Help via Ko-Fi



"Strange ships puss in the night!"

IN THE farming ports of the world, from the ice-bound waters of the arctic to the bot and green islands of tropical seas, and on the decks and in the cabins of liners, tramps, and yachts, plowing the swells in the utter loneliness of empty horizons—wherever sailors gather, light pipes, and swap tales, strange stories are told. On the yellow pages of a thousand logbooks are weird accounts. The voyage of man through space and time, conquering the unknown and searching for knowledge, is long and arduous, and his harbor is mysterious and distant.

A ship is not a mere mass of wood and steel and canvas, but a living thing that draws life from the crews that walk her planks and hold her to her course. A ship and her crew are one, each dependent on the other for existence, and united they battle the rage of storms, and the menace of fire, iceberg and hidden reef. No man will die for his automobile, but many a captain has chosen death with a beloved vessel.

And a ship develops a personality. Formed from its voyages and conflicts, its cargoes and passengers, this personality may be warm and friendly, or it may be one of chilling evil, dangerous and accursed. An old salt can instantly sense the soul of a vessel, and like all living things, for good or bad, this soul can become a phantom, a ghost of the watery deep.

There is a classic example. In the Cruise of the Bucchante, a work compiled from the journals of Prince Albert Victor and the Duke of York (the late King George V of England), who served as midshipmen on the HMS Bacchante's voyage between 1879 and 1882, is reported the sighting of an eerie vessel. The date was June ll, 1881, and the ship was off the coast of Australia. The log tells of "a strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light, the masts, spars, and sails of a brig, two hundred yards distant, stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow." Twelve men saw this strange apparition, and five hours later the lookout man fell from the mast and was instantly killed.

But there are many others. In October, 1929, a fishing boat set sail one night for the usual fall night fishing from Inishborin (Galway), Ireland. All through the hours of darkness, it was later sold, a phantom ship of mist clung to the fishing smack in spite of the crew's attempts to hail or lose her. On the following night the crew of this boat refused to leave shore, believing that the specter was a warning, and a little later a terrific gale blew up that caused the loss of seventeen boats and many men. But all of the fishermen who had observed the ghost ship had remained safely ashore.

IN 1930 the death of John Winters, last of the crew of the Gloucester schooner Charles Haskell, recalled another famous tale. During a heavy storm in March, 1869, the Haskell ran down a Salem schooner on the Newfoundland Banks. The entire crew of the Salem vessel was lost. The following year, at the mouth of Gloucester Harbor, a dim, misty ship was visible which sped out of the harbor at the side of the Haskell. A phantom crew could be observed climbing the eerie rigging, and the men said they could hear ghostly shouts.

On the next voyage a new crew was shipped. They, too, returned with the tale of a spectral ship that tormented them constantly, a mystic cloud by day and a weird light by night. When men could no longer be obtained to sail on the ill-fated Haskell, it abandoned the sea. and became a lowly sand-freighter. The specter did not appear again.

The Nancy Hanks was another famous ghost ship, well known to old shippers in Miami, Florida. A phantom cat raised havoc on every trip. For many years it lay idle in Miami, and no sailor would board her. It was destroyed by fire in 1929.

Formerly anchored off the wharves at Bathurst Docks, N. B., Canada, the Squando, a Norwegian trading vessel, was another haunted ship. The Norwegian consul at Bathurst hired two watchmen to look after her when she was abandoned by her crew, but after one night spent on her decks they refused to return. They reported that they saw the phantom of a headless man; cold hands had touched them, various articles had been thrown about, while eerie voices ordered them to leave the ship. They did!

NOT only phantom ships but the ghosts of men have appeared from time to time on the high seas, and perhaps the most famous is "Ladylips"—the premonitory specter without a lower jaw. In the older generation of men and ships, over five hundred sailors on board American and British vessels have witnessed his appearance. In the logs of the USS Colorado, SS Stoddart, HMS Iron Duke, Ramilies, Queen Elizabeth I, and the destroyer Broke, the vision Ladylips has been duly recorded. Oddly enough, the origin of Ladylips and the legend surrounding him was a mystery until twenty years ago—When it was explained.

In 1782 the British vanquished the French battle fleet off the island of Dominica, The Ville de Paris was a vessel with the French fleet, and when the battle was over it was manned by a British crew and started for England. A terrific typhoon, that destroyed almost all the ships of the recent conflict, blew the Ville de Paris off its course and killed many of the crew. What followed was revealed in l928 when a member of the crew of the Waulea found the old log of the ship on a beach on one of the Duke of Gloucester isles—a very revealing story.

