Well know around the Inland Seas for her realistic renderings of Great Lakes freighters and the legendary sinking of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, November 10, 1975, with the loss of 29 American Merchant Mariners’ lives, Doris Sampson is also a staunch Lake Superior environmentalist. She has served since 1985 (minus a 5-year absence from the Twin Ports) as secretary of the Save Lake Superior Association; and is dedicated to this task as a lifetime commitment.
Basing her image on a personal interview with Captain Donald E. Erickson of the S.S. William Clay Ford describing the night the Edmund Fitzgerald Disappeared in a Lake Superior hurricane-force storm, Doris Sampson is the first, and likely the only, Great Lakes maritime artist to tell the true story on canvas of the search for the missing Fitzgerald.
In the early 1990’s Sampson learned about the role of the William Clay Ford in the search for the Fitzgerald in Robert Hemming’s popular book, “Gales of November”. In shock and disbelief for 15 years of oversight of this important fact by media by that time-for all stories told indicated that only the Arthur M. Anderson left the safety of Whitefish Bay to return to the stormy lake in search of overdue freighter-it became Sampson’s goal to set the record straight through her art. In about 1993, she had the opportunity to meet Capt. and Mrs. Erickson personally, enabling her to confirm the story from Erickson himself.
But it wasn’t until March, 1999, when the subject came up again in a way leading to creation of her painting. At that time Sampson met with Capt. Erickson in the actual pilothouse of the William Clay Ford, now part of the Dossin Marine Museum on Belle Isle in Detroit, when a videotaped interview was conducted.
Erickson explained how the United States Coast Guard had requested freighter/s to return to the lake because they had no vessels available to do so. The storm still raged while two freighters sailed side-by-side one-half to one mile apart into heavy seas, while the Coast Guard dropped flares and the freighters’ floodlights swept the seas to find clues of the Fitzgerald’s whereabouts; in the hope of spotting debris or possible survivors if the freighter had broken up or gone down.
It was between August and September, 1999. when Sampson brought Erickson’s words to life on canvas. Early in 2000, on her way to Dayton, Ohio, art printer, the artist met with Erickson in Toledo for his final confirmation of the scene created. Erickson confirmed to the artist that she had translated his description of that night as truthfully as could be done.
The fact that both freighters searched overnight together was unknown to all but only the most knowledgeable Fitzgerald legend followers until a Discovery Channel interview with Capt. Erickson was included in one of its documentaries. This program is still often re-run, assisting the education of many since then. However, many people have remained unaware of anything but the popular knowledge that the Arthur M. Anderson took the last voice message from the Fitzgerald’s captain, William McSorley, saying, “we are holding our own”; and that the pilot house crew of the Anderson witnessed the disappearance of the Fitzgerald from the Andersons radar screen at about 7:10 p.m. the night of November 10, 1975; the Anderson made it safely to Whitefish Bay and then to the storm in a futile search for their brothers of the American Merchant Marine