Airmen out of Elmendorf AFB take packages by dogsled into the village of Savoonga on Saint Lawrence Island. It was -20F when they unloaded their C-123, Christmas Day, 1963. The huskies look to be getting impatient.
On the Winter Solstice, we neither gain nor lose daylight here in Interior Alaska. The day today will be the same length as yesterday: 3 hours, 47 minutes long.
But tomorrow, tomorrow we will gain 20 seconds. Christmas Eve will see a gain of a minute, and by New Year’s, our daylight will last more than 4 hours.
It’s a big deal here in the north.
There will be a double treat in the skies this year, as we get to experience the rare “double conjunction”. Saturn and Jupiter will be so close together in the low southwestern sky, that they will appear as one bright point. The best time for viewing will be one hour after sunset.
The last time Jupiter and Saturn put on this “joint force” in the sky was in 1623.
The freighter, Arthur M. Anderson, had been trailing the Edmund Fitzgerald during the fateful, November storm, that sank the Big Fitz in 1975. The Anderson reported the missing ship to the U.S. Coast Guard, and had made the safety of Whitefish Bay in the early morning hours of November 11, 1975. The Anderson then joined other ships, and reversed coarse back into the storm, to look for survivors.
After making the post on the Edmund Fitzgerald last week, I received a tip from Ogdensburg, New York along the Saint Lawrence Seaway, that the Anderson was back on Lake Superior on the 45th Anniversary of the sinking of the Fitz. In fact, it had passed the location of the wreck of the Fitzgerald early on the tenth, and came into the Duluth Harbor that evening.
I was simply amazed that the Anderson was crossing the same waters on the 45th Anniversary.
The above video is 9 minutes long, the Anderson appears at the 3:50 mark. The Master Salute to the Fitzgerald would have been something to experience in person along the canal.
The great freighter sank 45 years ago today, taking all 29 crew members to the bottom of Lake Superior with her.
Growing up in Minnesota, and spending a fair amount of time along the shores of Lake Superior, the story of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one that I had heard from early childhood.
Construction on The Fitz started in August of 1957. The Great Lakes Engineering Works was tasked with building a freighter that would come within one foot of the Saint Lawrence Seaway’s maximum length. The customer was the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The ship was launched in June 1958, bearing the name of the president of Northwestern Mutual Life. The cost for the 729′ long freighter with a 26,000 long ton capacity, was $7 million.
For 17 years, The Fitz hauled iron ore from Duluth and Superior to cities like Detroit and Toledo. It took five days to make the run between Toledo, Ohio and Superior, Wisconsin.
The Fitzgerald set several cargo records during its time on the Great Lakes, often breaking her own previous record. In 1969, the ship hauled 27,402 long tons in a single run.
The Fitz quickly became popular with the public. Captain Peter Pulcer would play music over the ship’s intercom, whenever they went through the St Clair and Detroit Rivers. Near the Soo Locks, Pulcer would often talk to the public over a bullhorn, explaining details of the ship.
A storm was building over Oklahoma’s panhandle on 9 November 1975. Weather forecasters predicted that it would stay south of Lake Superior. At 2:15pm, on the same day, the Edmund Fitzgerald left the port of Superior, WI.
The storm moved fast, and by 1am on the morning of the 10th, The Fitz was reporting waves at ten feet. By 2am, the National Weather Service had upgraded its warnings from gale to storm.
The SS Arthur M. Anderson, which had been traveling with The Fitz, started to fall behind the faster Fitzgerald at 3am. The Anderson recorded winds of 58mph at 1:50pm. It started to snow heavy at 2:45pm, and the crew of the Anderson lost sight of the Fitzgerald at that time. The Fitz was approximately 16 miles ahead at this point.
At 3:30pm, Captain McSorley of the Fitzgerald, radioed the Anderson that they were taking on water and had lost two vent covers. The United States Coast Guard had closed the Soo Locks, and told ships to seek safe anchorage.
By late afternoon, waves had increased to 25 feet and wind gusts hit 67mph. The Anderson recorded gusts of 86mph and waves of 35 feet. The Edmund Fitzgerald tried to make Whitefish Bay, where the Whitefish Point light was working, but not the radio beacon. By now the Fitzgerald was blind, having lost both its radar.
At 7:10pm, Captain McSorley radioed the Anderson, that they were “holding their own”. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank within minutes of that final message. There was no distress signal.
The fully loaded Edmund Fitzgerald went down 15 nautical miles from Whitefish Bay. All 29 crew members perished; no bodies were recovered. The Fitz now lies 530 feet below the surface of Lake Superior.
A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion, equipped with technology usually associated with finding submarines, found the wreck on 14 November 1975. The ship was in two pieces on the lake floor.
Every year on November 10, the Minnesota Historical Society hosts the Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting Ceremony at the Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, MN. This year’s ceremony will be virtual, hosted on the Historical Society’s facebook page. The ceremony starts at 4:30 CST, with the beacon lighting at approximately 7:30pm.
It’s the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, although to be perfectly honest, we are well underway up here in Interior Alaska. The colors have definitely peaked already, and over half of the leaves are now on the ground.
I had an unscheduled day off on Monday. A job cancelled on Friday, and there wasn’t enough time, or ambition, to schedule something else in its place. It’s unusual for me to get a nice day on an unscheduled day off, and Monday was an absolutely beautiful fall day up here.
So I spent the afternoon hiking the seemingly, endless system of trails that start at my deck. I saw only one other person and her dog at the start of the hike, and after that it was only the grouse, red squirrels, a couple of moose and myself.
The woods were mostly silent, with only the occasional scolding from a squirrel, or the pre-flush clucking of a grouse. Even the trail, loaded with a carpet of leaves, allowed me to pass with barely a sound: Only a faint rustling was left in my wake.
In August of 1935, Will Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post, flew throughout the then Territory of Alaska. Post, a well known aviator, would fly the Lockheed Orion-Explorer, while Rogers pounded out newspaper columns on his typewriter.
They left Fairbanks on August 15 for Barrow. Encountering terrible weather, they managed to find a break in the fog, and landed their floatplane on the waters of Walakpa Bay, and asked some Inupiat hunters where they were.
“15 miles from Barrow.”
Post & Rogers returned to the plane, and took off. At an altitude of approximately 50 feet, the engine died, and the plane nosed-dived into the lagoon. The engine was driven back into the cabin, and crushed Post. Rogers was thrown from the plane. Both men appeared to die instantly.
The wrecked Lockheed after the crash
Will Rogers was easily the most recognized and beloved celebrity at the time of his death. His columns were read by an estimated 40 million people, and syndicated in over 600 newspapers.
Post was a famed aviator, and the two men had planned on flying across the Bering Sea to Siberia after their stops in Alaska. A Trans-Siberian flight on to Moscow was also part of the agenda.
Memorial to Rogers & Post at the Pioneer Air Museum
Two metal crosses were constructed to honor both Post and Rogers.
The crosses were deemed too heavy to transport by air from Fairbanks to the crash site near the Walakpa River, and approximately 11 miles from the community of Barrow.
The crosses are displayed at the Pioneer Air Museum in Fairbanks.
A marker and monument that stand near the crash site
Alaska’s annual day to celebrate all things salmon, is still on, but it’s going virtual this year. No salmon grilling open to the public this year, but you can always grill up some Alaskan sockeye in the privacy of your own backyard.