Restoring Fitz's Bell

The bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald was raised in 1995 under the coordination of many organizations. It was restored before being placed in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum by Michigan State University. Below is a summary of the condition of the bell, and the steps that were taken by Michigan State University to restore the bell.

Image courtesy Gail Vander Stoep

Image courtesy Gail Vander Stoep

Bell's Initial Condition

Immediately following their removal from the ship, the bell and its stand were in poor condition due to water damage resulting in iron corrosion. The bell was coated in sulfide, there was heavy rusting, and "Edmund Fitzgerald" was not easily readable on the bell. The bell's stand also had severe corrosion of the iron, and the paint was chipping and in poor condition.

Restoring The Bell

To initially clean the bell, rust spots and deposits (iron corrosion) were cleaned with dental picks, and then the sulfide coating was removed with very soft bristle toothbrushes and baking soda. Following this step, researchers continued using lemon juice and formic acid (found in bee stings).

After the initial cleaning, sulfide was removed completely by washing the bell in formic acid, revealing a thick coat of rust under the sulfide. The rust was also removed by wrapping the bell in rags coated by formic acid, and once this step was complete, the bell was washed another time with distilled water and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Due to the nature of sulfide, drying the bell with heat caused oxides and chemical residue and remnants to be released, including iron oxide, which was removed through more soaking and scrubbing. Researchers then transported the bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald to be "power washed" by blasting it with baking soda and distilled water at high pressure. Soda blasting the outside of the bell successfully removed all remaining tarnish on the bell's surface, and the bell was then buffed several times, ending the cleaning process.

After cleaning the bell, it was coated with six layers of lacquer, and the same type of paint used originally on the bell's steel was found and used in a repainting. The repainting was completed by spray painting.
Finally, incised letters spelling "Edmund Fitzgerald" that appear on the bell in black were added, and the original rope from the bell was used for the bell's clapper.

Image courtesy Gail Vander Stoep

Image courtesy Gail Vander Stoep

The Restored Bell

The restored bell weighs approximately 200 pounds and is 21 1/2 inches in diameter at its base. It is displayed currently on permanent loan at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, which made additional changes to the bell, such as adding the shiny finish which can be seen on the bell today.

Great Lakes Shipwreck Musuem

Great Lakes Shipwreck Musuem

How the bell is used

The bell is on permanent display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Michigan and is used each November 10th in the bell-ringing ceremony in memory of the 29 crewmen of the Edmund Fitzgerald.