the numerous trips she has taken to the Fitzgerald Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, Michigan. A place where many of the artifacts recovered from the shipwreck site are on display. One of those items is the bell from the Fitzgerald which both Carolyn and Patrice got to ring numerous times on their 1973 voyage. For both women who knew this ship up close and knew the crew as more than just names in the newspaper, the haunting sound of that bell echoing over the deck of the Fitzgerald rings in their minds on every November 10th.



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