In February of 1956, newspapers across the United States—from New York to California—told the story of a relationship between a British girl and a ghost ending after a séance.
A three-week “out of this world” romance between a pretty cockney bobby-soxer and her poltergeist boyfriend was over yesterday—or at least her family hoped it was.
Three weeks before the séance, 15-year-old Shirley Hitchings of London met her ghost sweetheart through tappings on her bedroom wall. Shirley first felt his presence, then the tappings began. She had set up an alphabet card and was able to decipher his messages. His name was Donald and he was from New Zealand. Shirley was scared at first but, as she told reporters, “[…] I realized there was nothing to be afraid of. It was a feeling of love, and not fear that surrounded Donald.”
The tapping communication worked like so. One tap meant “yes.” Two taps meant “no.” Three taps meant “I don’t know.” Then, using the alphabet card, Shirley and Donald were able to talk using more complex messages. She would point at letters and he would tap when she reached the next letter to spell out words, as if her finger where a sort of planchette.
So things started off pretty sweet, but teenage love can get complicated. “It was great fun having a ghost for a boyfriend after I got used to it,” Shirley said, “But it got kind of complicated when he started throwing furniture around.” The noise woke up her father and alerted the family to the paranormal romance. Her grandmother put up a crucifix in her bedroom, but things just got worse. Donald threw more objects, including a clock.
The family, fed up with this violent boyfriend, decided to throw a séance. It was quite the event. Three mediums, including spiritualist Harry Hanks, a crowd of newsmen, and “angry” police were all in attendance. The one-hour seance, though, was pretty anti-climatic as no objects were thrown (the rowdy newsmen were making more of a racket than Donald). Rather, Shirley felt a sudden feeling of being free. She was reluctant to end things with Donald, but decided it was for the best after the séance. She felt happy.
Shirley’s father was relieved to have his quiet nights back (as he told reporters through a yawn). What was next for Donald? Well, Shirley’s father told reporters he would probably have to get a job.
Source: “Seance Ends Romance With Ghost,” The Troy Record, February 24, 1956, page 34.
Since Valentine’s Day is this Friday, I thought I might share some romantic content. During my research in the newspaper archives, I found two stories about mourners falling in love with cemetery employees.
“Aged Couple Married in Cemetery Romance,” Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, July 19, 1945
Mrs. Thoresca Cartisser (age 72) married Louis Schafer (age 74) in a simple ceremony on July 18, 1945. The bride wore lavender with matching posies in her straw hat. The two met at St. George’s Cemetery in Pittsburgh. Cartisser was visiting her second husband’s grave (“dressed in mourning black”) and Schafer was the cemetery caretaker. The romance began with walks and then led into phone calls from Schafer to Cartissser’s residence. Along with their age, the article explains, they both had the German language in common (she was from Austria and he was from Germany). In addition, they were both married twice before.
“Romance In Cemetery: Gravedigger Wins Widow at Grave of Husband,” East Oregonian, August 16, 1909
Charles Kramer, the oldest gravedigger of the Evergreen Cemetery in New York, “has probably dug more graves than any other man living in this city.” He fell in love and “wooed” Mrs. Theresa Furman, having spotted her during her daily visits to her late husband’s grave.
Every time Mrs. Furman appeared at her husband’s grave, Kramer, somehow or other, always succeeded in being ahead of her. He carried water for her. helped her plant flowers and did other little things, all of which aided him later when the time to propose to the Widow Furman arrived.
A few weeks later they were married and the gravedigger moved in with Mrs. Furman and her stepson James Weigand and son William Furman. One night, Kramer got into a quarrel with the sons over a “trifling matter.” The next night he received a blow when entering the home: “biff! something struck me over the head. It appeared to me as is some one was intent upon slipping me into one of the holes I had dug that day.”
The gravedigger left the matter alone, only to be hit again:
Last night I was going into the house when something fell on my head again. I heard some one say, ‘We hit him square that time,’ and disappear. I thought at first the house had fallen on me. but later discovered that it was nothing more than a good sized baseball bat.
Well, as you’ve probably figured out, it was the two sons. They were held on $100 bail. Kramer just went back to doing what he does best: “Evergreen’s champion grave digger then hurried to his place of employment, announcing that he had a ‘little job of digging a few graves’ waiting for him.”
I am not sure of the effect this incident had on the marriage of the mourner and gravedigger as the article just ends with no mention of Mrs. Theresa Furman.
