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Split Rock Lighthouse Annual Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting

This is our first anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald without Gordon Lightfoot in our world. He memorialized the tragedy in a song that is beloved to many and, in exchange, the song kind of memorialized him. In fact, November 10th will not be the only beacon lighting ceremony this year. This spring, Split Rock Lighthouse lit up in honor of Gordon Lightfoot after his passing.

I like the song. I’m prone to singing “when the gales of November came early,” when I see a storm “on the big lake they call Gitchee Gumee.” The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzger­ald plays more and more on the radio this time of year and I always turn it up. I find sto­ry telling songs engaging, and there is a heart-wrenching story that goes along with “Fitz.”

For those who may not know much about the Edmund Fitzgerald, I encourage you to listen to the song. It may prompt you to read more about what happened that fateful night. You might even want to join the 1,500 to 1,900 people expected to attend the Split Rock Light House’s Edmund Fitzgerald Me­morial Beacon Lighting, Friday, November 10th from 3 PM to 7 PM, with the ceremony beginning at 4:30 PM.

The annual Edmund Fitzgerald Beacon Lighting has been a significant part of Split Rock’s events. Hayes Scriven, Site Manager at the Split Rock Lighthouse, plays a central role in organizing the event, from developing the program to coordinating various aspects, including the live streaming for those who can’t attend in person. He mentions that the live streaming has become a crucial aspect, making it the largest-watched streaming event for the institution throughout the year.

Hayes is from the Northfield area but attended the University of Minnesota and fell in love with the North Shore. He now lives in Two Harbors with his family. He is fascinated by history and loves what he does. “Working for Split Rock and the Minnesota Historical Society has been a dream come true. It’s such an important place. Knowing we’re making a difference here and uncovering new things, talking to a lot of people, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a very rewarding job,” Hayes said.

This year’s ceremony will include Coast Guard involvement. As the Lighthouse Ser­vice was a prelude to the Coast Guard, repre­sentatives reached out to be involved in the event. They will join the memorial by talking to what the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald did for the safety enforcement in the organization. A quartet from Duluth will sing the Navy Hymn.

The most moving part of the ceremony is the “Muster of the Last Watch.” During this poignant moment, each of the twenty-nine crew members of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald are called by name, followed by a sorrowful bell ring, representing the last roll call. Following this, an additional bell tolls for all the other sailors lost on the lake.

The importance of the tradition is clear to Hayes who says it is held, “So people don’t forget. It’s a recent event. A lot of times things can get lost in the shuffle and in history. This was a big thing for the area. There are still family that are here, and there is still a lot of raw emotion, even if this was almost 50 years ago.”

The event’s significance, however, goes beyond remembering the crew of the ship. It serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of Lake Superior and pays homage to all those who have lost their lives on the lake.

As Hayes Scriven emphasizes, “It does more than remembering the crew of the Ed­mund Fitzgerald. It is raising up that the lake is dangerous. Other people have died on the lake, and we try to honor all of them through the 29 names we remember every year. For us, a lot of these crew members were from the North Shore and the South Shore, so it’s our community trying to honor them.”

The Edmund Fitzgerald Beacon Lighting is not just a commemoration of a tragic event, but a profound reminder of the enduring connection between the past and the pres­ent, where the lessons of history continue to guide and protect those who traverse the for­midable waters of Lake Superior.

I was born on the anniversary of the sink­ing of the Fitz. For those who live on or near Lake Superior, it’s an event that haunts and fascinates many of us. It’s weird to share a birthday with such a tragedy, but I’ve always felt it’s connected me to the Edmund Fitzgerald. I usually see articles or news sto­ries around the time I’m making my birthday list. (For those wondering, I like chocolate and/or cash.) I would attend the ceremony if there wasn’t a UMD hockey game that night (against North Dakota, boo!). Hopefully, I can catch it on stream.

Thank you to Hayes and the Split Rock Lighthouse Crew for all you do to commem­orate the Edmund Fitzgerald, the crew, and all those souls in the lake that Gordon Light­foot said, “doesn’t give up her dead.”

Feel free to reach out to me at sarahwritesnsj@yahoo.com  with any news we should news about!

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