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Phantom Ships
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Writings by Rev Dr Theresa F Koch MS

Through out history there are legends and tales of Phantom or should I say Ghost Ships still sailing about in the world’s waters. Captain Kidd’s ship is said to sail around the New England coast. The old pirate is still looking for buried treasure. Another pirate ship that of Jean Lafitte has appeared of Galveston, Texas. That is where Lafitte’s ship is supposed to have sunk in the 1820s.

In the nineteenth century an American ship named Dash vanished at sea. The ghost of the ship is supposed to return to port every so often. Its mission is to pick up the souls of crew members’ families after they have died.

Not all legends of Phantom ships are about the ocean though as one might believe. The Great Lakes are extremely dangerous. Storms there blow up very suddenly. Sailors say that lake storms can be worse than those on the open sea. Many, many ships have been sunk in the Great Lakes. Some have completely disappeared-except for a ghost which is seen occasionally.

The best known of the phantom ships of the Great Lakes is the Griffin. The Griffin was owned by the great French explorer, Robert Cavelier de La Salle. It was built at Niagara and first set sail on August 7, 1679. It was one of the largest, if not the largest, ship to sail the Great Lakes up to that time. La Salle only stayed with his ship for the first leg of her maiden voyage. He was lucky.

La Salle left his ship at Green Bay. He went by canoe down the St. Joseph River. He was looking for a river route to the Mississippi. Eventually he found one. But not on this trip.

The Griffin set sail from Green Bay on September 18, 1679, bound back to Niagara. She was never seen or heard from again. She simply “sailed through a crack in the ice”-or so the legend goes. But on some nights Lake men have reported seeing the ghostly Griffin looming out of the fog.

Even an empty ship can become a ghost. The Hudson’s Bay Company steamship Baychimo was trapped in the winter ice on a voyage to Vancouver, British Columbia. It was a hard decision to abandon the ship with its cargo of valuable furs. But the captain felt he had no choice.

Weeks later the Baychimo was sighted by a party of Eskimo hunters. She had broken free of the ice. The crew went out to claim her. But when they got close she vanished.

A few years later the Baychimo was sighted again, this time by the American ship Northland. As the northland drew closer a dense fog engulfed both ships. When the fog lifted the Baychimo was gone.

Another ghostly legend of the sea is that of the “Palatine Light.” In the winter of 1752 a Dutch ship, the Palatine, set sail for Philadelphia. The ship contained many Dutch immigrants to the New World. Off the coast of North America the ship was struck by a series of storms. The crew mutinied. They murdered the captain and stole all the passengers’ valuables. They then set out in lifeboats, leaving the passengers to their fate.

The ship ran aground off Block Island. The residents of the island made some income by salvaging wrecks. The wreckers took the survivors off the ship. But there was one woman who had been driven mad by the hardships. She refused to leave the wrecked Palatine. The wreckers set fire to the ship anyway. The blazing ship was taken out to sea with the tide. The mad woman could still be heard screaming from the burning deck.

Even today a ghostly light is sometimes seen off Block Island. According to legend the light comes from a burning ship. People call it the “Palatine Light.”