The making of a modern legend
Archived Articles 05 Jan 2007  EWR
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Elle Andra-Warner. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald: The Legendary Great Lakes Disaster. Amazing Stories series, Altitude Publishing, Canmore, Alberta, 2006

31 years ago, on November 10th, 1975 the 729-foot ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald with a crew of 29 aboard broke apart during one of the worst November storms ever to hit Lake Superior, and sunk into Gitchee Gumee's depths, leaving no survivors. The disaster has been the focus of fascination ever since. Musicians such as Gordon Lightfoot, whose ballad devoted to the tragedy is a Canadian classic, have brought worldwide attention to the shipwreck story. Numerous writers and researchers have also done their bit to keep the haunting tale of one of the most legendary, mysterious and controversial shipwrecks of the Great Lakes alive. With the October release of Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald we now add Elle Andra-Warner to the list of authors who have penned a book devoted to the Mighty Fitz.

Born in a post-war Estonian displaced persons camp in Europe, Elle lived for a time in England, then came to Canada with her parents in the 1950s, settling on the Lake Superior shoreline in Port Arthur, Ontario (now part of the city of Thunder Bay). The sounds and sights of lake freighters - like the SS Edmund Fitzgerald - were an everyday part of her Canadian childhood.

This new work, dedicated to all the mariners who have sailed the Great Lakes, marks Andra-Warner's fourth book in the Altitude Publishing Amazing Stories — True Stories •Truly Canadian series. The Amazing Stories are tightly written popular histories, weaving human interest with rich descriptive into compelling, easily readable books. Our junior high-schooler is an avid fan of Andra-Warner's books, and the arrival of The Wreck was greeted with great pleasure and the anticipation that marks a dedicated reader picking up a book by a favourite author.
There is a fascination with the sinking of the Fitzgerald that truly transcends age. It is recent enough that the majority of us clearly remember the disaster. And the 13 year-olds who pronounce the book to be an awesome read today do their bit to extend the life of what can only be called a modern legend.

Andra-Warner's book begins with the making of the Fitzgerald dynasty, a Great Lakes shipbuilding family, moving to the building of the Mighty Fitz, which was to be the largest and fastest freshwater freighter ever to be launched on the Great Lakes. Lake Superior — the Spirit Ocean — its Shipwreck Coast, and its unpredictable weather conditions are chillingly described, preparing the reader for the storm that sunk the ship. In the epic battle between humans and nature, the outcome is tragic and humbling.

There are still more questions than answers about the tragedy, and Andra-Warner asks many of them in her search to find out what happened to the Fitzgerald. The concluding chapter splendidly captures the essence of what perhaps was a "perfect storm" or, on the other hand, simply a case of a ship being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We may never have all the answers. Andra-Warner's concise and compellingly written book has added a fresh look to this amazing story of a lake which never gives up its dead and of a mighty freighter in a watery grave.
A gripping popular history for readers of all ages, available at major bookstores across Canada.

Elle Andra-Warner has made plans to be in Toronto in early February for a book signing at the Ontario Library Conference. We are hopeful that the Tartu College Library may arrange a book signing and perhaps a reading for local interested Estonians to coincide with that time.
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