A pot, simmering in the kitchen, comes to a boil–
Signaling to the bereaved that now is the time to engage in the ceremonial post-memorial meal.
The dour facades are struck with the uneasy feeling that the physical absence of the lost engenders in them as they make their way to the dining room. This lack of any corpse to bury makes the entire gathering feel even more alien and haunting. The parents and close relatives pantomiming the motions of family gatherings past in their working-class defiance towards morbidity.
Although, perhaps more unnerving than haunting, is that there is no hope of ever receiving whatever remains of the lost to bury. They all know the Lake never gives up her dead. The water being so cold that the bacterial growth which normally causes dead sailors to wash ashore in a bloated state of putrid decay is simply not possible. In a way that’s a relief, no chance of being called in to identify their child in such a ghastly state of decomposition
The ship went down in Lake Superior, on November 10, 1975, departing from Superior, WI, carrying 29,250 tons of taconite and 29 crew. Taconite with which those Eastern Industrialists (who had sent their dearest condolences in letter form, an effort to play for time as their legal department navigated how liable they in fact were and what the could bargain down with as far as life insurance policy went, what with the fucking union barking down their necks) had planned to do God knows what.
There were some murmurings of state department projects (although with the war “officially” over whatever they, the state department, could be getting up to was anyone’s guess [but given that outfits track record they surely would fuck it up, whatever it was]). One could hear whispered rumors and nervous, local innuendo in any one of the vast number of bars that make up the bulk of Superior’s economy. The rundown town, which served the economically ascendant Duluth as a pool of cheap labor; had for itself, as a point of some pride, the distinguished honor of being the city with the most bars per capita. More than any not just in the region, but of any in the nation. Make of that what you will.
The wreath hangs crooked over a picture of the deceased; his employee photo for the Columbia Transportation Division. Beginning to list to the left side in a way none of the reserved Upper Midwest types have the emotional fortitude to acknowledge and correct.
And if they couldn’t handle correcting the wreath’s position, what hope did they have of comprehending what the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald meant in larger, more macro-economic terms? That the lack of care with which her route had been chosen and then executed was perhaps a hint that the Eastern Industrialists, who for so long billed the region as the Next Chicago! were in fact finding it far more advantageous to take their shipping routes abroad.
To people’s whose families wouldn’t have these same damn safety regulations and life insurance policies. No OSHA, no fucking union, just that purely extracted surplus of value that fed their grinding, wheezing death machine of growth. The one they (the Industrialists) were willing to ride into their nationless abyss of fictitious capital. The alchemically generated death god of finance with which they would bury this world they felt compelled to overcome.
These poor damn bush-apes of the Great Lakes were going to be buried underneath an unrelenting onslaught of cheap Chinese steel. The few oreboats still operating out of the region (to be manned by skeleton crews bestowed with animacy thru the occulted machinations of digital interfaces) soon would generate more capital circulation as tourist attractions rather than the region’s root chakra of profit and economic vitality. How in the hell could these middle-lower working people, good union men of mostly post-1848 south German stock (with the predictable genetic infusions courtesy of fellow Roman Catholics of a more “ethnic” whiteness; Irish, Italians. Not forgetting of course the ever-present Scandinavian contingent most outsiders associate with this particular part of the lower 48; adherents of Luther though they were) they had no way of knowing what was in store. These men and their families had no way of even conceptualizing that this, their community, upon which they thought they had established a symbiotic relationship with the bourgeoisie who owned the mining and shipping companies as immutable as the word of God or even Vince Lombardi himself; that here they were soon to be the northernmost point of a band of rust which was to bind them to similarly doomed, and soon-to-be desiccated, port towns along the St. Lawrence and Erie Canal.
No, the families of the lost could not fathom what was to come. They most certainly wouldn’t handle it well. Not aware that their future progeny would be wiped out by pharmaceutical companies vampirically extracting profit out of the poisonous elixirs sold as a remedy to alleviate the desperation this very offshoring would produce.
The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was the death knell of the Rust Belt. The bell at the Mariners Church in Detroit rang 29 times for the 29 lost souls on that cursed ore boat. In a way, it hasn’t stopped ringing, as the shipwreck for which it sang was the harbinger of much more pain and desperation yet to come.
— Dan R. dropped out of community college twice and wasted his twenties playing bike messenger. He lives on Minnesota’s North Shore and is allegedly a Catholic again.