Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Detroit's Mariners' Church and the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

It was forty years ago today when the 729-foot long iron freighter the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in rough waters in Lake Superior in near Whitefish Point, Michigan--all 29 men on board perished.

The tragedy was immortalized in Gordon Lightfoot's 1976 hit "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald."

And a Detroit church was immortalized too in that song.
In a rustic 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.
As there is no bishop there, Maritime Sailors' isn't a cathedral, but Lightfoot should be cut some slack as few words rhyme with Fitzgerald.

The bell ranged on November 11--the day after the sinking--and the tradition continued until 2006 when the remembrance was expanded to all sailors who perished on the Great Lakes.

Mariners' Church is visible from the Renaissance Center and the ramp from the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

And this house of worship has its own fascinating story.

In her 1842 will Julia Ann Anderson stated that a stone church--for the ages--be built on the site of her mansion at Woodward and Woodbridge. She also called for free pews--as the practice at the time was to charge for pew seating--poor people such as sailors were forced to worship in the back of churches. The church opened in 1849, one year after Detroit's oldest house of worship, Saints Peter and Paul, was consecrated about a mile away.

Pictured here is the front of the church.

"Forever free" is how Anderson phrased her demand for free pews at the church, which is appropriate because it was a stop, probably a final one for many escaped slaves, on the Underground Railroad, as Canada was just across the Detroit River.

Mariners' was to be razed in 1955 to make room for what later became the Cobo Center. But George W. Stark, a trustee at the church and a writer for the Detroit News, led a successful fundraising drive to have the 3,000-ton church moved 900 feet to its present location.

That's your blogger at Whitefish Point, Michigan in 2009.

There are other Michigan points of interest in the Edmund Fitzgerald story. It was constructed at the Great Lakes Engineering Works in River Rouge south of Detroit and its destination on its ill-fated voyage was Zug Island in that same suburb.

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