Ghost Onboard

Ghost Onboard


Here is a spooky story from one of the best ghost story collections ever – The New England Ghost Files (Covered Bridge Press, 1994) by Charles Turek Robinson.
Charles Turek Robinson published a short series of regional ghost accounts in a newspaper column that elicited a mountain of letters from readers sharing their own ghost stories. Mr. Robinson conducted comprehensive interviews with numerous people – in all cases chosen for their sincerity and reliability – who claimed to have bumped into a ghost at one time or another.
And now I’ll let Mr. Robinson take it away…


“Ghost Onboard”
Location: Wiscasset, ME
Number of witnesses: 10+
Interview date(s): 10/92; 11/92; 4/93

Constructed in 1917, the Sally J. (named changed at the request of wharf managers) was a fine, four-masted wooden schooner exceeding 200 feet in length. The impressive ship spent the post-war era running cargoes of lumber, guano, and coal up and down the Atlantic coast. But by the late 1920s, when seagoing tugs into predominance, the ship sailed with ever-decreasing profits. Finally, in 1932, the owner was forced to sell the vessel at sheriff’s auction. The purchaser, a veteran seaman, hoped to convert the ship to diesel. The Sally J. was towed to Wiscasset, Maine for repairs, but before these could commence, the country’s deepening depression forced the owner to abandon the boat to the worms.


To the present day, the skeletal, decaying ship has sat grounded out at a quiet wharf near Wiscasset. Though her masts and rigging are still partially intact, there is little remaining of her former majesty. The lonely ship rests in shallow water by an abandoned dock on a rarely visited part o the wharf. Strangely, since the 1960s, people have reported seeing unusual nighttime lights flickering momentarily on the ship’s deck. In 1969, two men, owners of a lobster boat, claimed to hear laughter coming from the abandoned schooner, although they found no one aboard when they inspected her more closely.


Most local residents chuckle at these curious stories. But several fishermen who frequent the wharf are convinced that Sally J. is haunted. Two of them claim to have seen a pale, strange-looking man gazing at them from the ship’s rotted deck. When they move in closer he vanished. Another fisherman says that an inexplicable, glowing light appeared momentarily in the ship’s empty cargo hold, although there was clearly no one aboard at the time. Others claim to have heard phantom noises – sounds of hammering and wood-sanding – echoing from the empty schooner on several occasions.


The most interesting account involves a newspaper reporter. In 1975, Jeffrey Pine was working on an article about the many abandoned 19th-century schooners still dotting the coast of Maine. Mistakenly believing that the Sally J. was a 19th-century ship (she was actually built in 1917), he went to visit her that August. Up until that time, he indicates, he had heard nothing about the strange ghost accounts surrounding the old boat. By the time his eventful visit was over, however, he had become one of the most credible witnesses to an actual haunting aboard the Sally J.


It was early evening, after he got out of work, that Jeffrey decided to pay a visit to the abandoned schooner. There was no one around when Jeffrey arrived at the small wharf, but he was able to quickly locate the old four-master. He walked down a decrepit dock and surveyed the antiquated ship. Deciding that she still seemed to be structurally sound, he boarded her.


“The ship was in a messy state,” he recalls. “There wasn’t much left but a skeleton. Most of her fittings had been stripped, and she was rotted throughout. But the deck seemed fairly solid, so I did some walking around.” It was about twenty minutes later, while Jeffrey was inspecting the ship’s bow, that he first heard something unusual.


“I suddenly heard hammering,” he says. “It sounded like it was coming from the stern of the boat. I heard three hammer strikes, and then I heard a scraping sound – like the sound of wood being sanded. The sounds were very loud and distinct, but when I turned and looked to the stern of the boat, the sounds suddenly stopped.” Jeffrey, unable to adequately explain the noises, finally shrugged them off. He went back to exploring the vessel.


“About five minutes later,” he says, “I suddenly heard those sounds again. But they had completely moved. They were no longer at the back of the boat. This time, they seemed to be coming from thirty or so feet above me – from the top of one of the masts. It was the same as before: three hammer strikes followed by a sanding noise. I looked up and saw nothing, and the sounds suddenly stopped.” Once again, Jeffrey was unable to explain the noises. Finally, he decided that the wind must be slapping water against the hull of the boat. He told himself that he had just mistaken the direction of the sounds.


