Beacon Lighting

From 1910 to 1969, the light flashed each night at 10-second intervals across more than 20 miles of Lake Superior's navigable waters. Today, U.S. Coast Guard regulations prohibit the light being used for maritime traffic, but the beacon is still turned on occasionally for ceremonial and maintenance purposes.

Edmund Fitzgerald memorial beacon lighting

Every year on the 10th of November, the beacon at Split Rock is lighted to commemorate the sinking of the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald, and all the other vessels lost on the Great Lakes.

At 4:30 pm Central time, the lighthouse will close temporarily while the names of the crew members are read to the tolling of a ship's bell. Following the ceremony, the beacon will be lit, and the tower will be open again to tour.

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Remote video URL
Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial and Beacon Lighting

Edmund Fitzgerald crew members

McSorley, Ernest M., Master
McCarthy, John H., 1st Mate
Pratt, James A., 2nd Mate
​Armagost, Michael E., 3rd Mate
​Holl, George J., Chief Engineer
​Bindon, Edward F., 1st Asst. Engineer
Edwards, Thomas E., 2nd Asst. Engineer
Haskell, Russell G., 2nd Asst. Engineer
​Champeau, Oliver J., 3rd Asst. Engineer
Beetcher, Frederick J., Porter
​Bentsen, Thomas, Oiler
​Borgeson, Thomas D., AB Maint. Man
Church, Nolan F., Porter
​Cundy, Ransom E., Watchman
Hudson, Bruce L., Deckhand

​Kalmon, Allen G., 2nd Cook
​MacLellan, Gordon F., Wiper
Mazes, Joseph W., Spec. Maint. Man
O'Brien, Eugene W., Wheelsman
​Peckol, Karl A., Watchman
​Poviach, John J., Wheelsman
​Rafferty, Robert C., Steward
​Riippa, Paul M., Deckhand
Simmons, John D., Wheelsman
​Spengler, William J., Watchman
Thomas, Mark A., Deckhand
Walton, Ralph G., Oiler
Weiss, David E., Cadet (Deck)
Wilhelm, Blaine H., Oiler

Video script

Good afternoon, and welcome to Split Rock Lighthouse and our annual Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting.

We would like to thank all of you for attending in person or watching the stream online.

It has been 48 years since the Edmund Fitzgerald underwent her final journey across Lake Superior. While the Edmund Fitzgerald is the best-known shipwreck on Lake Superior, she is only the most recent to occur with loss of life. Lake Superior is the largest and most treacherous of the Great Lakes, it contains about 350 wrecks, with about 50 of those in Minnesota waters. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 shipwrecks lie at the bottom of all the Great Lakes. 

Before we move into our ceremony, we would like to talk about the heritage connection between the US Lighthouse Service and the US Coast Guard. To do this, I would like to introduce the Commander Jarrod DeWitz, Commanding Officer of US Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Duluth. Commander DeWitz is the Captain of the Port and Officer-in-Charge of Marine Inspections for the western Lake Superior tristate area.

Commander DeWitz Speaks

Coast Guard Color Guard presents the Colors

On behalf of the Minnesota Historical Society and everyone that enjoys all the Lake has to offer I would like to thank you Commander DeWitz and your entire Coast Guard team for what you do to keep the Great Lakes safe.

Now as we gather to remember the crew of the Fitzgerald, I would like to take a moment to explain the tradition of the Muster of the Last Watch.

The Muster is a traditional nautical ceremony of remembrance to honor a lost crewman while at sea and includes the ringing of the ship’s bell.  Traditionally, if a crewman was lost while a vessel was underway, the ship’s bell was rung when the lost crewman’s watch was “mustered” and his name was called for the first time following his loss.  The ringing of the bell took the place of the crewman’s answering, “aye-aye”, so that his place in the watch was not lost.

When a vessel and all hands are lost, such as the Edmund Fitzgerald on this date 48 years ago, the ceremony is then performed for the entire crew, usually ashore. It is referred to as the “Muster of the Last Watch” and it honors the entire crew by name. To this we have added a 30th and final toll for all lost sailors on the Great Lakes and the lighting of the decommissioned Split Rock Lighthouse beacon at the conclusion of the Muster of the Last Watch. 

We will precede our Muster of the Last Watch with the singing of the Navy Hymn by Paul Waterman, Roger Reinert, Beth Anderson and Erin Blah-za-vick. After the beacon is lit the lighthouse will reopen and remain open until 6:00 p.m.

I would like to invite Roger Reinert to explain the tradition of the Navy Hymn.

Quartet Sings after Roger

We will now muster the last watch of the Edmund Fitzgerald…

We will now allow guests to enter the lighthouse. 

Please form a line from the lighthouse doors towards the lake. Go up the fog signal ramp and through the fog signal. Staff will assist to help streamline movement. 

Thank you all for attending.