It’s me, coming up for air from the spooky newspaper archives with a story for my fellow Hoosiers.
Today we are taking a float down Pogue’s Run, an urban creek in Indianapolis that starts at the intersection of Elizabeth Street and Lennington Drive and empties into the White River south of the Kentucky Avenue Bridge (Wikipedia). Running two-and-a-half miles, the creek is named after George Pogue, a settler who mysteriously disappeared. “Every few decades,” according to Atlas Obscura, “when unclaimed human bones turn up, there’s speculation that they might be Pogue’s.” But, I’m not here to talk about that mystery.
In March 1889, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (page 3) shares the peculiar legend of a haunted hollow tree in Pogue’s Run Bottom (near the creek). There’s a tree nicknamed “Gallows Tree” and neighborhood children believe it is the home of a ghost. Legend tells of a body that was found hanging from the tree during the war:
“Soldiers who climbed the tree to cut down the body found a curiously concealed opening into the tree. It was instantly concluded that the hollow interior of the elm should be the place of sepulchure. The body was lowered into the hollow tree, but apparently it struck no bottom. Certainly it gave forth no sound in falling. It may have been that the dust and accumulation of rotted particles of the tree’s heart had made a soft, deep bed within so that no sound of the falling body came forth. Or was it possible that the spreading roots of the elm walled in a deep ‘cave of the winds’ or well? At any rate, nothing was heard when the body tumbled to its uncertain grave.”
Over time, city development began to surround the tree, but the sounds of history could still be heard. Citizens could hear “mournful sounds of distress” when they walked by the tree. One day, a group of boys were playing with a ball when it knocked into the tree. The ball disappeared! To retrieve the ball, the boy hit the tree with a bat causing “horrible moans of pain.” The boys scattered.
One of the boys later returned to investigate, climbing high up the tree: “He was about to call out his discovery when a terrific blast from the cavern smote him and took away bis breath. There was mingled with the roar of the wind the rattle of voices and the moans of despair.” The boy barely escaped getting sucked into the tree, losing his hat in the process.
So what the heck? The article concludes with some theories: “Is it not possible that buried treasures lie under the tree, vainly seeking all these years to testify by these mysterious methods to its rich presence? Or is is the tortured spirit of the murdered man seeking rest and finding none?”
I am back with more debunked ghost stories from the newspaper archives. If you missed the first post, click here. In part II, I share ghost hoaxes executed by children.
“She Was Lonely”
I will start with the sad story first. Paranormal activity was reported in the Henry Thacker home of Louisville, Kentucky (1952). Stories of household objects floating and boxes sailing across the room brought in curious visitors and press. County Patrolman Russell McDaniel and Jack Fisher noticed the activity centered around 11-year-old Joyce. Joyce and her sisters were staying with the family as their mother was terminally ill with cancer and their father was not around. She admitted to the patrolmen that she in fact threw objects when no one was looking. The girl told police,”It made a lot of people come to see me.”
Source: January 1952, Denton Record-Chronicle, Denton, Texas (pg. 10)
It Wasn’t Mr. Albright
On March 16, 1916, The Republic of Meyersdale, Pennsylvania reported the alleged haunting of a recently deceased Mr. Jonathan Albright. The veteran’s ghost was said to have driven his family out their home (in Meyersdale) on two occasions. “On one occasion several weeks ago, ” The Republic reports, “the family averred, he came and stood at the head of the stairs and ordered them all out of the house, They were so frightened by his austere manner and stern command that they all ran to the home of Andrew Lehman nearby […].”
The next week (March 23, 1916), The Republic published an update. It seems the ghost was not Mr. Albright, but a poodle. The Republic explains, “The ghost story originated by some children dressing up a poodle dog and propping the animal up in bed, so that he resembled an old man, and then calling Mrs. Albright and telling her there was a man in bed upstairs.” A scared Mrs. Albright ran out of the house and told neighbors of her sighting. The story spread.
Source: March 16, 1916 (pg.1) & March 23, 1916 (pg.1), The Republic, Meyersdale, Pennsylvania
Nancy Roberts, known as the “First Lady of American Folklore,” wrote more than 20 books on Southern hauntings and folklore. Her stories weave archival research, firsthand accounts, and detailed descriptions of haunted locations, locations which she visited and soaked in. The University of South Carolina Press provided me a copy of Roberts’s Ghosts of the Southern Mountains and Appalachia (originally published in 1978, 2019 reprint) to review. I was thrilled as I love local folklore and short stories (as you all know).