“Everything was quiet for about another ten minutes,” he says. “I walked to the center of the deck and lifted an old hatch. I looked down into the ship’s cargo hold, but everything was pitch-black. I was about to close the hatch. when suddenly I heard those sounds again. It was the same hammering and sanding noises – but this time coming from down inside the cargo hold.” Hoping to identify the source of the sounds, Jeffrey decided to climb down into the hold. He descended a short metal ladder, using a lit match for illumination.


“The sounds stopped as soon as I got down,” he indicates. “The cargo hold was large but totally empty. I couldn’t imagine what had been making those noises.”


Going through an entire book of matches, Jeffrey examined every inch of the cargo hold. He indicates that after a few minutes he began to experience an inexplicable feeling – the feeling that there was another presence down in the hold with him. The feeling was vague, and Jeffrey tried to laugh it off. He could see for himself that the cargo hold was empty. Still, he continued to feel uneasy. “I decided to return to the deck,” he says. “As I climbed up the ladder out of the hold, I got the most peculiar feeling that there was someone right behind me. It was almost as though I could feel someone brushing up against the hairs on the back of my neck. I quickly swung around out of reflex, but there was nobody there. Finally, I pulled myself through the hatch and made it to the deck.”


Trying to ignore his uneasy feelings, Jeffrey decided to photograph the ship. He placed his camera down on the deck and began to unwrap a package of film. Suddenly, he heard a splash.
“I immediately noticed that my camera was no longer where I had put it,” he says. “ Somehow, it had been tossed into the water. I didn’t place it anywhere near the edge of the deck, so it was like some invisible force just picked it up and threw it overboard.”


A few minutes later, Jeffrey began to hear something odd. “I heard whistling,” he says. “Someone was whistling a (tune), but there was absolutely no one around. The whistling seemed to be coming from high above me – up in one of the masts. I looked up and saw nothing. The whistling lasted for about thirty seconds, and then it was followed by a short laugh. It sounded like a man’s laugh. After that everything got quiet.”


Jeffrey, feeling increasingly nervous, decided to leave. He climbed over the side of the boat onto the dock. “That’s when I saw the light,” he recalls. “I had left the deck cargo hatch open, and I suddenly noticed that soft light was coming from inside the ship’s cargo hold. It had been pitch-black and completely empty when I had gone down there just a few minutes earlier. There was just no way to explain it.”


Jeffrey called out, but no one responded. Suddenly, the light in the cargo hold went out. “I was getting really nervous at that point,” says Jeffrey. “I began to walk down the dock toward my car, but I kept looking back at the boat. When I was a good distance away, I saw a quick movement on the boat’s deck. A few moments later, I noticed the shape of a man. He was very misty and (vague) – almost transparent. He was on the deck of the boat, bent over one of the railings with a hammer. A second later he disappeared, and as he vanished three loud hammer knocks rang out from the boat. For a second I thought I was losing my mind. I guess I was fascinated and frightened at the same time. I stood there for about another fifteen minutes, hoping to see the man again, but he never reappeared.”


For two years, the journalist told no one about his spectral encounter. Finally, in September of 1977, he returned to the ship out of curiosity. “I didn’t see or hear anything unusual on the boat the second time I went,” he indicates. “But on my way out of the wharf, I was stopped on the dock by an old man. He looked like a fisherman. He wanted to know what I had been doing on the ship. I told him I was a reporter and that I was researching historical boats. He just stared at me (intently) for a few moments and then began to walk away. I watched him walk down the dock toward the Sally J. When he reached the boat, he suddenly became very (vaporish). A second later, he vanished completely.”


AUTHOR’S NOTE: The true nature of the haunting might or might not be discerned from some of the lore that circulates in the area. According to that lore: the boat’s deceased owner is still present on the ship. He purchased her for reconditioning in the 1930s, but the Depression forced him to abandon the project. In his bitterness he returned to finish the job after his death. This is why, it is said, his ghost is always heard to be hammering and sanding. Jeffrey indicates that he does not take this local account too seriously, though he remains certain that he encountered a ghost. Whatever the true nature of the haunting, it apparently affected Jeffrey strongly. In 1982, he wrote an article about his experiences with the ghost ship. His editor, fearing that the report might frighten the local population, declined to publish it.


If this story is right up your paranormal alley, please consider joining us for the Boothbay Harbor Paranormal Pedal E-Bike Tour or the Boos Ghost Walk.