The Second Mate’s Daughter: A Tale of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The Second Mate’s Daughter: A Tale of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Outside a car door slammed. Then came the sound of worried voices. Emma Pratt rolled over in bed and sat up, rubbing her eyes. The wind was howling outside, and Emma could hear the rain pouring down on the roof. She looked at her clock. Midnight. It was Friday, November 11th, 1975. Downstairs a door opened. Rubbing the last bit of sleep from her eyes, Emma climbed out of bed and tiptoed towards the stairs, peeking over the railing. As three men entered the house, lightning flashed, illuminating the sky. The men were in yellow rain slickers, and Emma’s mother stood in the foyer, a worried expression on her face.

“I’m sorry ma’am. The Fitzgerald was there, on The Anderson’s radar, that was at 19:10. Then it just disappeared.” One of the men told her.

Up above on the stairs, Emma drew in a sharp breath. She knew storms in November could get rough, but it was still early in November… it didn’t make any sense.

“We have helicopters out there searching right now, but they lost connection and the ship vanished.” A second man said, pulling off his rain hat and turning it around in his hands.

Mrs. Pratt put her hands to her face. Emma had a feeling that her father, James A. Pratt, Second Mate on The Edmund Fitzgerald, was dead. Not caring that she was in her pajamas, Emma ran down the stairs, her bare feet thumping on the wooden staircase. She put her arms around her mother and tried to hold in her own tears. This was too much. It was just too much. Emma couldn’t believe it, it didn’t seem like reality. It sounded like something that only happened to other people, but would never do anything to them. A tear rolled down Emma’s cheek, and she brushed it away, but more came.

The men left, and Emma went back upstairs to her room and sat on her bed, staring at her hands. She then picked up her journal and a pen, and began to write.

Midnight, November 11, 1975.

The Edmund Fitzgerald went down. Daddy’s probably dead. I don’t see how it’s possible. It’s something that’s real, but it’s not. Like something that would happen in a storybook. I feel like I’m in a dream. A nightmare, more like. How will life go on? When I said goodbye to daddy when he left, I didn’t know it was going to be the last goodbye. If I had… how different it would have been. And yet, not that different, because I don’t know what I really would’ve done differently. I don’t think I’ll be able to get back to sleep.



Emma sighed and lay down on her bed, staring up at the ceiling and listening to the storm raging outside. Tears began to roll down her cheeks again, and she rolled over and cried into her pillow.

The next thing she knew, her mother was shaking her awake.

“Emma. Emma. Emma.”

“What is it, mom?

“Let’s head over to the Church. They’re ringing the bell in memory.”
The night – early morning – flooded back to her. “So they’re really dead, then?”

“Yes, honey. Come on. I said you would ring it for daddy.”

Emma nodded. “I will.”

After getting dressed, Emma and Mrs. Pratt got in the car. “It’s going to be a bit of a drive, honey.”

Emma nodded. “It’s okay.”

During the ride, Emma thought about her father, all the memories they had had together. She knew then she wanted to say something about him before ringing the bell,

although no one else probably would. She thought of the first time she had been at sea, and how much fun she had had with her father there. That would be what she would tell.

The ride passed quickly, Emma completely consumed in her thoughts. When they got to the Church, she began to feel a tad bit nervous. When her turn came to ring the bell, she turned around to face the few people gathered there.

“Before I ring the bell in memory of my father,” she began, remembering the time she was about to tell the others, “I’d like to say something about him. He was a good man, caring, kind, gentle, and loving. I’m grateful he was my father. He took me out to the sea at a very young age, and we had many fun times boating. But my favorite was the time we were caught in a light storm. I was beginning to feel afraid, and he put his arms around me and began to sing to me. This is what he sang:

Jesus, Savior, pilot me,
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal;
Chart and compass came from Thee:
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

As a mother stills her child,
Thou canst hush the ocean wild;
Boist’rous waves obey Thy will
When Thou say’st to them, “Be still!”
Wondrous Sov’reign of the sea,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

When at last I near the shore,
And the fearful breakers roar
’Twixt me and the peaceful rest,
Then, while leaning on Thy breast,
May I hear Thee say to me,
“Fear not, I will pilot thee.”

And now, fear not – Jesus will pilot and comfort us now.”

Emma turned and pulled the rope on the bell, the ring resounding loud and clear. Emma descended the few steps from the platform with tears gathering in her eyes. She knew that inside, healing had begun.


Although Emma and her mother are fictional characters (Though Second Mate James A. Pratt was a real person, who was probably married), and all that I have just written about is fictional, the Edmund Fitzgerald was a real ship that went down on November 10th, 1975, at 7:10 PM.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.

With a load of iron ore – 26,000 tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconson
As the big freighters go it was bigger than most
With a crew and the Captain well seasoned.

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ships bell rang
Could it be the North Wind they’d been feeling.

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T’was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane West Wind

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it’s too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it’s been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the words turn the minutes to hours
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d fifteen more miles behind her.

They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the ruins of her ice water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams,
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral
The church bell chimed, ’til it rang 29 times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.


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