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The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and thousands of other ships, to be memorialized

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Forty-six years ago this week, the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in a storm as the boat carried iron ore toward Detroit from Superior, Wis. As Gordon Lightfoot sang...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD")

GORDON LIGHTFOOT: (Singing) The church bell chimed till it rang 29 times for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

SIMON: The bells will ring again tomorrow in the old Mariners' Church of Detroit to remember the souls lost on the Edmund Fitzgerald and an estimated 30,000 lives lost in other shipwrecks. The Great Lakes Memorial Service will be livestreamed. Reverend Father Jeffrey Hubbard will participate. He's a pastor at the 179-year-old church and joins us now.

Father Hubbard, thanks so much for being with us.

JEFFREY HUBBARD: Glad to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Tell us about this observance and how it's evolved over the years.

HUBBARD: Sure. So the story actually begins not in downtown Detroit, where Mariner's Church is located, but on the waters of Lake Superior. And as the song recounts, 29 men perished very tragically aboard the steamship Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975. The next morning, very early on, the pastor at the time, Father Richard, later Bishop Richard Ingalls, received a call that the ship had sunk and that all 29 lives aboard were lost. And so he made the drive down to the church very early before dawn and rang the church bell here at Mariners' Church 29 times, once for each man who was aboard the ship, and prayed prayers for the repose of their souls and for their loved ones. That was the beginning of the Great Lakes Memorial Service observance.

Ever since then, we've had a service here at the church every year. There was a change in this service about 15 years ago when we switched from remembering only the men aboard the Fitz to remembering everyone who's lost their lives in the Great Lakes. We now ring the bell eight times for those who have lost their lives on the Great Lakes - once for each of the Great Lakes, once for Lake St. Clair, once for the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers, and then once for the St. Lawrence Seaway. And then we ring it a ninth time for military personnel who have lost their lives in service to our nation as we get - with the proximity to Veterans Day. And so we now ring the bell nine times instead of 29 times.

SIMON: And please tell me about your congregation there at Mariners' Church and the relationship to shipping and that community.

HUBBARD: Sure. So Mariners' Church was founded by a woman named Julia Anderson, and she wanted Mariners' Church to be a safe harbor for the souls of the sailors who sailed the Great Lakes. And so our congregation includes those who are part of the Great Lakes maritime community and, because they're out on the waters, might not be able to be here every week, but they consider this their spiritual home. And it also includes just regular folks from throughout the Detroit area who come and worship with us every Sunday.

SIMON: And years ago, when I was doing a story on an oar boat in the Great Lakes...

HUBBARD: Mmm hmm.

SIMON: ...I had a sailor explain to me they're not placid waters.

HUBBARD: They're treacherous waters, and they can turn very quickly. Michigan borders four out of the five Great Lakes. And they give us great natural beauty, but they're also a source of tremendous peril in many instances.

SIMON: Father Jeffrey Hubbard is a pastor at Mariners' Church in Detroit, and they hold their Great Lakes Memorial tomorrow afternoon. Thank you so much for being with us.

HUBBARD: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF GORDON LIGHTFOOT SONG, "THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.