Nancy Roberts (1924–2008) was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and returned to North Carolina, where her parents were originally from, in the 1950s. And, thank goodness for it. Roberts was an extremely prolific writer of Southern folklore, selling over one million copies. Impressed by her freelance writing for the Charlotte Observer, she was encouraged by poet and journalist Carl Sandburg to write her first book in 1958 (USC Press). The stories in her books are grounded in historical research, which earned her a certificate of commendation from the American Association of State and Local History. Along with her impressive list of books, Roberts was also known as an excellent oral storyteller and lecturer. Along with the title of “First Lady of American Folklore,” Roberts was also named “Custodian of the Twilight Zone” by Southern Living magazine.
Ghosts of the Southern Mountains and Appalachia contains 18 short stories running around 5-10 pages with each story attached to a particular location, essentially a folklore tour. The stories are rooted in their historical times, yet the narrative view sometimes pulls back to the modern times Roberts was writing in. The stories make use of direct quotes from actual witnesses and fictionalized dialogue between characters (which was never hokey, a problem I find with some stories written about haunted history). Roberts grounds the stories in human emotions, making the supernatural less unfathomable. The ghosts themselves are not merely mists, but beings tethered to the earth by longing, fear, anger, secrets, love, and utter confusion.
I was given the chance to talk to the author’s daughter, also named Nancy Roberts, on the phone about the legacy of her mother. Her daughter mentioned something that stuck out to me on the phone call, something which was a common theme in the ghost stories written by her mother: “Everyone wants to get home.” Whether it’s a roadside ghost looking for a ride home or a mother ghost trying to get her baby back into her father’s arms, Roberts’s ghosts just want to get back home. Roberts is so good at describing this desperation and inciting emotion. While these stories can bum the reader out, there is something comforting in the way Roberts writes: like a mother wrapping you in a blanket, handing you a hot chocolate, and telling you the secrets of the world.
Her daughter spoke of her childhood: bedtime stories about mischievous fairies, adventures to the Bell Witch Cave, and the usual parental embarrassment. For example, her mother would sometimes dress in costume for her readings: “We would tease her about the costumes.” As someone that had a mother dress up as a Care Bear for work, I totally understand these feelings. Everywhere the author went, came recognition as well: “I didn’t like that my mom would be recognized. We couldn’t go places quietly. As I got older, I liked that she was so successful.” Successful writer and storyteller aside, Nancy Roberts also brought a certain energy to every room she entered.”She had a spark about her…” her daughter tells me, “when she came into the room, people could tell how interested she was in them and how trustworthy she was […] She had an honest, open, investigative attitude.”
In many ways, to read Nancy Roberts is to know Nancy Roberts. Her written words carry the very empathetic, comforting, and honest parts of her personality. If you are looking for spooky storytelling that captures human struggle on both sides of the veil, I highly recommend adding Nancy Roberts to your “To Be Read” pile.
About the Book
Ghosts of the Southern Mountains and Appalachia, revised by Nancy Roberts
2019 Reprint by University of South Carolina Press
Happy 2020! Now that I have a major life project out of the way (finally!), I can devote all my free time to GHOSTS! So expect more constant and consistent blog posts. I am excited to explore this spooky world with you all.
I have been digging in the newspaper archives and noticed a fun trend of debunked hauntings and some are funnier than others. For the next couple weeks or so, I’ll be sharing some of my favorites.
A Haunting Solved by A Tornado
A schoolhouse in Frankfort, Indiana was believed to be haunted by a man named Entrekin who fell from the three-story brick building (possible image of the school here). “At night,” the The Indianapolis News reports, “when the wind cries plaintively among the nooks and crannies of the old building.” The superstitious believed “Entrekin’s spirit comes out and stalks amid the columns on the top of the building and sings to the trembling ones who go hurrying by on the sidewalks below.”
A tornado ripped through the town in June of 1902 and caused damage to the iron ornaments on top of the building. Workmen, when fixing the damage, found the source of the ghost: “one of the tall pillars was capped with an odd-shaped galvanized iron piece, and it was formed to produce a whistling sound, which, when the wind blew in a certain direction, gave forth a series of soul-chilling weird sounds.”
Source: June 1902, The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana (pg. 7)
Spirits of a Different Kind
Witnesses saw odd lights in an old and isolated schoolhouse in Emerson, Man. Citizens assumed ghosts. The theory that it was spirits was not entirely wrong.
