Interview with Cheryl Rozman
February 20, 2005
Cheryl Rozman is daughter of Ransom Cundy, watchman on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Question: Hello Cheryl. Your father was Ransom Cundy, the watchman on board the Str. S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald when it sank in Lake Superior near Whitefish Point, Michigan November 10,1975. How long had your father sailed on the boats? How long had he been on the Fitzgerald?
Response: He was born in Houghton, Michigan on April 16,1922. After graduation from high school in Lake Linden, Michigan he joined the United States Marines. He fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. After the war, he went back to his home in Lake Linden. My Grandfather introduced him to a captain of one of the freighters who serviced coal to the docks in Lake Linden-Hubbell ore docks. He was able to get my father a job on one of the boats. I think the first one was the Munch (National Steel Corp). Then he sailed on Albert Heekin & the Ernest T Weir. He sailed for National Steel Corp, Hanna Company & then for the Oglebay Norton Company. To my recollection he sailed on at least 5 or 6 of those company ships. Among them were the Reserve & the Armco. He had been sailing on the Reserve when he was one of the “chosen” crew to go aboard the Str. Edmund Fitzgerald with Captain McSorley. He sailed on it for about 8 years. So he had sailed on & off for 30 years.
Question: Some family members were not informed of he tragedy of the sinking by notification from the Company or in person. Some heard on the radio or television. How did you find out?
Response: We had heard on the TV on November 9th that there was a freighter missing on Lake Superior earlier that evening. Naturally my 1st thought was of my father. I settled to bed thinking & praying that he was safe wherever he was. The next morning I finished getting my 3 children off to school, the other two were not school age yet. I turned on the TV. There was a picture of the Fitzgerald & they were announcing it had sunk the night before with all hands missing. A search was going on to find any survivors. I had lost hope for my father’s survival shortly after the Fitzgerald sank. Dad had told me earlier in my life that if this were to happen “Cotton, I’d go down with the boat, because I can’t even dog paddle”. I also knew that the temperature & waves on Lake Superior, no one could survive more that just a few minutes.
Question: Do you have any theories on why the Fitz sank?
Response: I have heard several theories of the sinking but the one that I find reasonable to believe is that the Fitz had possibly hit Caribou Islands Shoals earlier in the day & they hadn’t realized it. Later the storm got very fierce & other things began happening. I feel that the cargo, laden with additional water, finally shifted to the front during one of those enormous waves & the Fitzgerald nose-dived to the bottom. I disagree that the hatch-covers were not tightened securely. These men knew their jobs & did their jobs properly. Remember these men were the “chosen” crew to go on the Fitzgerald.
Question: There are 6,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, why do you think the Edmund Fitzgerald is so well known in comparison to the others?
Response: First, I think Reverend (Bishop) Richard Ingalls was the very first person to remember these men when he heard of the tragedy that night. He went to his church bell tower & rang the bell 29 times for each of the men on the Fitzgerald in tribute to them. He holds a memorial mass every year on the Sunday closest to the anniversary in remembrance of the crewmen. It was also the most recent major shipwreck in years. I believe the sinking of the Carl Bradley had been the last Great Lakes tragedy before the Fitzgerald went down. The Fitzgerald was a newest & longest ship to carry more tonnage; it had broken many records of cargo hauled. It was only 8 years old when it sank and was known as “The Pride of the American Side”. In addition to this, Gordon Lightfoot wrote & sang the ballot of “The Wreck of the Edmund.” in 1976. I heard it the first time on the first “Father’s Day “after my Dad had died. It caught me quite by surprise. I had been told there was a song out there about the Fitz & I don’t like to admit it now but I said to my family & friends “How can they write about it when they don’t know what happened?” When I listened to it & really listened to it, it gripped at my heart. It was a tribute to Edmund Fitzgerald & her 29 crewmen. Mr. Lightfoot had felt such sadness for this tragedy that he sat down & started putting his thoughts into lyrics. I know he never expected his song would have such a huge response to the public. He is a very private person & has always been considerate of the Families feelings. Some of the family members, including my family & myself, have been able to met Gordon Lightfoot & have come away with good feelings about him.
Question: Do you think the wreck site of the Edmund Fitzgerald should be open to exploration by individuals or organizations?
Response: DEFINITELY NOT!
Question: Why do you think that after nearly 30 years, we still cannot conclusively say what caused the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald?
Response: There was no distress call from the Fitz. No one survived. There will never be proof positive in to what happened. The only ones that know are God & the 29 crewmen.
Question: What are your feelings on explorations and photography of the wreckage?
Response: There have been 5 or 6 explorations to the site; there have been enough photographs & tests done to find out the cause. If the expeditions were to gather their information together to try to come up with a cause, fine. There is no need for any additional expeditions. Let the Fitzgerald & her crewmen rest in peace.
Question: Do you feel the shipwreck has been too commercialized?
