PARADISE, Mich. – Earlier this year, one of the world’s greatest shipwrecks was located when a team of scientists announced it had found the ship Endurance, which sank in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea in November 1915.
Endurance belonged to Sir Ernest Shackleton, who led a crew of 27 men and 69 dogs who attempted to traverse the continent via the South Pole and establish a base on the coast of the Weddell Sea.
But while it’s hard to travel to Antarctica to get a piece of history with the Endurance shipwreck, that’s not the case with what’s considered the greatest shipwreck in the history of the Great Lakes, the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975.
Thursday marks 47 years since the Edmund Fitzgerald tragedy.
Much of the history regarding the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald surrounds what was lost, but there is an important item that was found -- and it’s now on full display.
It’s also the key symbol of remembrance for family members of the 29 people who died when the ship sank in Lake Superior while carrying more than 26,000 tons of ore during a hurricane-like storm.
In the summer of 1995, months before the 20th anniversary of the ship’s sinking on November 10, 1975, a mission was started to recover the bell on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Family members of the victims were wary of advancements in diving technology, and knew the wreckage was being visited more and more, according to the website shipwreckmuseum.com.
Desiring that the site not be disturbed and to bring closure to the tragedy, family members unanimously decided to take one symbolic memorial from the ship back to the surface, and that was the ship’s bell.
A replica bell inscribed with the names of the deceased crewmen would be placed at the wreckage site deep in Lake Superior as a permanent grave marker.
Working with U.S. and Canadian government agencies, the mission to recover the bell took place on July 4, 1995.
With family members watching aboard a separate private yacht provided for the mission, the bell was lifted up from the lake’s floor and broke the surface at 1:25 p.m. that day.
Family members of the victims finally got some closure.
Today, the bell is on display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Paradise, Michigan, right at the tip of Whitefish Bay, and not far from where the Edmund Fitzgerald lies in Lake Superior.
The museum, which has about 125,000 visitors each year, sits at the end of a road that goes along Whitefish Bay toward Lake Superior. Drive any farther and your car will go onto a beach of the biggest Great Lake.
Inside, the museum offers further tributes to the Edmund Fitzgerald, but there’s more.
There are displays paying homage to other ships and their crews lost in the Great Lakes, as well as describing advancements in diving technology.
The complex also offers visitors a chance to see the living quarters of a light-keeper from more than 100 years ago.
“It is true that there is a fascination with lighthouses and shipwrecks, and I believe that people at times try to imagine how they might cope as a light-keeper, or how they would react in a shipwreck situation,” said Bruce Lynn, executive director of the museum. “There is always the mystery aspect as well. Think of the Fitzgerald. We know a lot about the Edmund Fitzgerald, but we do not really know exactly how she sank.”
To the appreciation of visitors and the families of the victims, the bell that was found serves as a great tribute to what was lost.
This story was originally published in 2021 and has been updated.