The lights were from nightly sessions of making moonshine (“and not the Sir Oliver Lodge variety”). “On the teacher’s platform,” The Star Press reports, “they [the police] found a huge still, with a capacity of forty-five to sixty-five gallons daily.”
Source: October 1921, The Star Press, Muncie, Indiana (pg. 21)
A Cemetery Ghost
People reported a flying ghost accompanied by “screeching noises” in an abandoned cemetery in North Manchester, Indiana. An investigation by skeptics revealed the source:
[…] it was found that mischievous boys had stretched wires across the grounds from fence to fence from which was suspended a woman’s nightrobe. This was drawn back and forth by the little scamps, who howled delight whenever frightened people took to their heels.
Source: March 1902, Princeton Daily Clarion, Princeton, Indiana (pg. 3)
I recently had the chance to finally visit the Rotary Jail Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The jail is the first rotating jail built in the United States and the only one that still turns. In the 19th Century, rotary jails popped up across the Midwestern United States. Jail cells shaped like wedges rotated on a platform, like a carousel, using a hand crank. Spinning the jail around allowed you to access single cells at a time through one
opening. The design was initially created by William H. Brown of Indianapolis’s Haugh, Ketcham & Co., and the intention was “to produce a jail in which prisoners can be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between them and the jailer or guard” (Source). Rotary jails eventually closed (the last one remained in use until 1969) as the spinning mechanism caught limbs (and in one case, a head), breaking and crushing them.
The Rotary Jail Museum in Crawfordsville houses a two-story model attached to the once living quarters of the Sheriff and his family. The very informative–and excellent tour–is only $5 and one hour. I was also lucky enough to visit the museum after their Haunted Jail event, which explained the fake blood and skeletons!
This small Midwest museum is definitely worth the stop. Maybe you might see the ghost of John Coffee.
The Execution of John Coffee
In January of 1885, the beaten and burned bodies of James and Elizabeth McMullen were found in their home near Elmdale, Indiana (Montgomery County). John Coffee, 23 years old, was arrested for their murders. He confessed three separate times, went to trial, and was found guilty.* Coffee was sentenced to death by hanging.
This was the first public execution for Crawfordsville, Indiana. A scaffold was constructed and tested several times with a 150-pound sand bag. About 200 people purchased tickets to witness the hanging in the jail’s courtyard. On October 15, 1885, Coffee’s hanging and a horrific scene took placed. It took three attempts to hang Coffee; the rope broke the first two times. An article in the New York Times (October 17, 1885) describes the event (warning: graphic detail).
When the drop fell the rope broke and the body dropped to the ground. The neck was not broken, but blood oozed from the condemned man’s ears. He was carried up on the scaffold, and while the rope was being readjusted he recovered consciousness and begged to have the cap taken off that he might make another speech. This request was refused. When the drop again fell the rope broke a second time, but the body was caught before it fell to the ground. It was lifted up and held in the arms of the Deputy Sheriff while the rope was fixed the third time. When the drop fell again the rope held and Coffee strangled to death for 12 minutes. The spectacle was sickening.
The hanging was an embarrassment for Montgomery County. Prisoners in the jail pleaded to have the scaffold torn down, as they could see the threatening mechanism through the jail windows (Indiana Historical Bureau)†. The people of Crawfordsville would be haunted, both figuratively and literally, by the ghost of John Coffee.
The Ghost of John Coffee
Shortly after the execution, people began to see the ghost of John Coffee. Firstly, his ghost was seen near Elmdale (location of the murder) “prowling around.” One night, the ghost of John Coffee stopped a farmer as he needed a ride (vehicle not mentioned). He rode with the farmer about three miles, until the reached the ruins of the McMullen household. The ghost “hopped out and bounded away with the speed of a jack rabbit (Newport Hoosier State, October 28, 1885).
Apparently the ghost of John Coffee likes taking rides, because he reportedly hopped on a train, too. As the story goes, a train conductor named Dick Tracy saw the ghost of Coffee with a noose around his bloody neck. Tracy and brakeman were in the caboose, just leaving Crawfordsville. Coffee jumped on the front end and Tracy quickly locked the car’s door. Coffee then jumped on top of the roof and came through the cupola, finally taking a seat on the train. He rode the train for about thirty miles, while Tracy and the brakeman watched in fear. He eventually jumped off the train and quickly disappeared. Tracy decided that was his last ride (Jefferson Daily Evening News, November 11, 1885).
