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Harpswell Ghost Ship

Harpswell, Maine

Harpswell Coast Line, c.1906


A ghost ship supposedly haunts the residents of Casco Bay in Maine. It is known as The Dead Ship of Harpswell. John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem about the mystery ship 1866, making it a legend. The poem describes a phantom ship that appears out of the mist in Casco Bay, heads toward a dock, and then slowly vanishes without a trace.

Many people believe that the ghost ship is actually the Dash, which served as a privateering vessel during the War of 1812. Dash was officially commissioned as a privateer by President Madison on September 13, 1814, although her career began at least a year earlier. Dash reportedly attained a record of 15-0, and had also outrun several British war ships. The Dash presumably sank in a gale at George's Bank in January, 1815. It was thought by local residents for many months, even years, that the Dash would someday return to her homeport due to her prodigious career, which never happened. This hope likely helped to create the infamous legend.

Spotting the mystery ship will supposedly bring bad luck, and modern embellishments of the legend even imply that seeing the ghost ship will bring on the curse of death. A version of the tale was published in Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land Volume IV by Charles M. Skinner:

"At times the fisher-folk of Maine are startled to see the form of a ship, with gaunt timbers showing through the planks, like lean limbs through [tears] in a pauper's garb, float shoreward in the sunset. She is a ship of ancient build, with tall masts and sails of majestic spread, all torn; but what is her name, her port, her flag, what harbor she is trying to make, no man can tell, for on her deck no sailor has ever been seen to run up colors or heard to answer a hail. Be it in calm or storm, in-come or ebb of tide, the ship holds her way until she almost touches shore.

There is no creak of spars or whine of cordage, no spray at the bow, no ripple at the stern—no voice, and no figure to utter one. As she nears the rocks she pauses, then, as if impelled by a contrary current, floats rudder foremost off to sea, and vanishes in twilight. Harpswell is her favorite cruising-ground, and her appearance there sets many heads to shaking, for while it is not inevitable that ill luck follows her visits, it has been seen that burial-boats have sometimes had occasion to cross the harbor soon after them, and that they were obliged by wind or tide or current to follow her course on leaving the wharf."


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