The spirits always ring the watch bell nine times instead of eight. In the middle of the deep sea nights when the moon rides the sky like a ghostly galleon, the haunted blue watch bell on the Ticonderoga once again chimes nine times.
The haunted bell blue bell, the one that sailors claimed had the best tone in the Navy, earned the Ticonderoga the reputation for being a “haunted ship” everywhere it sailed. Sailors would not stay aboard the Ticonderoga and some blamed its decommissioning on the high sailor turnover.
When the Navy sent The Ticonderoga to Rotten Row in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1881, it stored the old bell that had the best tone in the Navy in the old loft of the Equipment Department. Then, Lt. Emory came along.
In 1884, Lieutenant William H. Emory of the Navy ship Thetis, a three masted, wooden hulled steam whaler in the United States Navy, had an important mission. The Navy wanted him to find the Lady Franklin Bay Polar Expedition.
In 1881, the same year that the Navy retired the Ticonderoga and her haunted blue bell, the United States government gave First Lieutenant Adolphus Greely command of the ship Proteus and the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition.
The U.S. government commissioned the expedition to establish one of a chain of meteorological-observation stations as part of the First International Polar Year. The Government also directed the Expedition to collect astronomical data and polar magnetic data and search for traces of the lost USS Jeannette which had disappeared north of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic.
Lt. Greely had never been to the Arctic, but the Proteus and his expedition arrived there safely and explored many miles of the coast of northwest Greenland. The Expedition achieved a new record for exploring the most distant reaches of the north and discovered new mountain ranges in 1882.Then the Expedition camped at Fort Conger on Ellesmere Island to wait for two relief ships that never came.
Three Navy ships, the Bear, a former whaler, and the Alert and the Thetis were commissioned to locate and rescue the Lady Franklin Expedition. Secretary of the Navy William Collins Whitney gave Lt. Emory a free hand to make the Thetis as comfortable as possible in case the ship got caught in the frozen seas and the men would have to spend the winter on board, far from human habitations and comforts. One of the comforts that Lt. Enory placed in the Thetis was a big blue watch bell that he found in the old loft of the Equipment Department.
The bell weighed over 400 pounds and its metal was five inches thick. It had a brilliantly polished surface and was the most conspicuous feature on the deck of the Thetis. It had a deep and musical tone and naval officers believed there was no bell in the world of its size that could be heard at a further distance across the ice by a sledge party returning to the ship after a voyage of discovery.
It didn’t take long for the haunted blue Ticonderoga bell that Lt. Emory had ordered installed in the Thetis to cast its spell. Strange feelings and impulses traveled among the crew. The bell evidently objected to sounding the daylight hours. Instead, all through the night it awakened the sailors ringing the old fashioned watches.
In the daytime, when Quartermaster Cooke approached to ring the changes, it’s said that he felt repelled by an unseen force. He reported that the day before when he went to ring the bell it turned a cloudy blue right in front of his eyes. He hurried over the rail to get on dry land several mocking peals rang out and completely unnerved him.
No one on board had slept a wink since the bell came. It rang all night long, sometimes in low tones, sometimes clanging violently, as if the yard were on fire. “None of the men will ship with the bell. We will beg Captain Emory to get a new one,” the Quartermaster said.
Captain Emory didn’t get a new bell. After about five weeks of preparation, the Thetis departed New York on May 1, 1884. Commander Winfield Scott Schley commanded Thetis and the relief squadron. Thetis did not even reach Upernavik, Greenland, her jumping off point until late May. Accompanied by the Bear, the Thetis and her haunted bell, headed north, searching for the lost expedition.
The haunted blue watch bell seemed to bring the Thetis good luck because on June 22, 1884, the Thetis and the Bear rounded Cape Sabine and while battling a ferocious storm, they found Lt. Greely and six companions, all weak from exposure and malnutrition but alive. The other nineteen expedition members had died of starvation, drowning, hypothermia, and one from gunshot wounds. The rescue ships arrived in New York on August 8, 1884.
