November 30, 2005
Gordon Lightfoot and the Farnsworth Casebook
Those of you who use the Farnsworth-Young-Sanger casebook are familiar with the case of Oglebay Norton Co. v. Armco, Inc., 52 Ohio St. 3d 232, 556 N.E.2d 515 (1990). The case involves a series of long-term contracts entered into by ONC and Armco beginning in 1957, for carriage of iron ore across the Great Lakes.
What you may not know is that one of those ships operated by Oglebay Norton was the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, whose 1975 sinking off Whitefish Bay in Lake Superior became the subject of Gordon Lightfoot’s subsequent hit record, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The ship was the pride of the American side,
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin.
As the big freighters go it was bigger than most
With a crew and the Captain well seasoned.
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms,
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland.
And later that night when the ships bell rang,
Could it be the North Wind they'd been feeling?
The ship was built for the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. (and named after its chairman), and was chartered to Oglebay Norton for its entire career. As Lightfoot's lyric notes, it was at the time it was built the largest freighter on the Great Lakes. A good deal of information about the Fitzgerald can be found at S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online. An Edmund Fitzgerald desktop is here.
Oglebay Norton itself is a venerable company, founded as an iron-ore partnership in 1851. One of its early employees was 16-year-old John D. Rockefeller, who made $3.50 a week as a bookkeeper before quitting in 1859 for greener pastures in the oil business. After filing for bankruptcy protection in 2003, the company exited the shipping business (though it still carries its own products in its own ships) and now remains a supplier of industrial aggregates.
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