People still believe John Coffee haunts the Rotary Jail as every October the museum’s security systems indicate movement inside the jail and house at night (Indiana Historical Bureau). Allegedly, the Sheriff who decided not to pursue other accomplices in the Coffee case haunts the building.
I visited on the 17th of October; I must have missed Coffee and the Sheriff.
*The tour guides mentioned that some believed John Coffee was innocent and/or worked with an accomplice(s). No one else was ever punished for the crime.
†The scaffold was used again. I found one source saying it was used six months later for the hanging of John C. Henning.
A tour guide pointed out some similarities between this John Coffee and the John Coffey from Stephen King’s The Green Mile. The guide said King never heard of Crawfordsville, but The New York Times article (see above) never mentioned the city. So maybe King forgot he was inspired by a real life event? Hmmmmm.
You know when you use a chair after someone and it’s still warm? It’s like that.
OK. I’m guessing, but haunted chairs are a thing. Whether the chair is possessed by something or just a tool for the ghost, sitters should beware. The following are haunted chairs I came across during my research, from established folklore to personal stories.
Grab a seat (no, not that chair) and enjoy!
Thomas Busby’s Stoop Chair
Thomas killed his father-in-law, as legend has it, over a chair.
He beat his father-in-law to death with a hammer after he sat in his favorite chair, and hid his body in the woods. Thomas was found and sentenced to death. He was hanged, tarred, and put in the gallows. He would scream from the gallows: “May sudden death come to anyone who dare sit in my chair.”
The chair was put in the Thirsk Museum in North Yorkshire, England. People who have sat in the cursed chair suffered from brain tumors, car crashes, etc. The museum eventually hung the chair from the ceiling so no one could sit in it again.
After Dad passed, the family continued to honor the rule…except once. One of the adult children took a seat, tilting the chair back, and raising the footrest. The chair suddenly returned to the upright position, almost ejecting the occupant. No one ever took a seat again (except for the cat). The family also reported the massagers starting on their own, even when it was unplugged. Late at night, the footrest would pop up. Dad’s favorite books would disappear from the bookshelves, only to be found in the armrest storage later.
Maybe heaven is a lounge chair.
Haunted Rocking Chair
This summer, television personality and paranormal investigator Zak Bagans closed his Devil’s Rocking Chair exhibit after guests and friends suffered extreme emotional reactions. The chair was used during the exorcism of David Glatzel by Lorraine Warren. During this exorcism, the demon allegedly left David and entered Arne Cheyenne Johnson’s body. Johnson later killed his landlord and attempted to plead not guilty due to possession at the trial. Johnson was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and ultimately served 5 years in prison.
According to Bagans, “Six people all shared the same disturbing, uncontrollable crying during the short time I opened the exhibit, one of them being a guest who also collapsed directly above the Devil’s Rocking Chair on the stairs [The chair was directly under the stairs].” Bagans himself experienced an intense response to the chair when it was in his home:
Me and a friend felt an evil presence move between us as we were sitting down in my living room, which then caused my dog to growl […] I then became very affected, began speaking strange things about God and Satan with my head down, and then my friend began to cry uncontrollably and literally ran outta my house.
Bagans purchased the chair hours before Lorraine Warren’s death for $67,000. The upcoming Conjuring 3 movie was inspired by the chair.
The Velvet Chair of Wittenberg University
William A. Kinnison, the 11th President of Wittenberg University, wrote a book about the university titled America’s Most Haunted Campus. In his book, he tells the story of a haunted red velvet chair(s). The chairs, “a fancy, carved and upholstered wooden Victorian-style gentleman’s chair of the gay nineties variety,” were used in the literary societies on the third floor of the recitation hall. They eventually scattered throughout campus. Apparently one of these chairs is haunted, but maybe the others are too?
According to legend, if you take time to stare at the haunted chair patiently, a “dustlike image” of a handsome man will appear. He then vanishes, giving off the sound of a faint sigh or muffled sob. He hasn’t appeared long enough for people to ask why he’s there.
Haunted Cemetery Chairs
There is much folklore attached to chairs and benches in cemeteries. Placed to give visitors a seat when visiting deceased friends and family, legend says they actually do not give such respite.
