WHITEFISH POINT, Mich. - The power of song. Even the guides attribute the success of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum to Gordon Lightfoot's epic, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
How else to explain the crowds? As many as 1,100 were here in one busy day this summer, Bev Purcell, who calls herself the surrogate lighthouse keeper, tells me. (The point's lighthouse, established in 1849, is now operated from nearby Sault Ste. Marie.) In the parking lot of this hard-to-reach Upper Peninsula outpost I see plates not only from Michigan and Wisconsin, but Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Idaho and California.
The song came out in 1976, almost exactly a year after the Fitzgerald disappeared into Lake Superior during a raging Nov. 10, 1975, storm, the likes of which most mariners had not seen. Twenty-nine men sunk to the lake bottom with the ship.
Lightfoot's haunting ballad still gets plenty of radio time, and it's played every 15 minutes or so in the museum, which includes displays of many of the shipwrecks that occurred in the Whitefish area in the 1800s and 1900s. The museum is interesting and entertaining, and for the kids there's a beach within a short walk. But as you leave, you realize you've come here because of a song. And you're not disappointed.