Alpena County

Mysteries of the Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck to be explored in Marysville – The Voice


On Aug. 3, researcher, author and documentary filmmaker Ric Mixter will come to the St. Clair County Library System’s Marysville branch to discuss his findings about the Lake Superior shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. (Courtesy of Ric Mixter)

The tragic Great Lakes shipwreck immortalized in a Gordon Lightfoot song will be explored in all its mystery on Aug. 3, when researcher Ric Mixter visits the St. Clair County Library System’s Marysville branch.

Mixter has created several documentaries about the Edmund Fitzgerald and wrote a companion book on the Lake Superior shipwreck. He will visit the library at 6 p.m. Aug. 3 to discuss his research on the Edmund Fitzgerald. The library is located at 1175 Delaware Ave. in Marysville.

“It’s hard to believe Mother Nature can turn so nasty and that people would ignore warnings and go into storms like that,” Mixter said. “The fact that people and ships disappear seems to captivate us all — and it’s amazing to find new wrecks no one has seen or record things no one has thought about for 100 years.”

The steamship Edmund Fitzgerald was an American freighter that sank during a storm on Nov. 10, 1975, in Lake Superior, killing all 29 people aboard. Many theories surrounding the reason for its sinking and the song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” have made it a famous Great Lakes shipwreck. It was this song that in part piqued Mixter’s interest in the Edmund Fitzgerald.

“It’s the largest and most famous of all our shipwrecks and many details are still out there with eyewitnesses that I wanted to record. That made it very captivating to me — more stories to tell,” Mixter said.

St. Clair County Library System Community Relations Coordinator Mike Mercatante said the program is free, but registration is recommended at sccl-mi.libcal.com/event/10592251?hs=a.

Mixter said during his presentation he will show clips of the ship’s launch and interviews with those who built it, spanning from 1998 to fall 2022. The interviews, he said, provide insight onto how the ship handled in storms and damage to wrecks.

“Two men who sailed with the captain who died on the Fitz say he nearly killed them in storms,” Mixter said.

He will also review the theories as to what caused the ship to sink during his discussion.

“Many believe it was a massive wave that pushed the ship under,” Mixter said. “Some believe it was the hatches leaking. A few still believe the ship hit a reef near Caribou Island. My lecture covers many of the theories and helps to discount the grounding idea.”

Mixter has also examined historic documents from the Coast Guard, museum officials, submariners and others, tracking down those who wrote them. He has interviewed or located interviews from those who have made major expeditions to the wreck site, and has participated in wreck site expeditions. Submersibles, Remote Operated Vehicles and divers have helped to search the wreck. He said visiting the wreck site was a unique experience, in which he could see things from the ship’s name to a small screwdriver found in the lake bottom.

“It was captivating, sad and exciting,” Mixter said.

Mixter first became interested in Great Lakes shipwreck history when he covered a shipwreck story at WNEM TV5 as a cameraman.

“The Jupiter gasoline tanker exploded and a man was drowned. I spent two nights covering the story and I got hooked on survival stories on the lakes,” Mixter said.

Pictured is Ric Mixter’s book “Tattletale Sounds: The Edmund Fitzgerald Investigations.” (Courtesy of Ric Mixter)

In 1991 just a few months after learning to dive, Mixter did dives on the shipwrecks of the Monohansett and the Montana when WNEM did a series of stories in Alpena.

“I won two awards for the stories and I was hooked,” Mixter said.

He estimated he has dived to about 150 shipwrecks and has visited every Great Lake except Lake Ontario. Although most of his dives to shipwrecks have been in the Great Lakes, he also dove to two ships built in the Great Lakes and lost off of Florida. He has additionally visited ocean wrecks and Nazi submarines.

Mixter was recognized in 2009 with the Joyce S. Hayward Award for Historic Interpretation by the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History. He has produced about 34 television programs for PBS and the Outdoor Channel.

“I grew up in the Upper Peninsula where we only had two stations; PBS was one of them. I watched everything they had and I figured I owe them,” Mixter said. “So I’ve never charged for any of my 30 or so programs or appearances to raise money for their channel. In 1998 we aired Fitz in Saginaw WDCQ and all the stations in the Great Lakes picked it up soon after.”

He did 26 episodes for PBS with a show called “Great Lakes In-Depth,” which featured shipwrecks and underwater creatures.

“I also wrote, produced and hosted hour programs called ‘Safe Ashore,’ ‘Cutter Rescues,’ ‘Offshore Outposts,’ ‘Final Run,’ ‘Deep Six,’ and ‘The Edmund Fitzgerald Investigations,’” Mixter said.

His documentary “The Edmund Fitzgerald Investigations” was originally created for Imageworks in 1998. In April 2000, he began his own production company, Airworthy Productions.

“I left broadcast news and started my own company that produced long form documentaries on aviation and maritime history,” Mixter said.

He redid “The Edmund Fitzgerald Investigations” for PBS via Airworthy Productions in 2002 and recently created a new documentary on the shipwreck.

“The new Fitzgerald documentary is brand new with material I didn’t have in the Imageworks or Airworthy original shows. It’s the first in high definition and I filmed all around the lakes from Whitefish Point to Minnesota to tell the story and share these places with viewers. First aired on Detroit Public Television last year, fall,” Mixter said.

However given the depth of his research, Mixter decided to write a companion book to his documentaries called “Tattletale Sounds – The Edmund Fitzgerald Investigations.”

“When you edit 30 years of research, interviews and video into just 60 minutes, a lot gets left out,” Mixter said. “I felt I had a rare insight into the ship’s creation, career and the storms it encountered. Interviewing people who were at the shipyard, who sailed the ship — I interviewed three men who were Third Mates on the Fitz – and also sharing all of the investigators — Coast Guard and Jacques Cousteau, Whitefish Point and Delta and the bell retrieval. I felt I had material no one knew. This includes recordings the Coast Guard made while they put a robot down there in 1976. My book is the first to share the air crew who found the wreck as well.”

Nicole Tuttle is a freelance reporter for The Voice.

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