The Scary Truth Series, Pt. III

This is the third of three entries in a special Halloween-inspired blog series highlighting a collection of ghost stories, legends, folklore, and facts from North Carolina. Like sweet tea and college basketball, folklore is a major part of North Carolina’s cultural heritage. Legends and stories passed down from generations keep the state’s history alive and ultimately help us remember life as it once was. 

The Scary Truth Series, Pt. I
The Scary Truth Series, Pt. II

The Ghost Ship: Carroll A. Deering

Another quintessential characteristic of North Carolina culture is its rich maritime history, from shipwrecks as common as today’s car accidents and epic pirate tales that are almost beyond belief. Over 5,000 historic shipwrecks have been documented along the North Carolina coast, giving it the appropriate nickname, the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” This leads us to one of the most legendary maritime mysteries in the state’s history: the wreck of the Carroll A. Deering, otherwise known as the “Ghost Ship” of the Outer Banks.

Deering-NPS

Carroll A. Deering, built in 1919 in Bath, Maine – National Park Service Collection, courtesy of the Outer Banks History Center.

The five-masted schooner met its final fate on January 31, 1921 on the Diamond Shoals on the return trip from a voyage to Brazil. The mystery, however, was not necessarily how or why the ship came aground, but rather what happened to its captain and 10 crew members.

Images of the Carroll A. Deering wreckage from the Aycock Brown Collection at the Outer Banks History Center.

Here is a timeline of response actions by the U.S. Coast Guard from the first five days, beginning at 11:30 AM on January 31, 1921 and concluding at 9:30 PM on February 4, 1921:

USCG_Timeline

First five days of response actions taken by the U.S. Coast Guard, courtesy of the Outer Banks History Center. (larger image)

Four Coast Guard Stations in the area of the wreckage site responded to the reports of a stranding, as evidenced by these submitted “Reports of Assistance Rendered” documents:

Records courtesy of the Outer Banks History Center.

The Wilmington Morning Star provided extensive coverage of the unfolding of events (click on image for more detail/to view as a slideshow; hover over images for date information):

Newspaper articles can be found in the North Carolina newspaper microfilm holdings housed at the State Archives of North Carolina.

This event was also in the national spotlight after five departments of the government—Commerce, Treasury, Justice, Navy, and State—launched an investigation into the disappearance of the crew. Investigative reporting was also conducted by several different newspapers across the country:

Newspaper articles courtesy of the Chronicling America project.

The ship was deemed unsalvagable and its remains were destroyed by dynamite a few months later to keep it from becoming a hazard to other ships. A bottled message was discovered on a nearby beach several months after the wreck, which was then sensationalized by the media soon after. It read:

DEERING CAPTURED BY OIL BURNING BOAT SOMETHING LIKE CHASER. TAKING OFF EVERYTHING, HANDCUFFING CREW. CREW HIDING ALL OVER SHIP, NO CHANCE TO MAKE ESCAPE. FINDER PLEASE NOTIFY HEADQUARTERS DEERING.

The message was later found to be fraudulent, written by the man who “found” the note. Federal investigations were closed towards the end of 1922 without any conclusive findings. Speculation has swirled since then: pirates, Russian interference, rum runners, and mutiny among the more popular theories to explain the disappearance. No trace of the captain/crew, the ship’s log, or the navigation equipment was ever discovered.


Abandonment or Something Fishy?

What do you think really happened to the captain and crew of the Carroll A. Deering? Since the message in a bottle was proven to be counterfeit, are claims that the ship was captured by pirates/Russian enemy still plausible? Did the captain and crew simply attempt to board life boats after the ship became disabled/stranded, but perished due to the rough sea?


Recommended Reading & References

Agan, Kelly. (2014). The ghost ship Caroll A. Deering: Still an Outer Banks mystery. NCPedia. Retrieved from http://www.ncpedia.org/ghost-ship-carol-deering.

National Park Service, Cape Hatteras National Seashore. (n.d.) Ghost ship of the Outer Banks. Retrieved from http://www.nps.gov/caha/historyculture/theghostship.htm.

Simpson, Bland. (2002). Ghost ship of Diamond Shoals: the mystery of the Carroll A. Deering. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Slach, Janlyn. “The Wreck of the Carroll A. Deering.” Hoover Heads: The Blog of the Herbert Hoover Library and Museum, 26 Jan. 2016, National Archives, www.hoover.blogs.archives.gov/2016/01/27/the-wreck-of-the-carroll-a-deering.

Walser, Richard. (1980). North Carolina legends. Raleigh: Office of Archives and History/North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources.

Newspaper articles

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2 thoughts on “The Scary Truth Series, Pt. III

  1. Pingback: The Scary Truth Series, Pt. I | History For All the People

  2. Pingback: The Scary Truth Series, Pt. II | History For All the People

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