“Sad and Dismal is the Story”: Memory, Preservation, and the Folk Music Tradition of Great Lakes Shipwrecks

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Music has often taken maritime disasters for its theme, and Great Lakes shipwrecks claim no shortage of songs. Some were written at the time of the disaster, and others appeared years later, reviving the memory of the event. In an effort to understand the relationship between shipwrecks, folk traditions presented in music, and memory, this paper reviews as examples four famous Great Lakes shipwrecks: Lady Elgin, Eastland, Rouse Simmons (a.k.a. the Christmas Ship), and Edmund Fitzgerald. To explore the relationship between music, memory, and the potential for preservation, preliminary assessment based on exploratory survey data suggests that the exposure afforded by music and folk traditions may aid understanding and preservation through social marketing and other public outreach including education and music performances. This paper focuses on folk music but acknowledges other data and media such as archival documents, photographs, books, exhibits, and documentaries, as materials useful for creating or sharing memory and for understanding the folk songs and shipwrecks selected for consideration.

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© 2020, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11457-020-09272-y

Publication Title

Journal of Maritime Archaeology