Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Ghost Ship of Christmas Eve

Daddy has told the story of the Ghost Ship of Christmas Eve many times to the girls. Most recently, the weekend after Thanksgiving, the family saw the ship again. We had driven past the overlook near the park on a Sunday night, and there it was. A dim string of white lights, maybe five miles offshore. The ship was not moving, but no doubt the bow pointed toward the Cleveland harbor. We watched it for a bit, and headed for home. Then one of the girls said,"Tell us the story, Dad...."

The ship was owned by the Cleveland Cliffs Company of Cleveland, and was based out of the Port of Cleveland. It was on Dec 23rd one year that the ship left a near frozen dock in the Masabi Range, its holds full of iron ore pellets bound for U.S. Steel in Cleveland. The boat rode low through the water; it almost groaned through the swells. 

The ship carried the last load of the shipping season; the Company assured the good weather would hold and the crew would be home with their families by Christmas. Late in the Dec 23rd darkness, the props of the ship churned through the icy Lake Michigan waters as most of the crew wrapped presents for family amid the warmth and good smells of the ship's galley. The wind had been picking up all day. Some of the crew had never seen such waves on the Lake. But they wrapped their presents and thought of the homecoming only a day away. The Christmas music they played masked the ominous creaks of rusty rivets holding the midsection of the ship together. 

No one really knows what happened next. A few Coast Guard stations reported a crackle of radio traffic just after midnight - now Dec 24th, Christmas Eve, - and one listener thought he hear a "Mayday!" What is know is that the ship never made it to Cleveland, and not a crew member came home for Christmas. 
A few days later, when the weather finally calmed, the area where the ship was believed to have been early Dec 24th was searched. It was the deepest part of the Lake. The ship was never found. But searchers did come across something floating in the water.... a holly wreath, and bits of Christmas wrapping and ribbon, for gifts for the awaiting loved ones. 
In the many years since, and always between Thanksgiving and Christmas, people along the Great Lakes occasionally report an unusual sight. It's a ship, they believe. Miles out on the Lake, in the darkness, so that only a dim string of white lights can be seen. Some report the light flicker red and green. And some say that if it is a very quiet night, the faint ringing notes of a Christmas carol can be heard over the water. 
All who have seen it agree, it is the Ghost Ship of Christmas Eve. It roams the Great Lakes in the holiday season, while all the other Lake freighters are safe at their winter moorings. And the bow is always pointed home, home to Cleveland, to family and friends, a warm fire, and the Merry Christmas that wasn't to be.