Ladylips was captain of the Ville de Paris. The Vessel drifted to the Straits of Magellan, and her crew then decided to set sail for China. When the ship began leaking, it was abandoned. Taking to the open sea in a longboat, the crew soon ran out of food, and while attempting to stab a large fish with a boathook one day, the handle slipped and tore completely off the lower jaw of Ladylips. Ladylips picked up a knife and slashed his wrists. Grimly, the log ends: "Sighting the island by the month of June, 1783, all survivors of the longboat, excepting the sailing master Ladylips, who was eaten at sea, landed and hoisted English colors."

AND Ladylips, since that long-gone day of suicide and cannibalism, has been a phantom of the storms, appearing only when the waves are high and the winds fierce, standing in places where it would be impossible for a living man to be. It is said that he was observed in 1929 on the SS Stoddort while it was wallowing through a storm off the Pacific coast, standing on the deck and later on the how.

Another curious story of a sea phantom is told by Charles M. Boone, of Galveston, Texas, who was at the wheel of the SS Brush, bound for Galveston from Rotterdam, on January 7, 1929. He heard e voice calling, and on looking over the side of the ship, he saw the misty outline of a small boat and figure, and distinctly heard the voice of an old friend call him name. The vision faded, and upon his arrival in Galveston he learned that his friend had drowned on the same day and at the same place (Lat. 24; Long. 83) three years before.

But far more astonishing is the weird story of the phantom heads that followed the SS Watertown, and were even photographed. On December, 4, 1924, Michael Meehan and Iarnes Courtney, two members of the crew who had died while the ship was off the western coast of Mexico, were buried at sea off the port rail. Then, on January 9, while a heavy sea was running, several members of the crew who were standing near the rear of the port side, saw the faces of the two dead men, apparently swimming in the water and struggling toward the ship. The faces were about forty feet from the vessel and ten feet apart.

THEREAFTER all crew members could see the faces daily. The heads were absolutely clear and vivid in the sunlight. When the ship arrived at New Orleans, the captain decided to get a camera and see if he could photograph the apparitions if they reappeared. And his opportunity came on the ship's return trip to the Pacific as the Watertown passed through the Panama Canal. Again, with the water calm, the faces followed the vessel, and a roll of film was exposed, which was then locked in the ship's safe.

The film was developed by a commercial photographer at Colon. Two of the prints distinctly revealed the faces close to the ship in startling detail. The dead men were easily identified. Meehan seemed to be in pain, but Courtney was smiling. All of the facts as here presented have been sworn to by Captain Tracy and all members of his crew, and the story has been investigated and verified by the Burns Detective Agency. Details of a personal investigation made by Dr. Hereward Carrington, famous phychic researcher, will be found in his book The Invisible World, and the photographs are in the possession of the Henry L. Doherty Co., of New York City, owners of the vessel.

A WRAITH whose laughter saved a ship five times was the strange story told by Captain Ortiz Pernuho, of the Argentine electric ship Tarero, when he arrived at San Fernandez, in the Falkland Islands, in the summer of 1943. Months before Carmelita Segovia had left her island home to become a bride in far-away Peru, but she had died suddenly on her honeymoon. Now she was coming home—to be buried—and her coffin lay in the hold.

After leaving Peru, the voyage around Cape Horn had been long and harrowing. A storm struck the vessel off Punta Arenas, and suddenly, high above the wail of the wind, came the ringing, unmistakable laughter of a young girl. It seemed to come from the hold. Investigation revealed that the cargo, wrenched by the storm was shifting dangerously. Another hour, and the ship might have capsized. The laughter continued as the cargo was righted, but as soon as the vessel was safe, it ceased.

Again, on four more occasions, the ghostly laughter of the dead bride warned of danger, and twice she appeared as a misty phantom. Once, her apparition loomed in the night sky just ahead of the ship during a storm and prevented the vessel from running into a derelict schooner; her second similar appearance saved the ship from a dangerous reef. The frightened crew, formerly on the verge of mutiny, actually cheered when the fifth warning echoed through the ship and stopped a ?re in the hold from gaining headway or doing any damage.

"Seems funny that "she laughed," a British customs official at San Fernandez said, after the captain told his story. "Looks like she would have screamed instead."

"Well," the Captain replied, "Carmelita was said to be the most cheerful girl in the islands. She loved her home and wanted to be buried back here. Maybe she was happy to be of help. She never screamed when she was alive, so why should she start when she was dead?"

BUT not all supernormal manifestations on the high seas serve good purposes; some are evil to an astonishing degree. And there are vessels that seem literally cursed—bearing hoodoos that constantly bring forth death and destruction.

There was the Hinemoa, built in 1908 for the London-New Zealand run. Gravel from an old English cemetery was used as ballast on her first voyage, and trouble followed. Four crew members were lost on her maiden voyage, and her first captain went insane. Her second captain became a criminal, her third a hopeless drunkard, her fourth was found dead, her fifth committed suicide. The vessel capsized on her sixth voyage, and was totally wrecked on her seventh.

