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Mariners’ Church holds annual Great Lakes Memorial this weekend

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The stone church is celebrating its 175th anniversary

Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images

The peaceful stone church next to the modern Ren Center will honor those who lost their lives on the Great Lakes this weekend. Mariners' Church of Detroit, which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, will host its annual Great Lakes Memorial at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 12.

The memorial coincides with the 42nd anniversary this week of the sinking of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior. Then the largest ship on the Great Lakes, the Fitzgerald set sail November 9, 1975 from Superior, Wisconsin on its way to Zug Island near Detroit. The weather was fine until the next day, when gale force winds upwards of 50 miles per hour started, and waves ranged from 18 to 25 feet. One wave smashed the lifeboat, making it unusable. By 7 p.m. that evening, the Fitzgerald was 17 miles off Whitefish Bay and in serious trouble. By 7:30, the ship carrying 29 men had sunk. No bodies were ever recovered.

Reverend Richard Ingalls, then the pastor of Mariners’ Church on Jefferson Avenue, came to the church early November 12 to commemorate the loss of lives, the worst ever on the Great Lakes, by ringing the church “brotherhood bell” 29 times. The act is forever known in Gordon Lightfoot’s song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

In a rustic old hall in Detroit they prayed,

In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.

The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times

For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Sunday’s service will honor the memory of the more than 6,000 Great Lakes shipwrecks and the more than 10,000 sailors who have lost their lives in them, including the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The stone church moved 900 feet in 1955.
Photo courtesy of the Mariners’ Church

Mariners’ Church was founded in 1842 as a “House of Prayer for All People” and provides a place of worship for the sailors of the Great Lakes. The church is the oldest structure on the Detroit River, and is located next to the Ren Center and the entrance to the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. The stone church was moved 900 feet in 1955 to make room for the civic center.

An archival aerial view of the church
Photo courtesy of the Mariners’ Church

More information on the memorial and the church can be found here.