Ghosts and Their Ships
Today, years after the shipwrecks occurred, locals still chat about ghostly survivors who can be still be seen drifting along the Outer Banks. Even visitors have said that they have spotted apparitions from the Graveyard of the Atlantic, such as the Grey Man of Hatteras, a shipwreck "survivor" who wanders the beach before storms and warns passerbys of impending danger.
But perhaps the most famous ghost ship of all is the Carroll A. Deering. Built in Maine in 1919 by the G.G. Deering company, which always used a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses to christen their ships - never champagne. After replacing the original ailing captain, Captain Merritt, the Carroll A. Deering set sail under the command of Captain Willis T. Wormell from Portland Maine on to Rio DiGenero on December 8, 1920.
Returning from Rio, the Carroll A. Deering was spotted by the Cape Lookout Lightship, sailing at 5mph. According to the lookout, "A man on board other than the captain, hailed the lightship and reported that the vessel had lost both anchors while riding out the gale south of Cape Fear, and asked to be reported to its owners." The crewman didn't speak, act, or look like an officer, being tall, thin, and with reddish hair, and the lookout thought this was unusual. Nevertheless, the vessel was reported in.
Five days later, on January 25, the following report was made by Captain Henry Johnson of the SS Lake Elon:
"In connection with the stranding of the American schooner Carroll A. Deering on North Carolina coast, January 31st, 1921. I can report that while bound from Sagua La Grande, Cuba, toward Baltimore on January 30th, 1921, about 3:30 p.m. we sighted a five-masted schooner about two points on our starboard bow. The wind was S.W. moderate and she had all sails set and steering about NNW making about seven miles. We passed her about 5:45 p.m. about one-half mile off our port side. We were then about twenty-five miles S.W. true from the Diamond Shoals Light Vessel. From the description of the Carol A. Deering, we think that this schooner was her but we could not read her name, there was nothing irregular to be seen on board this vessel but she was steering a peculiar course. She appeared to be steering for Cape Hatteras. We sighted Diamond Shoals Light Vessel about 7 p.m. and passed it at 8:32 p.m. The lookout on the schooner should have sighted Cape Hatteras Light, also the Light Ship at Diamond Shoal a little later than we did but in plenty time to avoid going on shore as the weather was clear and cloudy with good visibility. There was a couple of more ships in the vicinity steering a course parallel with us which should have convinced the Captain of the schooner that he was steering a wrong course."
On January 31, Surfman C.P. Brady of the Cape Hatteras Coast Guard Station spotted the Carol A. Deering stranded on a sandbar along the Diamond Shoals, and battered by the breaking waves. He and his crew paddled to the wreck as quickly as possible, but once they arrived at the ship, it was deserted. All of the lifeboats were gone, and the ladder was thrown over the side as an indication that the crew had tried to leave, but they were never seen again.
On February 5, after days of treacherous waters, local lifesaving crews were able to board the ship and what they found was peculiar. There was no sign of personal belongings of the officers or the crew and the ship's key navigational equipment and some papers were missing. The ship's anchors were missing and red lights had been run up the mast. Yet food in the galley appeared to be laid out in preparation for a meal. Three different sets of boots were found in the captain's cabin and the spare bed appeared to have been slept in. The handwriting on the ship's map appeared to have changed on January 23rd and the steering gear was disabled with charts scattered about the master's quarters. And, the only living soul that remained aboard the Carroll A. Deering was the ship's six-toed cat.
While theories abound as to the fate of the crew, the main three being that there was a mutiny, the crew were victims of piracy, or that the ship was simply abandoned, historians and government agencies alike still struggle to figure out what happened to the crew of the mysterious "ghost ship," the Carroll A Deering.