Of Ghost Ships and Ancient Mariners

Feb 23, 2017 | 0 comments

British Ship Glenmorag, wrecked near Ocean Park, March 18, 1896

In an area such as ours with its stormy winters and many creaking old structures, it’s not surprising that ghost stories abound.  But, what is surprising to me is that we have no stories of phantom mariners or ghost ship sightings – or at least none that I’ve heard.  Since the waters adjacent to us have long been called the “The Graveyard of the Pacific” that seems odd.

According to James Gibbs in his 1950 book, Pacific Graveyard:  Losses total well over 200 deep-water ships with damages inflicted on an additional 500.  The fishing fleets alone have suffered about 500 loses and another 1,000 fishing craft have been damaged.  Within one hour in a sudden gale of Cape Disappointment, May 4, 1880, 200 fishermen were drowned when their vessels capsized.  That makes for a good many ghostly possibilities.

Astoria’s “Butterfly Fleet” lost off the Mouth of the Columbia, May 4, 1880

It’s been seventy years since Gibbs wrote his definitive book on shipwrecks there have been many additional wrecks and a rising toll of loss of life.  If you have lived here for any time at all, you undoubtedly know someone from a fishing family who has suffered the loss of a loved one.  Perhaps that is the very reason we don’t hear much about the local version of The Flying Dutchman or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Our waters are still the most treacherous in the world and maybe, for many of our neighbors, stories of Davy Jones’ Locker are difficult to deal with – not fodder for tales around the evening campfire.

Rescued crew of the French ship Alice at the Taylor Hotel, Ocean Park, January 1909

Yesterday at our Community Historian class, the speaker was Chris Dewey from the Maritime Archaeological Society.  The group is new – less than two years old – and its mission is “to seek out, investigate, and document shipwrecks and other maritime archaeological sites; conserve artifacts from those sites, when appropriate; and educate the public in areas of maritime cultural heritage, historic shipwreck preservation, and the science of maritime archaeology.”  They use amazing high tech equipment to locate, measure, and document wrecks and parts of wrecks in and around the mouth of the Columbia River.

I had hoped to ask Mr. Dewey if he or team-members have heard of or, perhaps, experienced first-hand, any ghostly sightings in line with their work.  But, before I could approach him, he was gone…  Probably just as well.  Even if I explained that my search for ghosts of the area is for the serious underlying purpose of documenting our history, he might have been a bit skeptical.  Still… I have his card and it might be worth a shot.

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