Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ghostlore and the Sea

I have a fascination with shipwrecks, particularly on the Great Lakes. I don't know why that is, but both the research and the recreational reading I have done on the subject gave rise to a large part of my book Saving Jake. 

One can't read about shipwrecks without wandering into the territory of haunted or even ghost ships. And boy howdy, as they say, are there ever a slew of those. Haunted ships are a popular topic, and they turn up on my reality ghost story shows all the time. Last week, the National Geographic network did a special about that very subject and led with a piece on the the Queen Mary, probably the mother of all famous haunted ships. Docked in California, the Queen Mary offers ghost tours and boasts the spirits of a little girl who plays and laughs in the swimming pool area, a bride who wanders certain corridors and vanishes through locked doors, and a departed seaman who knocks his wrench against the walls of the ship's lower confines.

Google "Haunted Ships" plus "World War II," and see what pops up. Some of them are now museums. Not all of them are American. And I'd sure like to get to a bunch of them.

Ghost or spectral ships, though, are the ships that still sail the oceans, crewed by the dead, and sometimes harbingers of evil tidings. Thanks to "Pirates of the Caribbean," it is difficult to talk of ships "crewed by the damned" without starting to giggle. But there are quite a few ghost ships out there, not just The Flying Dutchman.

And then there are the derelicts, ships found drifting at sea that are perfectly fine except that there is not a living soul on board when they are found. The Mary Celeste is easily the most famous of these, and though there are some solid workable theories about exactly what happened to the crew, the captain, and the captain's wife and baby, the story has no definite ending.

Still, it's the drowned ships, the rusting or rotting hulls, the splintered masts, the scattering of cargo and debris lying in wait hundreds of feet below the waves, that always catch my imagination. Even if there is no tale of ghosts attached to a particular wreck, there is a combination of tragedy, sudden horrific death, and the echoes of despair that would make "haunted" an apt word to describe any of these ruined vessels. 

On the Great Lakes, a large number of shipwrecks occurred during the autumn months, and as summer winds to a close and the time of brilliant dying leaves, spectral trees, storms of rain and wind, approaches, I'll be thinking of those ships that have gone down, some of them very close to my favorite spot in Door County, Wisconsin. Buried at sea, forgotten, decaying slowly in the cold waters, sure. But at rest? I wonder.

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