Ghost Ships

What Ghost Ship Means To Most

Ask practically anyone what comes to mind when they think about the term ‘ghost ship’ and the answer generally takes one of two forms; a) the Mary Celeste, and b) the Flying Dutchman.

I asked a few actual people, including my parents and the top answer seemed to be the Mary Celeste. Which incidentally is rather interesting because in the case of the Mary Celeste there wasn’t a ‘ghost ship’ of such. In fact there wasn’t even a recording of a ghost sailor aboard the Mary Celeste. So, this raised the question regarding what a ghost ship was and possibly why it was.

The Mary Celeste

I’m not going to go into detail about the Mary Celeste case as that could be a post for another time perhaps. Suffice to say there have been many cases similar to that of the Mary Celeste whereby the ship was discovered with its crew missing.
The Mary Celeste

The Mary Celeste left New York City on November 7th, 1872 under the command of Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs bound for Genoa, Italy. However on the 5th December the British brig Dei Gratia spotted a ship adrift 400 miles east of Azores, which was later identified as the Mary Celeste. Captain David Morehouse was shocked to discover that the vessel was the Mary Celeste as it had left eight days ahead of him. On boarding the ship it soon became apparent that the crew were nowhere to be found. What added to this strange discovery was that the last log entry made by the Captain was on the 25th November at 5am close to the Azores. Whilst the Mary Celeste was discovered 400 miles east of the Azores ten days later.

The story of the Mary Celeste was soon picked up the world over and even Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a short story that probably added to the sensationalism of the case. It’s a mystery that inspires many even in more modern times.

However in the terms of a ghost the Mary Celeste just doesn’t quite fit. Granted it’s a mystery to which there are several theories, but the ship itself was very real and simply missing a crew. Yet we adopt this perception of the Mary Celeste as a ghost ship due to the mystery that is associated with it. Is it possible that this concept could be equally related to haunted buildings and objects?

The Flying Dutchman

Our second top answer was the ‘Flying Dutchman’, which most will probably remember from the recent movie series ‘the Pirates of the Caribbean’. However, this classical nautical tale refers (possibly) to the phantom vessel often seen in stormy weather off the Cape of Good Hope. Although it has been reported elsewhere too. It’s believed that the ‘Flying Dutchman’ actually refers to the Captain, rather than the ship, but that’s up for debate I’m sure. Legend has it that the crazy Captain threatened to sink his ship and all aboard should they turn around rather than battle the storm ahead and the terrible Cape of Good Hope. He even challenged the wrath of God by swearing an oath. Rather than die there was mutiny aboard, but the Captain killed the leader and threw him overboard. As the body hit the water the storm passed and a ghost appeared on deck. The ghost spoke, telling the Captain he was accursed, condemning him to sail the oceans for eternity with a crew of dead men. They would bring death to all that sighted them and never make port.

There have been a few recorded sightings of the ‘Flying Dutchman’ and some even conform to its legend. July 1881 and HMS Bacchante spotted the ‘Flying Dutchman’ near Africa. Soon after the lookout fell from the mast and died. Around 1942 off the coast of Cape Town, four witnesses saw the ‘Flying Dutchman’ sail into Table Bay and then vanish.

The story of the ‘Flying Dutchman’ fits better into the concept of what I believe a ghost ship to be. It’s also a little cool and exciting to think that such a phantom ship could actually exist. Granted the evidence is very circumstantial and it’s more likely a case of Pareidolia than an actual ship being seen. However we must also understand that the story of the ‘Flying Dutchman’ would have acted as a good deterrent for mutiny years ago, but then developed into an excellent yarn years later.

Are Ghost Ships Large Haunted Objects?

Ghost ships are as much a part of the paranormal as haunted buildings and objects, in a way they help to create a link between the two. A ship can be as large as a building, but whilst at sea it’s as free to move as an object can. Perhaps our understanding of what it means to be haunted requires a little re-evaluation?

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