Play memorializes Fitzgerald tragedy

AnnMarie Kent

As the wind began to build, the waves followed suit and the 29 men aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald slowly began to lose hope in the “Queen of the Great Lakes.”

Shelley Russell’s play, “Holdin’ Our Own,” depicts the final hours of those men. The play began as a way to honor and memorialize the crew that lost their lives on Nov. 10, 1975.

A dramatic reading was given in Jamrich Hall on Tuesday night as a tribute to the 40th anniversary of the capsizing of the Edmund
Fitzgerald.

November gales brought in the tallest waves and strongest winds that had been recorded on Lake Superior as the Fitzgerald made her way from the docks in Superior, Wisc., according to Russell.

The play opens in the pilot house of the ship, as the captain and his crew first learn of the severity of the storm that is making its toward them. As the cast of the play goes through the 10 hours these men faced in the storm, fear creeps onto their faces.

In her research Russell reached out to families of the crew and had the help of a ship captain to ensure the accuracy of the information.

Men threw themselves across the stage as the storm would have as it grew in strength. Waves as high as 25 feet crashed against the side of the boat. There are recorded communications from the Fitzgerald to the Arthur M. Anderson, the ship trailing the Fitzgerald, that serve as parts of the script.

“We’re holdin’ our own,” are the last words heard from the Edmund Fitzgerald and are the last words spoken before the stage goes black.

Steve Oates, who depicted Cpt. Earnest McSorley, said many times in rehearsal he was unable to get those last words out because of how powerful and haunting they are for him.

“The thing that hasn’t changed is the Fitzgerald and her crew are still down there,” Oates said.

To Russell, the horrifying part is how the ship went down so quickly that they didn’t have time to sound a distress signal.

“Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for them,”
Russell said.