A Ghostly Look at Atlantic Coast Shipwrecks
From the beaches of Atlantic City all the way down to Cape May, many of the ghosts that are claimed to roam the shores of these areas come from Atlantic Coast shipwrecks. Throughout some of the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, this area saw an average of four shipwrecks a week.
Ghosts don’t just hang out in businesses along the New Jersey shores. Specters have been spotted on beaches and boardwalks. If the waters are the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” then the shores are where the dead still walk – as eerie as that sounds. Not all bodies or body parts that have washed up on the shores made it to burial spots, and those dead may still hang around waiting until someone finds them.
A Few of New Jersey’s Deadliest Atlantic Coast Shipwrecks
With hundreds of ships going down since boats were invented, there are far too many to cover in one spot. When it comes to ghosts, it’s worth looking at ships that lost many lives, though even a single death on a ship can leave behind a haunting spirit. For those who die tragically and often too soon, leaving behind a spirit to roam the sands of the beaches shouldn’t be that shocking. Possibly, the ghosts are searching for their lost ship. Perhaps, the dead don’t realize they’re dead.
While you’ll read about a few more ships lost along this coastline, this is one of the most well-known in the Atlantic City area. The PSS Powhatan, an ocean liner, ran aground in the late 1800s, but it left behind a lasting memory. The Absecon Lighthouse was erected, it is said, because of this awful shipwreck that took 311 lives. Had there been a light to guide them, the ship may not have been lost.
The wreck of the PSS Powhatan happened on April 15, 1854. The ship was on the way from Le Havre to New York when it ran aground on Beach Haven shoals during a storm. If you look at an Atlantic shoreline map along the southern portions of New Jersey, you can see that the area is filled with lots of inlets, leaving it an ideal place for boats to run ashore when there is no light to let them know land is getting near. Everyone on board the Powhatan, including emigrants and crew, went down with the ship.
S. S. Miraflores
The British freighter S.S. Miraflores mysteriously disappeared off the shores of Cape May on February 19, 1942. The freighter was shot at by the German submarine U-432 while the crew slept. When the Miraflores didn’t arrive at the port when expected, the ship was reported missing, and there was a span of many years in which no one knew exactly where it was. Not only was the shift lost, but so were the 34 crew members that were aboard.
While it was decided the ship must have been harpooned and sunk, and the log from the U-boat that sunk the Miraflores only had a brief and vague entry with the ship’s tonnage, but no name, there was no way to know for sure. At least not until much later. The discovery of the Miraflores started in 1992 when a ship captain snagged his line while fishing. He called in a diver who found the wreck, but there still wasn’t a positive identification of the ship’s name. It was in 2007 when another diver who had recovered artifacts from that same mystery ship traced the ship’s brass helm to its origins and found out which ship it had belonged to.
USS Jacob Jones
The USS Jacob Jones was a Wickes class destroyer. In layman’s terms, it was a warship. On February 28, 1942, the Jacob Jones was heading south down the coastline to patrol the waters around Cape May when the German submarine U-578 spattered the ship with torpedoes and took it down.
There were 138 dead when the Jacob Jones went down. Many of the crew died in the explosions when the torpedoes struck, only leaving around a couple dozen survivors, but they would not all make it to safety either. After two torpedoes, only the midsection of the ship was left. When the Jacob Jones went down, she left behind only eleven survivors who managed to get on a lifeboat and get rescued.
The Brazilian freighter S.S. Cayru had a similar fate to that of the S.S. Miraflores, as it was torpedoed by the German submarine U-94. It sunk in the area of Stone Harbor while on the way to New York City.
Depending on where you look at information, there were around 74 crew members and six passengers on the cargo/passenger ship when it went down. All of the people who were on board the vessel got onto lifeboats to head for safety. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that at least 47 of the crew members and all six passengers were lost at sea. Only one lifeboat of 27 crew members, which included the ship’s master, was rescued.
Ghosts of the PSS Powhatan
While it’s very likely spirits from each of the sunken ships above, as well as the many others lost on this shoreline, still roam the beaches and buildings of the area, there have been a multitude of reports of folks lost in the sinking of the Powhatan still haunting the area.
The Powhatan had a short life. Built in 1837, the ship only went on about ten trips before her sinking. As a passenger ship, the Powhatan was used between the United States and Europe to move immigrants from Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Ireland, England, and France to New York and Baltimore. The victims lost when the ship sank washed up on the shores all the way down to Atlantic City from where the ship went down and Beach Haven.
The emigrating passengers on that final fateful trip were buried in a cemetery in Smithville pauper’s graves – their journey to a new life ending more sadly than their lives began. With no indication of the names of the lost 54 passengers or marking for their exact burial spots, the only indication of the mass burial of these lost souls is a brown sign that says they are there. Others, including crew members, were buried in Absecon.
One reason why the ghosts of Powhatan may be hanging around places like Surf City Hotel and the beaches of New Jersey’s Atlantic Coast could be that when they washed up on the shore, some of them had all of their belongings pilfered from them. Those victims that washed up on Long Beach Island, as well as all of the salvageable items, were piled on the beach to wait for the coroner’s arrival. The thing is, when the coroner arrived, the dead were lacking any money or wallets. Did they stick around after death to look for whoever stole their life savings?
Speaking of the Surf City Hotel – this hotel located on Long Beach Island is believed to be haunted by some of the souls who died when the Powhatan went down. Unexplained voices have been experienced by some who stay at the hotel. Edward Jennings owned the hotel at the time and is believed to be the person who stole from the dead. There were reports of him arguing with a person no one else could see on the balcony of his room at the hotel. On the beaches outside of the hotel, apparitions have been spotted as well. There are reports of a one-armed man, a group of women walking arm in arm, and people have seen many orbs in the area.
Then there are the ghosts at Absecon Lighthouse. Since the light was built because of the tragedy of the Powhatan, one might not be surprised at the thought that some of those lost with that ship could be hanging around, spending their afterlife at the lighthouse. While there’s no way to pinpoint exactly who the ghostly figures belong to, both visitors and lighthouse keepers have smelled phantom cigar smoke and heard disembodied laughter.
Where there are extensive waterways where shipping is a regular thing, there are bound to be shipwrecks. And, with tragic deaths, there are bound to be residual spirit phenomenon left in the wake of the disasters. The ghosts of the Powhatan are surely not the only ghosts of sunken ships haunting the shores of New Jersey.