November 11, 1999
Lectures to discuss Edmund Fitzgerald
By BRIAN ALBRECHT, PLAIN DEALER REPORTER
On this day 24 years ago, the harsh realization was just sinking in that the Edmund Fitzgerald - an ore carrier bound for Detroit, lashed by 100-mph winds and 35-foot waves in a sudden storm on Lake Superior the night before - had gone down.
Chuck Milradt, commander of the Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, Coast Guard station that received the ship's distress calls Nov. 10, 1975, probably realized the last radio transmission of the Fitzgerald's captain, "We're holding our own," was just that - the last, ever.
Working hundreds of miles away in the Carribbean, John McCarthy also heard a radio report regarding the disappearance of the ship that his father, John McCarthy, 62, served aboard as first mate.
A few days and frantic flights later, he would join families of the 28 other Fitzgerald crewmen (including seven from Northeast Ohio) in mourning the loss of a ship that to this day remains a sunken symbol of Great Lakes tragedy and mystery.
Tonight at 7 p.m., Milradt of Elyria, and McCarthy of Westlake, will appear in a program about the Fitzgerald's sinking, sponsored as part of a series of lectures planned by the Great Lakes Brewing Co., 2516 Market Ave. This edition of a "Tasting Room Series" will be held from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in the banquet/meeting room of the new $6.5 million Great Lakes Brewery on Carroll Ave., across from Dave's Supermarket, off W. 25th St.
The evening includes a video about the Fitzgerald sinking, followed by a question-and-answer session with McCarthy and Milradt. Admission is $5.and each guest will receive a pint glass bearing the logo of the Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s "Edmund Fitzgerald Porter" - one of the firm's several beers named to honor Cleveland or Great Lakes' personalities and events.
Co-owner Patrick Conway said the lecture series was inspired by the success of a similar event held last year at the Great Lakes Brewing Co. restaurant in conjunction with dispersal of the ashes of Eliot Ness - former Cleveland safety director, famed leader of the crime-fighting "Untouchables," and the name of another Great Lakes' brew.
With the 24th anniversary of the Fitzgerald's sinking at hand, "We thought it was a fascinating story to tell," Conway said.
Several reasons have been offered for why the Fitzgerald went down that night. Some say water poured through faulty hatch covers, a monster wave broke the ship apart or a lake-bottom shoal tore into the ore carrier.
McCarthy, 54, said he's no expert on the various theories for the Fitzgerald's demise. But as a former sailor who worked aboard ore carriers (including the Fitzgerald) during college summer breaks, and the son of a lifelong Great Lakes merchantman and skipper, he grew up with an intimate knowledge of the potential risks - an awareness he kept tucked in a dark corner of his mind.
"Sure, it was stowed away back there," he said. "I don't think it was in one of the "front closets,' because the happenstance was just so far-between."
He agreed that the rarity of shipwrecks in recent shipping history may have added to the shock when his father's boat went down. "We were in modern times, and that was a big and modern boat," Mcarthy said.
"It's just plain shocking," he added, "but I don't think it's any different from someone finding out that a member of their family was a casualty of other circumstances, like a car or bus wreck. It's all of a sudden."
And by now - when this time of the year rolls around, when the radio starts replaying that Gordon Lightfoot ballad, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" - McCarthy has learned to live with history.
"It doesn't bother you," he said. "It just gives you time to reflect."
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©1999 THE PLAIN DEALER.