Folktales, Legends, and Mysteries from North Carolina: The Ghost Ship Caroll A. Deering

Dec 21, 2023 | Area Info

North Carolina has a rich tradition of folklore, and it encompasses a variety of magical legends and unexplained natural phenomena – and today we look back not far from our own shores at the Caroll A. Deering, a five-masted commercial schooner, that has etched its place in maritime lore. Sailing in the early 1920s, this vessel embarked on its final voyage, disappearing under puzzling circumstances that continue to baffle historians and spark imaginations to this day. 

The Caroll A. Deering set sail from Norfolk, Virginia, in August 1920, bound for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to load a cargo of coal. The ship was manned by Captain William Merritt and a crew of experienced sailors. However, upon reaching its destination and loading the coal, the captain fell ill, and the first mate, Willis B. Wormell, took over the command.

What ensued was a sequence of strange events. In Barbados, the ship’s crew was spotted behaving oddly, as if under duress or coercion. The vessel, sailing without its captain due to his illness, continued its journey northward.

The Deering was later sighted by passing ships near the Cape Lookout lightship in North Carolina on January 28, 1921. Concerns were raised when the crew of a passing steamer observed the Deering’s crew milling about on deck in an unusual manner. The captain of the passing ship attempted communication but received no response, signaling that something was amiss.

Several days later, the Caroll A. Deering ran aground off the coast of Cape Hatteras. When the authorities investigated, they found the ship deserted. All personal belongings, navigational equipment, and the ship’s papers were missing. The crew had vanished without a trace, leaving behind a ghost ship eerily abandoned.

 Numerous theories emerged to explain the mysterious disappearance of the crew of the Caroll A. Deering. Some suggested piracy, mutiny, or an attack by rum-runners. Others proposed the involvement of foreign powers or sabotage related to tensions following World War I. The absence of clear evidence compounded the mystery, allowing speculation to flourish.

 Investigations conducted by the U.S. government failed to provide concrete answers. The FBI, Coast Guard, and various agencies probed the case, yet no definitive conclusion was reached. The disappearance of the Deering’s crew remains a baffling maritime riddle, with no closure to this day.

 The story of the Caroll A. Deering stands as an enduring maritime enigma, a ghost ship lost to the annals of history. Its disappearance remains an unsolved puzzle, shrouded in mystery and intrigue. As time passes, the ghostly tale of this abandoned vessel continues to evoke fascination, inviting us to delve into the realms of speculation and wonder about the fate of the crew who vanished without a trace on that chilling January day in 1921.

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