On 20 November 1884, Thetis was placed out of commission and was recommissioned and renovated at the Brooklyn Naval Yard to serve as a revenue cutter for the Navy.
On a Pacific voyage, the entire crew deserted because of the haunted blue bell. The Navy returned the bell to the old loft in the Equipment Department at the Brooklyn Naval Yard – the same place where it had been discovered by Lt. Emory.
Stephen K. Stein, “The Greely Relief Expedition and the New Navy” (International Journal of Naval History, December 2006).
“Three Years of Arctic Service; an account of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition of 1881-84, and the Attainment of the Farthest North VI, Adolphus A. Greely,” Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2007.
Jolly Boats - Wikimedia Commons
The legend of the jolly or dinghy boat belonging to the slave ship Martha Kane goes back to the early days of the Nineteenth Century when the Martha Kane sailed the waters off San Juan, Puerto Rico. None of the slave traders were known for their compassion and humanity, but Captain Hawke, who commanded the Martha Kane, had earned a widespread reputation for cruelty and cold blooded ferocity.
Click here to read the story of the Martha Kane.
Undoubtedly Florence Martus never dreamed that her maritime life would become the basis for legends, ghost stories, and she would lend her name to a World War II ship. She was too busy helping her brother George tend the light on Elba Island in the Savannah River and falling in love.
Florence Martus was eighteen that day in 1887 when the Yankee sailor anchored in Savannah harbor and captured her heart.
Click HERE to read what happened to Florence and the Yankee sailor.
By Kathy Warnes
Almost every railroad has a ghostly lantern story and the Canada Atlantic Railway is no exception. Its brief 35 year existence from 1879 to 1914, makes its own existence relatively ghostly.
Lumber baron John Rudolphus Booth created the Canada Atlantic Railroad Company and during its short life it handled about 40 percent of the grain traffic from the Canadian west to the St. Lawrence River valley. In 1889, he established the Canada Atlantic Transit Company of the United States to operate between Depot Harbor and American ports like Chicago and Duluth, Minnesota.
In 1898 he set up the Canada Atlantic Transit Company to run steamships on the Great Lakes from Depot Harbor to what is now Thunder Bay, Ontario. In 1905, he sold all of these companies and the Canada Atlantic Railway to the Grand Trunk Railway which was later absorbed into the Canadian National Railroad. The American Company dissolved in 1948 and the Canadian Company in 1950. The Canada Atlantic Railroad also had its own ghost story that John Rudolphus Booth couldn’t squelch.
In the late autumn of 1888, when enough snow had fallen to record footprints, a farmer named Brunet walked along the Canada Atlantic Railway track about a half mile on the other side of the St. Scholastique station in Quebec, Canada. The late hour – about midnight – convinced farmer Brunet to walk the single track instead of walking through the inky, black woods, although he could barely make out the outline of the tracks as he trudged along through the darkness.
Imagination sees farmer Brunet trudging through the darkness shading his eyes to track the glow of lamplight from a distant farmhouse, possibly a lamp that his wife put in the window to light his way home. Imagination hears the train whistle and the headlight fastens farmer Brunet in its fierce glare. He jumps off the track and the Ottawa Express whizzes by.
The real story goes that the Ottawa Express sped by, ran over farmer Brunet, and threw his body 100 feet into a clump of trees growing alongside the track. His body landed in separate pieces that scattered through the tree branches.
Imagination has farmer Brunet's family searching for his body and finally finding it scattered in the clump of trees growing alongside the Canada Atlantic Railroad tracks. They buried the parts of his body that they could recover and tried to go on with their lives. Farmer Brunet didn't give up so easily. He determined to stop the train by waving a red signal lantern before it could hit him. Every night he stands beside the tracks swinging his red lantern as the Ottawa Express thunders toward him.