Response: To some degree it has. Years ago, right after the Fitz sank, my children & I saw an ad on TV advertising a record album featuring various songs. One was for the” Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” (Gordon Lightfoot had nothing to do with this sick act) In the advertisement, a cartoon form of a crewman was depicted bobbing up and then sinking, over and over again. It was just horrified my children & me. That was my first experience with some of the commercialization. There are plenty of books & videos out there. The only book I endorse is Fred Stonehouse’s “Wreck of the Fitzgerald.” It is very accurate & done well. The video done by National Geographic is also done very well. There definitely is a lot of commercialization.
Question: Still, after nearly 30 years, certain people claim that the wreck was caused by human error; what is your response?
Response: I don’t believe that theory. That crew had been handpicked by Captain McSorley when he was assigned as Captain of the Edmund Fitzgerald. In the case of my Dad, he had sailed many years & knew the ins & outs of that ship. He would have helped anyone who needed help in performing their jobs- even helping someone to tighten the hatch-covers. No one would have been sailing that ship if they weren’t performing their jobs. Again, I believe the sinking was caused by the shoals and the cargo shifting forward. It then plunged to the lake bottom in seconds without warning.
Question: What are some commemorations or places where people can get more information about the ship that you personally would recommend?
Response: The Mariner’s Church in Detroit, Michigan holds their service every November, the Sunday before the anniversary, November 10th. It is a very solemn ceremony in memory of the Edmund Fitzgerald & the 29 crewmen lost with her. There are several other services including the annual Whitefish Point Memorial Service held every November 10th. Your website is also very informative, and is done in respect to the 29 men and also their families. Upon invite, I have spoken to some elementary school children for the past 5 years to educate them to the history & legacy of the Edmund Fitzgerald. These children are like little sponges trying to absorb all the information you give them. The teachers have told me how excited they get when they know I’m coming to talk to them about the ship. It is children and people like you Tim, who have found out that the Edmund Fitzgerald was not only a man, but also a ship. This is what will keep the memory of my father & his fellow crewmen alive.
Question: What are some of your memories of your father?
Response: My Dad sailed most of my life. My mother, sister & I would only see him only 3 months out of the year. We were able to “ship-keep” with him a few winters. We really enjoyed that. We’d live on the boat for months at a time. One of my most memorable memories was when I had to have surgery on my back (scoliosis). I was 13 at the time. The day of surgery my dad was supposed to be there to see me before I went to surgery.
My surgery was postponed for about 2 hours and just when I was being brought to the elevators for surgery, Dad came. I was the happiest little girl!! Later, I found out that my Dad had been sitting in the lobby during those 2 hours. I guess he didn’t want to see his little girl go. He had a tender heart. We shared so many happy & close moments together during my convalescence. Another memory that is really precious to me is the last Christmas I spent with Dad. There hadn’t been a lot of them through the years. On March 30, 1974 I lost my sister in a very tragic death. My Dad took her death very hard. He & I then started to keep in touch regularly. He decided to come home for the Christmas following Jan’s death.
I remembered going to Midnight Mass with Mom, Dad, Jan & other relatives years and years ago when I was little. But this Christmas was different. Mom was remarried and not in town and & Jan was gone. Only Dad, my children & I went. I remember us sitting in the pew together & Dad having his arm outstretched behind my daughter Linda’s back, just caressing the back of her head while we listened to the service. Even now when I go to a Christmas Mass, I see Dad with Linda. My Dad loved his job, he loved sailing or he wouldn’t have been out there all of those years. He could have gone for his Captain’s license but was happy at what he was doing.
I remember when Dad was home it was very different. He didn’t drive a lot because he didn’t need to most of the year. He stayed at home a lot. He was a loving but somewhat strict father. I remember I put lipstick on for the first time in front of Dad; I was 12 at the time. He took a tissue & wiped it of my lips. I was too young! And now, in retrospect, I’d have to agree with him. He made the best homemade French fries, potato chips & breakfast. He loved to cook, plus he took over Jan’s & my dishwashing jobs while he was home. He liked to play jokes on Mom, Jan, and me. We took walks together a lot & Mom always stayed way in front of Dad. He loved to tease her! When Jan & I were in our teens, Mom was always reminding us that if we got into any trouble, she’d have to answer to Daddy. He loved us very much.
Question: What do you think your father would want to be remembered as? Do you think he and the ship are remembered as they should be?
Response: Dad, I think, would like to be remembered as a proud American, a hardworking, caring, and fun loving man. He loved people & people loved him. Dad wasn’t afraid to die; he lived with it every day as did his shipmates. My Dad lived as he wanted and died as he would have preferred. I’m sure that his watery grave is where he would want to remain. The 29 men should be respected for doing their jobs to the best of their ability on the “American Pride of the American Side”. They possibly would be sailing on that great ship except it was in God’s plan that the EDMUND FITZGERALD & her 29 men go into that horrific storm & eternity together. Lets all respect them for that.