Who really wanted the Fitz bell:

As early as 1989, Thomas Farnquist of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society went on record stating that they wanted to acquire the bell from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. 
You Tube Video: Who Really Wanted the Fitz Bell
How Farnquist got the Fitz Bell in 1995:

Joe McInnis, the expedition leader to the Edmund Fitzgerald wrote :

“Tom Farnquist had been dreaming about the bell on top of the Fitzgerald’s pilothouse roof ever since he first saw it with an underwater video camera six years earlier [1989]. If he could organize an expedition to recover it, the effort would generate widespread publicity for his museum and a host of new products—posters, sweatshirts, home videos, coffee mugs—for his retail gift shop. ... There was only one problem. Although the Fitzgerald was an American ship, it lay in Canadian waters under the jurisdiction of the province of Ontario. 

Farnquist knew that the province, and its underwater archaeologist, did not look kindly on the removal of historical artifacts from its shipwrecks. He also knew that legitimate credentials and substantial effort were needed to obtain an archaeological license. His record of illegally removing artifacts from the state of Michigan waters might diminish his chances. To succeed, he need some velvet leverage.

To everyone’s surprise, it was his arch-rival Shannon who unwittingly gave it to him. … Shannon filmed the body [at the site of Fitzgerald wreck] and then described publicly what had been found. … The families were furious. …

Farnquist sensed an opportunity. He befriended two family members, both women, one who had lost a son and another who had lost a father. He assured them that he shared their view of Shannon’s behavior. He told them that he would be happy to assist them in preventing him from diving again at the site. The two women liked the short man with the serious face who listened so attentively and agreed so readily. After 19 years, it was comforting that someone was so interested in what they had had to say.

As time passed, Farnquist introduced his idea of making one last dive to recover the bell. He suggested that the bell be placed in his museum ‘as a memorial to the lost crewman.’ After the bell was recovered, he told them, the Fitzgerald would be placed ‘off limits to divers.’ Farnquist asked if the women would help him in a letter-writing campaign to convince the other Fitzgerald families. He knew that with enough support it might be possible to pressure the Ontario government into granting a license to recover the bell ‘on humanitarian grounds.’

It worked. …”

From Fitzgerald’s Storm: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Dr. Joseph McInnis, pages 100 –103.

You Tube Video:

Edmund Fitzgerald bell transfer ceremony

See: Plan for Recovery and Conservation of the Bell from the Sunken Vessel Edmund Fitzgerald

See: Joe McInnis's 1994—1995 archaeological license for the Fitz bell salvaging

You Tube Video:The Wreck of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald: Historical Documents

You Tube Video:Expedition ‘94: Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald


An official looking document:

As part of the sales pitch, the Fitzgerald family members signed a document called an “Instrument of Donation” that gave the families ownership of the bell.  Oglebay Norton and Fitzgerald owner Northwestern Mutual did give permission by writing that they had no objection to salvaging the bell from the wreck.  To this date, there is no evidence that Northwestern Mutual abandoned the Fitzgerald or ever authorized the removal of anything else from the wreck site.

See: “Instrument of Donation”

Michigan Secretary of State at the Fitz bell transfer 7/07/95

As part of the scheme, an elaborate chain was used to justify the transfer of the Fitz bell from the Canadian government to the State of Michigan to the Fitz family members to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.  The ceremony for the bell transfer included a marching band, a bag piper, and government dignitaries.  Each government official helped make it look like a legitimate process.

See: Program for ceremony for Fitz bell transfer

What happened to Fitz bell:

1. The Ontario Ministry of Culture required the conservation of the bell as a condition of permitting its salvage from the Fitzgerald. (1995)

2. Volunteers from Michigan State University meticulously conserved the bell using the recommended conservation plan submitted to the Ontario Ministry of Culture prior to their approval to salvage the bell. (1996)

3. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society defaced the bell by having an antique furniture restorer strip it down to a bright shine. (1996)

4. 1996: The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society tried to use the bell as a “traveling trophy” until family members of the Fitzgerald crew put a stop to it.

5. Marked deterioration the Fitzgerald bell is evident by 2001 after GLSHS polished it for years of with an abrasive product called NEVR DULL.

6. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society honored the man who defaced the Fitzgerald bell by having him ring the bell at their 30th anniversary memorial service. (2005)

7. The You Tube Video: Save the Fitz Bell showing the bell deterioration was posted on January 24, 2007.

8. On November 10, 2007, the Fitz bell was streaked by what appears to be some type of chemical reaction.

The Fitz Bell before it was conserved by Michigan State University in 1996.


See State Archaeologist Halsey’s 1997 instructions to GLSHS to NOT polish bronze artifacts in the Shipwreck Museum.

Fitz bell 11/10/07
See State Archaeologist Halsey’s response to the deterioration of the Fitz bell.

To request the Michigan State Archaeologist’s intervention to save the Fitz bell, contact him at:

John Halsey,
State Archaeologist
P.O. Box 30740
702 W. Kalamazoo Street
Lansing, MI 48909-88240

[email protected]

Fitz bell 11/10/07
See the history of maritime artifacts at Whitefish Point.
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