Friday, August 11, 2017
The Flying Dutchman & Other Legends of the Sea (Pittsburgh Dispatch) 1897
THE FLYING DUTCHMAN AND OTHER LEGENDS OF THE SEA - PITTSBURG DISPATCH 1897
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Specter ships and the legend of the Flying Dutchman have always been standard traditions and favorite yarns with the old-time sailor. Every maritime country has its own phantom ship, and the legends of these specters of the deep are practically endless. The first assigned cause of the curse upon the ceaseless wandering of phantom ships is murder and piracy at sea, and the whole story is that of the Wandering Jew on land. The Dutch lay claim to the origin and authorship of the ghostly legend, although during the plague in Europe, in Justinian’s time, it was said that spectral brazen barks, with black and headless men as crews, were seen off infected ports. Thus was laid the foundation to the more elaborate story of the phantom ship.
With the old, deep-water seaman, Vanderdecken in his evil craft is still cruising, bringing disaster to every vessel he encounters, as he grapples with the gales in futile attempts to double the Cape of Good Hope. For so he had sworn to do, in spite of God or Satan, if he sailed till the crack of doom. He is usually sighted to leeward, making good weather under all sail in the teeth of a gale that is sufficient to cause other ships to run under bare poles. According to Sir Walter Scott the Flying Dutchman is seen off the Cape of Good Hope only in stormy weather, and always brings disaster of some kind. It is the specter of a vessel that was laden with the precious metals, and on board of which, after a mutiny and murder had been committed, the plague broke out and attacked all the crew. The ship was therefore refused entry to any port, and has since been doomed to cruise as a ghost, and never to reach its destination. Marryat, facile principes in nautical romances, has constructed out of the legend his plot of the phantom ship, in which the Dutch captain, when homeward bound from the East Indies, met with continuous headwinds and could not round the Cape; whereupon he swore a terrible oath that he would round it, and would not put back, even if he had to strive till the day of judgment. He is striving yet, and although constantly beating makes no headway. The Flying Dutchman is the evil genius of the sea, and to sight the vessel is the forerunner of disaster. Nothing must be taken from Vanderdecker, not even a letter, for the person who touches anything he has touched is lost.
A phantom ship is known to Baltic sailors as the Carmillian, and the captain of her is called Klabatermann. This ship has her cruising ground off the Cape, which it is destined never to round. When the sinister craft heaves in sight with Klabatermann sitting on the knight—heads, dressed in yellow,wearing a night-cap and smoking a short pipe, the fate of the vessel to which it appears is sealed. Scotland has her haunted ships of the Firth of Solway. Two Danish pirates were seen coming in one clear night, one crowded with people, the other only having on its upper deck a dog barking on the bow. When near the shore two young men put off in a boat to join the first ship. When it was reached, both vessels sank. If boats approach too near, fishermen say they will be drawn down to join the reveling crews. A Chinese legend runs as follows: A party of tiger hunters found a horned serpent in a tiger's cave, near Foochow. They shipped it to Canton, but during the voyage it escaped from the cage. It rapidly consumed the cargo of rice, and the master offered a reward to any one who would kill the monster, but without avail, and the junk was abandoned. It is still seen cruising off the coast, and Chinese sailors can not be brought to board the derelict junk under any circumstances.
The old Venetian legend of the ring had its origin in the following manner: During a storm in the Adriatic a fisherman was called upon to row three men out to sea. A huge spectral galley bore down upon them, manned by demons. But the fisherman’s craft ran it down, and the sailors were then presented by the passengers with a ring. By that token they were known to be St. Nicholas,— the medieval patron saint of sailors and fishermen,— St. Mark, and St. George, and it was because the city was thus miraculously saved from destruction that the Doge of Venice went annually through the ceremony of wedding the Adriatic with a ring. In the Venetian Academy is a painting of this demon craft, the demon sailors of which, in terror of the saints, jump overboard, while spars and sails flame with fire, casting a lurid glare upon the water.
An English version of the phantom ship had its origin with a man-of-war. The crew had mutinied and rigged her so as to resemble the ghost ship. The plan was to terrify the vessels met with, in order to facilitate capture, for the decision was to engage in piracy. In the early part of the ship’s career the real specter ship was fallen in with, which so terrified the guilty crew that they sought the nearest English port and gave themselves up to justice. Queen Victoria’s two grandsons, Prince Albert Victor and Prince George, in their cruise on board the Bacchante, 1879-1882, give an account in their private journal of their experience with the Flying Dutchman, which they encountered near Sydney. “July 11, 1881, at 4 A.M., the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light, as of a phantom ship, all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars, and sails of the brig. 200 yards distant, stood out in strong relief. As she came up, the lookout man on the forecastle reported her as close on the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from the bridge elearlysaw her, as did also the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle. But on arriving there no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship was to be seen, either near or right away to the horizon. The night being clear and the sea calm, thirteen persons altogether saw her, but whether it was Van Dieman, or the Flying Dutchman, or who else, must remain unknown. The Tourmaline and Cleopatra, who were sailing on our starboard bow, flashed to ask whether we had seen the strange red light at a quarter of eleven A. M. The ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the fore-top-mast cross-trees and was smashed to atoms. At a quarter past four P. M., after quarters. we hove to, with head-yards aback, and he was buried in the sea. He was a smart royal-yard man and one of the most promising young hands in the ship, and everyone feels quite sad at his loss. At the next port we came to the Admiral also was smitten down.”
