Saturday, July 11, 2009

Anchors Aweigh

USS Constellation at the Inner Harbor from Historic Naval Ships

There are three ships of the United States Navy that have borne the name USS Constellation, honoring the new constellation of stars (it was up to 15 when the first was launched) on the United States flag.

Baltimore's Constellation was commissioned in 1854, the second of the trio, and was the last all-sail ship built by the United States Navy. It served through the Civil War and wasn't decommissioned until a century after its christening. Today the proud lady sits on drydock in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, a naval museum and living slice of American history.

And hey, it's still got a pretty experienced crew on board - of spooks.

One story tells of a priest that was roaming the ship alone, trying to get his bearings straight. He was taken in tow by an older guide, who showed him all the nooks and crannies and knew the entire history of the ship. Except there were no guides on duty.

The padre's description of his host fit Carl Hansen, the ship's old night watchmen. He died in 1965, but has been sighted many times, both as a spirit and a below-decks card player. But most of the apparitions aren't so thrilled to be aboard the "Connie."

The best known may be the ghost of Neil Harvey, a young yeoman accused of deserting his gun station during a raging sea battle. The captain had him lashed to his cannon tube, and fired, splattering poor Harvey to a very messy burial at sea. (Other stories say he fell asleep on guard duty and was executed by firing squad in front of a cannon; how boring.)

He's been seen in uniform, generally on the orlop deck (below the main deck) and is so realistic that he's often mistaken for one of the ship's guides, although he's also been seen as a glowing blob. The giveaway is that he floats over the decks.

The spook of the captain that had him executed, Thomas Truxtun, is also a regular. The no-nonsense (some say sadistic) skipper also treads the ship - he was its first commander - and is usually associated with the forecastle, the short deck by the bow. Truxtun’s ghost is donned in a Revolutionary War era Navy uniform with a ruffled shirt, gold-striped pants and a cocked hat, holding a sword.

And to show their loyalty to the ship, both Harvey and Truxtun transferred over from the original USS Constellation, a frigate that first set sail in 1798. Hey, what self-respecting spook wants to haunt a non-existent ship?

But never fear; there are spirits besides Hansen that belong to this version of the Connie.

One is the apparition of an eleven year-old boy, an assistant to the ship's surgeon. He was stabbed to death by two sailors in 1822 on the orlop deck, but still calls the ship his eternal home.

Another oft-sighted spook is the sailor that hung himself on the gun deck, and his melancholy soul is still reportedly seen there.

There are, of course, the usual phenomena - orbs, the smell of gunpowder, and unexplained noises and footsteps. We'll leave you with a final story.

In 1955, a naval officer, last to leave the ship, took a picture of the empty Constellation. It was published in the Baltimore Sun, and lo and behold, a figure was seen in the photo of a man on deck. Did someone stay aboard? Was it Truxtun or Hansen? Or is there another spirit manning his station on the Connie, forever sailing the boundless seas?

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