Various legends are attached to a funerary sculpture like the one pictured to the right, often called a “mourning chair.” Popular during the 19th Century, these eventually went out of fashion and their original meaning was replaced with paranormal folklore. Most often they are called “Devil’s Chairs” and it’s believed that sitting on the chair will incite a visit from the devil. There are many other superstitions attached to the act of sitting on such memorials or other benches and chairs in cemeteries. Here are a few examples.
Cassadaga, Florida: According to legend, if you place an open beer on this particular graveside bench, it will be empty in the mourning. Cheers!
Bristol, Pennsylvania: In the St. James Episcopal Cemetery sits a wrought-iron chair called “The Witch’s Chair.” If you sit in the chair at midnight during October, you will find yourself in the embrace of a ghostly witch. Some witnesses have seen a woman sitting in the chair.
Kirksville, Missouri: The Baird Chair (aka The Devi’s Chair, pictured above) is a marble memorial that was commissioned by prominent businessman William Baird for his brother and sister-in-law (William is actually buried elsewhere). According to legend, if you sit on the chair at midnight (usually on Halloween), a hand will emerge from the grave and drag you down to Hell.
The Chair in Pieces
I found this ghost story on a website YourGhostStories.com. A user explained that during a home renovation, they found a carved chair back behind a wall. Then, in a boarded-up storage space, they found the seat’s chair and two legs. When pulling weeds in the yard, the user found the other two legs with a bit of damage. The family put the chair together, instantly feeling uneasy by its presence. They took it apart, put the pieces in a trash bag, and left it in the garage for years.
They eventually moved and the chair came with them. The user felt a desire to assemble the chair, but warned everyone not to sit in it. One night, the user’s husband sat in the chair. He seemed to go into a trance and was hospitalized that night due to amnesia-type symptoms (the user does not say, but he seems to be OK now). The chair now sits unbothered in the guest room. Sometimes a mysterious mist appears in photographs of the chair.
Kinnison, William A. America’S Most Haunted Campus. Xlibris Corporation, Aug 16, 2018.
“Kirksville Devil’s Chair.” Atlas Obscura.
“My Haunted Chair.” YourGhostStories.com.
Stansfield Jr., Charles A. Haunted Northern California: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Golden State. Stackpole Books, Jun 10, 2009.
Wetzel, Charles Wetzel. Haunted U.S.A. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2008,
Wynne, Kelly. “Zak Bagans Closes Devil’s Rocking Chair Exhibit After Museum Haunts, Chilling Encounter in His Home.” Newsweek, 3 June 2019.
Using the hashtag #humpdayhaunts, I share a bit of paranormal history on my Instagram every Wednesday. I’ve been letting my followers vote between two themes. The most recent candidates? Haunted Lighthouses or Ghost Ships. The winner? Haunted Lighthouses!
I must admit, I was a bit bummed. I love lighthouses, but I wanted to explore new territory. In addition to the Instagram #humpdayhaunts, I thought I might do a short post on 3 ghost ships (since I’m doing 3 lighthouses). In the end, everyone wins.
The Ghost Ship of New Haven
English settlers of New Haven Colony sent a ship to England in January of 1647 in hopes of selling some goods. The ship was not in the best condition, prompting Reverend John Davenport to say rather prophetically, “Lord, if it be thy pleasure to bury these our Friends in the bottom of the Sea, they are thine; save them!” The ship set sail and never returned.
A year or so later, as the legend goes, a summer thunderstorm hit New Haven. When the storm passed, the colony saw that very lost ship sailing the sky with battered sails. The Puritans took this as a sign of God’s anger.
There was a shipwreck at Block Island (Rhode Island) on December 26, 1738. The ship Princess Augusta was filled with German Palatines and led by Captain George Long. The trip itself was awful: provisions were limited, people died from illness, and water was contaminated. Captain Long was among the casualties. First Mate Andrew Brook took over and charged passengers for food.
Now, the waters of history get a bit murky.
There are several versions of what happened with this shipwreck. Here are two popular endings.
The people of Block Island saved the living passengers (that were pretty much left behind by Brook) and buried their deceased. The ship may have been scuttled or burned. Some theories said it was repaired and sent to its intended destination: Philadelphia.
The people of Block Island lured the ship to the shore using a false light. They then murdered the passengers and took all their belongings. They set the ship on fire.
During the period between Christmas and New Years, people have witnessed a burning phantom ship. The phenomenon is known as the Palatine Light.
John Greenleaf Whittier made the story famous with the 1867 poem “The Palatine.”