The day was November 10, 1975. It was—and still is—the roughest I have seen Lake Michigan. I was amazed by the 20- to 30-foot waves slamming into the Ludington lighthouse. The roiling sea engulfed the breakwater. Hurricane-force winds made it nearly impossible to stand up. I braced myself against a tree and held the camera as still as I could. Sand blasted me and my Nikon camera. Of course, I could not know that within a few hours, the Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald would succumb on Lake Superior to what meteorologists would later describe as the “Perfect Great Lakes Storm.” What I did know without a doubt was this was the fiercest storm to hit the Ludington area shoreline since the Armistice Day Storm of 1940. I knew this storm was more than a match for even the mighty self-righting 44-foot Coast Guard motor lifeboat at Coast Guard Station Ludington. Thank God my shipmates there didn’t have to try to go out that day. The barometer dropped to the second-lowest level ever recorded in Ludington. Even the waves inside the Ludington pierheads appeared mountainous. The breakwater leading to the lighthouse was not even visible because the waves rolling over it were so large and storm surge so great. The waves were so big inside the harbor it was impossible to discern where the submerged breakwater was. This was a day for the history books. It was not the only big story I covered that day as a reporter and photographer for the Ludington Daily News. I had been sent earlier that day to a farm an hour away near Chase, Michigan, where a group of farmers herded their dairy cattle into a massive pit excavated in the middle of a farm field. The farmers surrounded the pit and shot and killed dozens of the cattle to draw national attention to the fact that their cattle and some farm family members were being poisoned by PBB that had been accidentally mixed into cattle feed they had purchased. The slaughter was a gruesome undertaking, carried out in pouring rain. I drove soaking wet back to Ludington. Upon reaching downtown Ludington, just before turning off Ludington Avenue onto Rath Avenue, where the newspaper was located, I could see the mountainous waves on Lake Michigan a half mile west of my location. I didn’t make the turn. Instead I drove straight to the west end of Ludington Avenue, jumped out of my Ford Bronco and began photographing the greatest Great Lakes storm I had ever witnessed. After a half-hour or so, I was too numb to shoot anymore. Incredibly, when I crawled back in my vehicle, I realized the hurricane force wind had blown all my wet clothing dry. I headed straight to the Daily News because I couldn’t wait to develop the 400 ASA Kodak Tri-X black and white film containing my storm shots. I was not anxious to see the cow-killing shots. Give me a great storm to photograph any day!

The Day the Fitzgerald Went Down

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