Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lourdes Lectures Span Spectrum from History to Hot Topics: The Edmund Fitzgerald and Understanding Islam

Lecture on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
"She was a good ship and she had a good life." 
The lecture topics at Lourdes University's Lifelong Learning program yesterday couldn't have been more different.  One explored the sinking of the Great Lakes cargo ship the Edmund FItzgerald, and the other, understanding Islam. We went from history to hot topics! Both lectures, however, provided food for thought. 


I never knew there were so many theories about why the Edmund Fitzgerald went down in a violent storm on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975.  Carrie Sowden of the Great Lakes Historical Society covered most of them.  "She had a good life," Sowden said of the "Fitz," but it ended tragically. Yes. Haven't we all heard Gordon Lightfoot's ballad about the wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald? It's a great song, honest, factual, beautifully told, and the spirit of the ballad lives on.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called 'Gitche Gumee'
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy

With the song floating in the background, over 100 people listened with rapt attention as Sowden presented a fascinating look at the Fitz's history and how it sank. Was it the ship's structure, the steel, the hatches, the hull? The nature of the storm, the weather and the waves? Did it hit some reef that caused damage and flooding? Was it the heavy load she carried,miscommunications, "pilot error? The arguments rage to this day. 

"We're holding our own."  These were the last words of Captain Ernest M. McSorley, a seasoned seafarer with great experience plying the Great Lakes from Duluth, Minnesota, and Wisconsin over to Detroit, Toledo, and other ports, He sent the message to the Arthur Anderson, which was travelling on a parallel route.

Then the Fitz went down, near the entrance to Whitefish Bay. taking all 29 crew members with her. Their bodies were never recovered, but artifacts and pieces of wreckage have been found, including the ship's bronze bell.They are displayed in various museums, such as the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, the Dossin Museum and the Mariners' Church in Detroit, and the Great Lakes Historical Society. 
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
They might have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

The Q & A session revealed a very well-informed and informative audience. We heard personal stories (very moving), comments from welders and people knowledgeable about cargo ships, comments from builders and Great Lakes experts. This session greatly enhanced the talk.

Iman Whaheed.
Majid Al-Islam Mosque
With our heads full of information about a historical subject, my friend Teddy and I moved across the hall of the Lourde's Franciscan Center to learn more about the "hot topic" of the day: Islam. We switched intellectual hats, as it were, and let curiosity guide us. Iman Whaheed, religious leader of Toledo Majid Al-Islam Mosque, provided an overview of the long history and major tenets of Islam.  He talked about "the five pillars" and noted the similarities of beliefs across different religions. "We're all in the same company, just in different departments," he remarked with some humor. He focused on the universal and transcendent, the true meaning of the Koran and the prophet Muhammed. He led us away from equating Islam with extremism, with ISIS, with terrorists. We needed to hear this; we need to understand Islam. The discussion was also fascinating. 

History and "hot topics."  The past and the present.  Intellectual arguments about a historical tragedy, and emotional points of view about a major world religion.  "Keeps your brain going," my daughter remarked when I gave a brief account of my day.  I can't argue with that! 

GORDON LIGHTFOOT

Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald Lyrics
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called 'Gitche Gumee'
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy

With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty.
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early.

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship's bell rang
Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T'was the witch of November come stealin'.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the Gales of November came slashin'.
When afternoon came it was freezin' rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind.

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin'.
Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya.
At Seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in, he said (2010 lyric
change by Gordon Lightfoot: At Seven P.M., it grew dark, it was
then he said,)
Fellas, it's been good t'know ya

The captain wired in he had water comin' in
And the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd put fifteen more miles behind her.

They might have split up or they might have capsized;
They May have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams;
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the Gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral.
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call 'Gitche Gumee'.
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early!

Lyrics found <a href="http://www.elyrics.net/read/g/gordon-lightfoot-lyrics/wreck-of-the-edmund-fitzgerald-lyrics.html" rel="nofollow">here</a>
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