From Left, Marie, Emily, Joe, Mary, Elizabeth Rasch stand outside of their campsite at Fort Wilkins State Park with a life ring from the Edmund Fitzgerald that they found near a fallen tree on the rocky shores of Copper Harbor. (Mining Gazette photo by Sara Waisanen)Edmund Fitzgerald artifact discoveredBy SARA WAISANEN, DMG Writer
COPPER HARBOR — When the SS Edmund Fitzgerald settled on the floor of Lake Superior Nov. 10, 1975, it went down in history. The circumstances and the cause of the tragedy are known only to the 29 men who lost their lives that day.
There are few salvaged pieces remaining of the vessel on which those men lost their lives to the wrath of Lake Superior. Joe Rasche and his family are one of the few that can not only say they’ve seen wreckage from the Edmund Fitzgerald but held it in their bare hands.
Joe, an apple farmer from Conklin, Mich., was agate hunting with his family midway between Horse Shoe Harbor and High Rock Bay in Keweenaw County Friday when he discovered a life ring off to the side of a blown-down tree. The ring was found 100 feet from the waters edge, up a rocky slope, 20 feet higher than the lake level, three feet into the trees, Joe said. The ring was not visible until he went up the bank, he said. Thinking nothing of it, Joe rolled the ring down the hill to his daughters. Joe’s youngest daughter Elizabeth, 10, caught the ring in her hands and turned it over. What was printed on the ring, they had never imagined: Edmund Fitzgerald.
“It sent a chill down my spine,” Joe said. “It’s the last thing I thought it was.”
Joe, an avid “rock hound,” had bought an agate book the day before and read the best place to look for agates was under blown down trees. He never did find any agates under the fallen tree, but what he did find meant so much more.
“I went up over the bank to look at the blown over tree and there it was,” he said. “I bet it’s been laying there for 30 years at least.”
Joe thinks the life ring came off the boat as it went down and the winds and currents blew it to shore, where it’s laid to rest.
“It’s quite a bit of history to show up after all these years,” he said.
The ring looks like mice have been chewing on it and the words that say Edmund Fitzgerald have faded over time because it was facing up, enduring sun and weather exposure. Duluth is printed on the other side of the ring and is clearly visible.
Researchers at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society Museum in White Fish Point are looking into why the life ring has Duluth imprinted on it, Joe said.
“We’re going to offer it to the shipwreck museum ... I think that’s where it belongs,” he said. “In honor of all the people who lost their lives, I think it belongs in the museum.”
Joe, his daughters Emily and Elizabeth, his wife Mary, and his sister Marie were camping at Fort Wilkins State Park in the West Campground and were spending the last day of their trip looking for agates on the rocky terrain when they found one of the life rings that had been on board the Edmund Fitzgerald.
“It had been a pretty uneventful day until then besides feeding the ... flies,” Joe said. “It’ll be a trip they’ll never forget.”