The real story goes that five engineers ran the Ottawa Express since that fateful autumn night in 1888 and everyone of them asked for a transfer from the route. The last of the engineers asked for a transfer from the Ottawa Express in April of 1889, and he decided to tell his story in confidence to the Montreal Correspondent of the St. Louis Globe Democrat..
The engineer said that he couldn’t stand running the Ottawa Express any longer and that he had requested a transfer. When the Canada Atlantic Railroad officials asked why the engineer wanted to transfer, he was too ashamed to reveal his reason, but he had a ghost story to tell.
According to the engineer, after he left St. Scholastique station, he opened the locomotive engine’s throttle wide because he had to make up time. He had just built up a good head of steam when he saw what looked like a red star floating in the air about a mile ahead of him. The red star grew larger as the Ottawa Express sped nearer and the engineer saw that the red star really was a red lantern. The red lantern swung so high in the air the engineer thought it had to be a signal.
The engineer also noticed that the red lantern hovered over the clump of trees where farmer Brunet’s body had landed. As the Ottawa Express got within 200 yards of the trees, the red lantern seemed to jump across from the trees right over the track. All of this happened as quickly as it took the engineer to tell the Montreal Correspondent of the St. Louis Globe Democrat the story.
The engineer was terrified. The light was unmistakably a signal lantern and it hung directly in the way of the train. He didn’t have time to alert the fireman before he was on top of it. Fearful that there was something wrong with the track, the engineer shut off the steam, put on the air brakes and stopped the train. George Welles, the conductor, ran forward and he and the engineer walked back down the track to investigate.
There was nothing wrong with the track. There wasn’t a house within half a mile of the place, and the men couldn't see any foot prints in the snow to show that anybody had been in the neighborhood. Up until this point, the engineer had never heard of the ghost, but he noticed that the conductor looked nervous and the fireman looked scared.
A walk a half mile ahead of the engine convinced the engineer that nothing was wrong with the track, so he started the train and arrived in Ottawa twenty five minutes late. The engineer had expected that his bosses would ask him to account for his unscheduled stop, but they didn’t. Conductor Welles said no more to him about it. The engineer again made the trip the next morning and scrutinized the spot where he had seen the red signal lantern the night before. All he saw were trees and railroad track.
On his next trip which was two nights later, the engineer saw the same red lantern. He had no doubt the lantern was supernatural and despite an inclination to ignore the ghostly warning and keep the train going, his hands mechanically turned off the steam and put on the air brakes.
Again, the conductor came forward and again the engineer explained what happened. Again they went on with their trip after failing to discover any reason for a red warning lantern.
The engineer discovered that four other engineers had seen the red lantern, but railroad officials convinced them to keep quiet about what they saw because they were afraid that a farmer Brunet ghost story would ruin passenger business.
The engineer decided to ask for a transfer and to speak out about what he saw because he believed it might be an omen of a railroad catastrophe to come. Two of the engineers who had given up the Ottawa run because of the ghost, Alexander Swindon and James Roberts, corroborated the engineer’s story.
The inhabitants in and around St. Scholastique soon heard the story of the red lantern and crowds of brave people went to the clump of trees where the lantern appeared. The Canada Atlantic Railroad couldn’t keep the story quiet.
The Canada Atlantic Railroad Hires Detectives
At first, John Rudolphus Booth and his employees believed that the story of Brunet’s red ghost lantern was a hoax. The Canada Atlantic Railroad hired detectives who crouched by the side of the track all night and hid in the clump of trees. Despite their efforts, the red lantern shone and the trains stopped, but the detectives couldn’t find any human hand holding the red lantern.
Next, the Canada Atlantic bought the trees and put men to work cutting them down to see if that had any effect on the ghostly signal man and his lantern. The lack of trees didn't stop the ghost.
The clump of trees where farmer Brunet landed, John Rudolphus Booth, and his Canada Atlantic Railway have all passed into history, but local tradition says that the red lantern still signals a phantom Ottawa Express to a stop and the perplexed engineer and conductor can still be seen searching the track for danger.