There is also a Spanish specter ship. The crew of a stately treasure galleon mutinied and murdered the Captain, Don Sandovatte. He was dying with loss of blood and thirst; but when he feebly moaned for water, they mocked him by holding it just beyond his reach. So they were doomed to roam the seas forever; and those who have seen the phantom galleon say that it is manned by a black Captain and a crew of skeletons, who cry out for water incessantly. The rugged coast of Kerry has its legend of a huge mastless ship that was seen on the dawn of a winter’s morning, broadside to, against a cliff, with every appearance of having been deserted by its crew. A number of the inhabitants soon board— ed the strange craft and were amazed by the value of the cargo, which was largely composed of the precious metals. The precious booty was quickly transferred to the shallops, when the sea, which had been smooth and calm as a lake, suddenly arose and a storm of great violence swept down upon the doomed wreckers. The heavy—laden boats were capsized, the crews swallowed up in the thundering billows, and the mastless ship, moving from its resting place, forged ahead, disappearing in the gathering gloom, the men on board waving a last farewell to the horrified spectators lining the cliff. Neither the ship nor the unfortunate wreckers were ever heard of more. It is firmly believed to this day along the Irish coast that the mysterious craft, without mast or crew, was a phantom of Tir-naNoag, the land of youth and eternal happiness.
The coast of New England has numerous legends concerning specter ships, firmly believed by the rugged fishermen, who assert stoutly that on various occasions glimpses of the shadowy crafts have been seen, followed invariably by fatal disaster. The specter of the Palatine is occasionally seen on the Sound, and is the forerunner of a gale of wind. She was a Dutch trading vessel, and was wrecked on Block Island in 1752. The wreckers, it is said, made short work of her, stripping her fore and aft and setting fire to the hull. As she drifted blazing off the coast, a human form was visible amid the flames, the form of a female passenger, left to perish on the doomed craft. Since, and generally upon the anniversary of the wreck, a phantom ship with blazing hull, charred spars, and scorched sails and rigging has been seen cruising off Block Island, when——
Behold! again with shimmer and shine,
Over the rocks and the seething brine,
The flaming wreck of the Palatine.
Whittier recorded the legend in graceful verse, as well as that of a ghostly cruiser that sailed from a New England port on her last voyage, which he termed The Dead Ship of Salem. In the seventeenth century a ship was about to sail from Salem for England. Her cargo was on board, sails bent, and passengers on deck, when two passengers came hurriedly off and engaged passage. The couple were a young man and woman who, so tradition records. were remarkable for their bearing and beauty. Who they were, or whence they came, no one in Salem town could tell. The ship being detained by adverse winds. the mysterious couple excited the suspicions of the towns-people, who viewed them as uncanny, and prophesied disaster to the vessel if allowed to sail in her. But the master, a bluff and stem sailor, refused to listen, and finally departed on a Friday. The vessel never reached her destination, and was never spoken. But later in the year incoming vessels reported sighting a craft with luminous rigging and sails, and shining hull and spars. She was sailing with all canvas set against the wind, with a crew of dead men standing in the shrouds and leaning over the rail, while upon the quarter-deck stood a young and beautiful couple. Occasionally, on the eve of a storm, looming up through the sea fog, is seen
The specter ship of Salem,
With the dead men in her shrouds,
Sailing sheer above the water in
The loom of morning clouds.
Whittier tells of two other New England phantom ships, and- Bret Harte has made familiar in verse the Greyport legend.
Cotton Mather tells how a new ship sailed from New Haven in January, 1647, and was never heard from. In June of the same year, about an hour before sunset, a ship, the very twin of the ship that had sailed in January, was seen to sail up the river against the wind and current. As she came nearer the outlines slowly faded from view, until all was merged inthe gathering gloom of approaching night.
The fishermen of Casper, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, believe firmly in a specter often seen off Cape d’Espair. She is of strange and ancient build, with high poop and forecastle, and quaintly rigged aloft. Her deck is covered with soldiers, and from her ports and cabin windows bright rays of light stream forth into the darkness. At the head of the bowsprit stands an officer, in scarlet coat, richly laced, with feathered hat and sword buckled by his side, who points to shore as though showing the place of landing to a lady who is leaning on his arm. Then the lights suddenly go out, a scream is heard, and the ship, with a heavy lurch, sinks beneath the surf. This is said to be the specter of the flagship of a fleet sent by command of Queen Anne to reduce the French forts. The fleet was wrecked off this Cape, and all hands lost. There is a legend connected with the Dismal Swamp that carries with it a horrible vision of a pirate ship sailing amid the solitudes and weird vistas of that grim locality. During the period when the Southern coast and adjacent ports were the favorite haunts of buccaneers, a piratical craft fell in with a British merchant vessel laden with a valuable cargo. She was captured during the prevalence of a storm, the crew murdered and rich booty secured. The pirate vessel, almost dismantled, drove shoreward before the gale which momentarily increased, culminating in a tremendous tidal wave, that swept the vessel through the reaches of the swamp, over the tree tops, leaving her in the midst of the vast morass when the waters receded. Since that period, during the raging of great storms, the ghostly craft is seen, a rotten, crumbling wreck, flitting about the swamp, amid the sluggish waters of the bayous, with scant room for her masts to pass clear of the overhanging trees.
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