Rev. Richard W. Ingalls Sr. first tolled the Mariner Church of Detroit’s bell 29 times on the morning of Nov. 11, 1975, for each man lost on the freighter S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in Lake Superior during a storm the previous night. The practice continued until 2006, when Ingalls Sr. died.
In 1976, Canadian troubadour Gordon Lightfoot released the ballad The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, whose includes the lyrics : In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed / In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral / The church bell chimed ’til it rang 29 times / For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
On the 10th anniversary of the sinking, Lightfoot himself attended the memorial at Mariners’ Church, an event Richard M. Ingalls, Jr., the current rector, remembers well.
“He didn’t want [the occasion] to be about him, so we took him up a back stairway,” Ingalls says. “We put him in a front pew with his back to the congregation, so they didn’t know who he was.
“We always had a choir member perform the ballad, but when it came time for it, Lightfoot slipped out of his pew, sat on a stool, picked up his acoustic guitar, and played. First, there was a gasp, but after that, you could hear a pin drop.”
On that occasion, Ingalls says that Lightfoot turned to the congregation and announced he would henceforth change the lyrics.
Recalls Ingalls: “He said, ‘I made a mistake referring to this as a musty old hall, but I had never been here before. There’s nothing musty about this place. It’s beautiful. From now on in concert, I’m going to sing rustic old hall instead.’”
Ingalls says Lightfoot has visited the church twice since then and has remained in touch with the rector.
Today, Mariner’s Church has a special Great Lakes Memorial Service each November to honor those who died on the Great Lakes, as well as those who perished in the armed forces. It also has an annual blessing of the fleet in March.
For the full article, see George Bulanda, “Mariners’ Church of Detroit : The downtown house of worship acknowledges the 35th anniversary of the sinking of the ‘Edmund Fitzgerald’”, Hour Detroit, November 2010.