And there was the Governor Parr, a disabled British schooner, to which supernormal power was credited. Abandoned in mid-Atlantic by her crew, with a fortune in Canadian lumber in her hold, sailors believed the derelict could raise a storm at will. Many steamers tried to tow her t0 shore for salvage, but every attempt was balked by a sudden gale.

THE famous Mary Celeste, found mysteriously abandoned in mid-sea in 1872, seems to have sailed under a star of misfortune. A long series of mishaps preceded and followed the puzzling disappearance of her crew. In 1885 she was wrecked on Rochelois Reef, Haiti, by a dishonest captain who plotted with shipping agents to defraud e marine insurance company. Within six months the three perpetrators of the scheme all died violent deaths.

Of more recent date is the account of a "haunted voyage" made by the British tramp steamer Stonepool, which arrived in Boston early in 1940 from Cardiff, Tales. A seaman who had committed suicide in one of the cabins several years previously was blamed by the crew for the series of mishaps. One sailor told of seeing phantom eyes gleaming in the dark, another of having his hands seized by invisible fingers which caused him to fall to the deck and injure himself.

During the voyage two crew members became seriously ill. One, a fireman, was stricken with appendicitis, and with no ice aboard to make packs to relieve his pain, he suffered continual agony until the vessel reached Boston. The other, an engineer, was temporarily blind, deaf and speechless from nervous prostration brought on by over-work in remedying engine-room troubles.

Fourteen times the ship broke down in mid-sea, and on one occasion, when it had hoisted danger lights, it was attacked by a German submarine which fired two torpedoes. However, the Stonepool, for some unknown reason, managed to elude the U-boat. During a storm one of the holds had to be flooded to keep the stern, with its propellers, under water in the heavy seas. But the weary, frightened sailors finally made it to port.

For sheer honor, however, the story of the Ivan Vassili, a Russian steamer, is almost unbelievable. It was built in 1897, and for five years its marine existence was uneventful. Then, early in 1903, as Russia was preparing for her ill-fated war with Japan, the vessel was sent from the Baltic to Vladivostok with a. cargo oi military supplies.

In the midst of the voyage "The Thing" struck. What it was, or is, no man can say. Its first effect was a sudden feeling that an invisible being was standing nearby. Then came a shock of chilling terror, cold and paralyzing, that drained away all energy like a. ghastly sponge. At times a faintly luminous, misty form, vaguely resembling a human ,being, was observed.

BUT whatever it was, it was on board. Just before the ship reached Port Arthur, on I calm, clear night, one of the members of the crew, standing on deck, suddenly screamed. Panic followed. For twenty minutes the crew prayed and shouted and fought, running blindly about through the vessel. Finally one of the seamen, Alec Govinski, jumped overboard into the sea to his death. With this sacrifice of blood to the unknown, unfathomable menace, the hypnotic spell of horror was broken, and the men fell on the decks in physical exhaustion. Three days later there was another outburst of panic. Then, on the following day, the port of Vladivostok was reached.

A number of the men attempted to desert, but they were soon recaptured. With its cargo safely ashore, the ship set sail for Hongkong. It was a terrible, nightmare voyage. Two seamen committed suicide, one died of fright, and shortly before reaching port the captain, Sven Andrist, jumped overboard. After each death "The Thing" seemed satisfied—for a few brief hours—then the waves of panic would start anew.

At Hongkong the entire crew deserted, with the exception of Christ Hanson, the second officer, and five Scandinavian hands. Hanson, a Swede, made himself captain, and with a crew of Chinese and Lascars, he set sail for Sydney. Again "The Thing" struck with tentacles of doom, and before the vessel could reach Australia, Captain Hanson had shot himself.

Once in the harbor of Sydney, the crew disappeared into the city as fast as their legs could carry them. Only one man, Harry Nelson, dared to stay with the ship. A new skipper who didn't believe in ghosts was found, a skeleton crew was finally rounded up, and four months later the Vassili was outward bound for San Francisco. And again the terror-panic calm—three times—and three men died, leaping overboard. And again a fear-crazed captain, tormented beyond endurance by a hellish, invisible octopus that fed on man's sanity, shot himself.

HARRY NELSON managed to survive the horror. He succeeded in returning the cursed craft to its home port of Vladivostok where it remained. No sailor, no matter how much extra pay or bonuses he was offered, would hoard her. For years she floated in the harbor, avoided, shunned, feared. Finally it was given the one treatment, the sure remedy, for all objects of evil that exist in this world. It was burned. But what was this horror from out of the nightmare, realms of the endless unknown? Did it die in the flames that consumed wood and canvas, or did it survive to live on—quietly waiting along the dark border of our world of sun and stars to strike again when conditions permit?