A series of mysterious shipwrecks seems to have a supernatural connection
| I received this assignment, or writing challenge, or whatever you want to call it, nearly a month ago. Urban legends? Halloween? No problem babe, I live in Savannah, Georgia; one of the oldest settlements in the country! Lore around here runs deeper than bedrock, so I figured this would be a breeze. I can name ten sites presumed to be haunted right off the top of my head; places like Fort Pulaski, the Mary Telfair Museum, and Madison Square. Even the modern day Candler Hospital is reputed to have a history of supernatural incidents. I decided to do some research on the subject and write about the scariest thing I could find. Not believing in the ghosts I was learning about was possibly my first mistake, but I was destined to make worse choices, and soon.
Books are a great place to learn about the mystical history of a town, and old folks are even better. If I had stuck with that thought and gone no further, I sincerely doubt that I would be here now, scribbling furiously in my notebook in the gathering dusk. Given the time, I would be etching this in stone, just to make sure that people finally realize what is happening. Due to severe time constraints however, to include the likely end of my life, I have chosen the fastest means available to me, and I can only pray that this is found and understood.
I happened across an elderly gentleman a few weeks ago in my search for the perfect Halloween urban legend. He told me a wild, fantastic tale which I immediately discarded as pure rubbish. It wasn’t until a few hours ago that I began to realize that he might have been right. I was in the downtown library a few days ago, pouring over microfiche copies of newspapers from long ago, and I found two stories that supported his claims of unexplainable shipwrecks and ghostly lights. The first article was printed in 1975, and the second in 1950. The old man told me that his story took place in 1925, and the date spread is what really got me excited to pursue the idea. Here are the two articles I first found, starting with the older one first:
New York Merchant Ship Runs Aground
Savannah Morning News, October 21, 1950
A merchant ship loaded with cargo inbound from New York ran aground at the mouth of the Savannah River early yesterday morning. The captain of the vessel, John Marquette, was one of only four survivors of the 57 member crew. Captain Marquette claimed that fog was fairly heavy, but he had no trouble sighting the Tybee Island Lighthouse and navigating his way into the channel. At approximately seven o’clock am, Captain Marquette reported sighting a woman standing on the shore directly in front of his ship, frantically waving a lantern. Realizing that he must have unwittingly drifted to the north in the fog, the Captain immediately spun the rudder wheel to the portside. The ship left the channel and entered shallow water near the shore, where a large rock tore a gaping hole in the hull. An unknown number of fuel oil drums burst open and caught fire, killing all but four persons aboard the ship despite the shallow water and the nearby safety of shore. Local authorities are investigating the incident, and any information regarding the lantern-waving woman should be reported immediately.
Tragedy Strikes Local Shipping Company, Lives Lost
Savannah Morning News October 27, 1975
Dateline: Savannah> A heavy freighter ship owned by James Burton International sank yesterday morning under mysterious circumstances in the Savannah River. The vessel was returning from South America, and reported instrument problems to the port authority just before the fatal crash that killed 78 of the 80 member crew. According to transcripts of the final radio transmissions, the ship encountered severe fog upon entering the Savannah River channel. The navigational instruments apparently malfunctioned about the same time. While attempting to make the final approach by sight, First Mate Anthony Higgins (one of two
survivors) reportedly saw a young woman waving an old fashioned lantern right in front of the slow-moving ship. The ships captain, Mark Williams (of Savannah, GA) confirmed the sighting and made a quick course correction to the south, believing that he had strayed from the shipping channel. The direction change resulted in a collision with several large underwater rocks, which compromised both the outer and inner hulls of the modern freighter. The ship rolled to the portside and sank quickly, within two minutes. This is a very unusual occurrence with ships of this nature, and the drowning deaths of the 78 crew members has given cause for the Georgia Ports Authority to order a full investigation of the incident. It is not known at this time if the light seen by the Captain and the First Mate was from a smaller boat, or perhaps a reflection in the fog. Further details will be released as they are found.
The two stories I found were surprisingly similar, and seemed to confirm a lot of the story that the old man had told me. He said the he had been working on a deep-sea fishing boat back in 1925. It was late October when they returned from a week out on the deep water, and they had anchored about a mile out the night before. That morning when they hoisted the sails and eased into the Savannah River, the fog had been thick, and the Tybee Lighthouse looked like a shrouded candle in the distance. I’ll never forget his words, as the grizzled old-timer described it to me.
“It was quiet, dead quiet. You could hear the mast creaking, and it seemed to echo in the fog. There wasn’t hardly a breeze, nowhere near enough to fill out the sails. We were just barely moving enough to steer when we got into the river. The tide was coming in, so that helped a bit. I was up in the crows nest, and I reckon that’s what saved my life. I heard the most beautiful singing all of a sudden, though it was hard to tell where it was coming from in that fog. It was strange, that fog; in some places it was so thick I couldn’t see the deck. Then we’d go into a pocket, and I could see just fine for a few hundred yards. Anyhow, I heard that singing, sounded like an angel. I got to looking around for where it was coming from, and when I turned back forwards again, I seen a woman standing on the shore right in front of me, maybe five hundred yards away, dead ahead. She was waving a lantern, swinging it all around trying to get our attention. I realized that we was about to smash right into the shore and it was my fault for not paying attention. Well, I hollered down at the captain, screaming for him to turn, and do it quick! He hauled that rudder wheel around, and I knew he was a givin’ it hell because I up and fell out of the crows nest, it was leaning over that far. The water was cold, and it was all I could do to swim for shore. I could see the lights over on River Street by then, and I swam right for them. I never saw the ship, but I sure heard it hit them rocks under there. I could feel the vibrations in the water even though I was shivering to death. That ship just broke up into pieces, right there in the river, and not fifty yards from the shore. Believe it or not, youngster, but not a soul escaped from that boat except for me. Don’t ask me why them boys couldn’t swim over there like I did, ‘cause I sure don’t know myself. But that woman with the lantern, she was a spook, by God, and I’d swear it to a priest. A bona fide ha’nt. I been back out there a thousand times trying to figure out how she was standing in the middle of the river an’ got us to turn, and that’s the only answer.”
I had all of this information, and a good deal of other stuff that turned out to be unrelated, but I didn’t put it together at first. It has only come to me now, as I sit on the deck of a shrimp boat on the Atlantic coastline. I decided to come on this overnight trip to get a feel for the sea, so as to be able to tell a believable story. As I read over my notes, I began to put the pieces together. Then, just an hour ago, the captain warned us that the weather was calling for fog tomorrow morning. I have since sincerely regretted my decision to come on this excursion. After all, it is October 30, 2000. There have been no ship wrecks this month, or even this year, and if my calculations are correct, there is only one more morning for it to happen, if the cycle is to continue. It has grown dark now, and I can see the light of the Tybee Island Lighthouse in the distance, slightly shrouded by a gathering haze. God help me.