Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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The Day They Brought Up the Edmund Fitzgerald's Bell

 Monarch Butterfly

 A Ghost Story?


My friend remembers the day that they brought up the Edmund Fitzgerald's bell.

She witnessed it herself.


For her, the story immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot's unforgettable song was a personal story. Having grown up in Duluth, she remembers the terrible storm, and the terrible fear that she felt when she—she was he at the time—heard that the Fitz had gone down.

Her best friend's father worked the Lakes, and she that knew he was out at the time. When she first heard the terrible news on the radio, she immediately jumped onto her bike and rode straight to her friend's house.

Her friend was able to confirm that, no, his father was not on the Fitz and, so far as they knew, had ridden out the storm just fine, as indeed later proved to be the case.

In the welter of speculation that followed, she can remember hearing the old Great Lakes sailors who knew freighters and knew the Fitz discussing the matter. They all agreed on what had caused the wreck: the ship was too long. "She broke right in half," they said.

When, decades later, the Fitz's final resting place was located on Superior's cold floor, they were proved correct.


My friend was present, 20 years later, for the raising of the ship's bell.

“There are two things that I remember about that day,” she told me recently.

A small flotilla of private boats had gone out with the rescue ship to witness the historic event. My friend was on one of them.

When the raised bell first broke surface, it rang.

For the first time in 20 years, it rang.

Once, it rang.


We discuss the ethics of taking things from shipwrecks. We agree that, in general, one shouldn't. Wrecks belong to the sea-gods, and to the dead: they, and what they contain, should be held sacrosanct.

But those who brought up the Fitz's bell did what one should do in such circumstances: they replaced it.

A gift for a gift, the ancestors always said.


“You said you remember two things about that day,” I remind my friend. “What was the second?”

There's a pause.

“There was a butterfly on the boat that day,” she says.

We're both silent as we consider the implications of this. Superior is a huge lake, with winds to match. One just doesn't see butterflies out over Superior.

I think of all those stories that liken butterflies to souls. I think of the monarch butterflies of late Summer and early Autumn, like fluttering little pieces of Samhain come early. I think of how they return to their Wintering grounds in Mexico every year around Día de los Muertos, and are thought of by folks thereabouts as the homecoming spirits of the dead.

“Was it a monarch butterfly?” I ask after a few moments.

“Of course,” she says.


Down the long years, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, but there's just one that everyone remembers.

They remember because of the song.

The ancestors may or may not have believed in the immortality of the soul, but they firmly believed in the immortality of memory. “Undying fame,” the bards promised their patrons in the mead-halls of the Bronze Age.

Hail and farewell, Gordon Lightfoot, bard.

Reborn to the people.



Gordon Lightfoot

November 17, 1936 - May 1, 2023

Memory Eternal


Edmund Fitzgerald - Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society


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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Friday, 05 May 2023

    The first song my husband ever introduced me to was "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". :) RIP Gordon Lightfoot.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Friday, 05 May 2023

    It really has become a folksong in its own right: truly an impressive achievement.

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Saturday, 06 May 2023

    He was an amazing songwriter and singer. Such emotion.

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