Skip to main content

Haunted Landmarks: Mare Island Naval Shipyard

A classified Navy photo of the shipyard during WW2


America's first naval base on the Pacific Ocean, Mare Island Naval Yard, can trace its military history back to 1852 when Commodore John Sloat suggested the site to Secretary of the Navy Will A. Graham. Two years later the shipyard opened and was placed under the command of a future admiral named David Farrugut-- the Civil War hero who, years later, later issued the famous order, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

Mare Island Naval Shipyard, known to sailors around the world simply as MINSY, played a crucial role in both world wars, and finally closed in 1996. Today it is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and has also been designated a California Historical Landmark.

In 1917, MINSY was rocked by tragedy when a barge loaded with munitions exploded, killing 6 and wounding 31. However, there is a less famous tragedy associated with Mare Island-- a tragedy which led to the haunting of the famed shipyard.

The Phantom Sentry of Mare Island

In the late 19th century, Post No. 7 was known to sailors as the "haunted post", and the haunting stems from an incident involving two Marines who decided to leave the island one night by rowing across the strait to the city of Vallejo on the opposite shore. Legend has it that the men were promptly devoured by crabs and fish, and what was left of them was buried a few days later.

According to legend, from that day forward, every Friday night at 11 o'clock sharp, when the second relief is posted, the night sentry is subjected to the sound of phantom footsteps from an unseen source.

"Halt! Who goes there?" demands the sentry, but there is no reply. The ghostly footsteps cease-- but not for long. Only when the bells chime midnight do the footsteps finally stop, only to be replaced by the splashing of water, followed by a blood-curdling scream. Novices, unaware of the ghost of Mare Island, have been known to throw down their muskets and run into the guardhouse, informing the sergeant on duty that a man is drowning. The sergeant chuckles, shakes his head, and finally tells the tenderfoots about the phantom sentry.

An abandoned building on Mare Island


One interesting account of the ghostly activity was shared by Lieutenant Barnwell in 1898. He wrote:

Three years ago I was stationed at the barracks at Mare Island, and on the night I speak of I had been doing duty at the post for more than a year. Of course, I had heard the yarn about Post No. 7, and had seen men punished for leaving that post. However, I am no believer in the supernatural. Time and again I had visited No. 7 at night, seeing nothing or hearing nothing unusual, and laughed at the story of the phantom sentry.

One night I was on duty as the officer of the day, and the early part of the evening I spent in the office reading some work on military surveying. With my head full of this stuff, shortly before midnight I started out to visit sentries... First I visited No. 9, then No. 8, and rapidly came up to No. 7. Without any assignable reason, unless it was the resonance of my footsteps, I experienced an uncomfortable nervous feeling of being cold. I walked more rapidly, but the feeling only increased...


There under the lamplight stood the sentry, who challenged me in clear, sharp tones, his rifle rattling as he brought it up to 'port arms'. I halted and gave the countersign and the sentry ordered, "Advance, officer of the day!" I walked up to him and as I did so I broke into a cold perspiration. At first there seemingly was nothing unusual about the sentry, though I did not know the man's face. I ordered him to repeat the orders of his post and he did so, but instead of giving the recent orders of the post he gave those that were in force several years previously. Then I noticed that the man was ghostly pale and that his eyes burned with a deep hollow fire, and that his rifle was rusty and damp... I wheeled around and rapidly moved off. When I reached the end of his post, involuntarily I turned to take another look; the man had disappeared.





Numerous deaths have occurred at Mare Island-- the result of industrial accidents, explosions, drownings and suicides. But the incident most closely surrounding the legend of the haunted sentry occurred in 1883, when two Marines, identified in reports as McElroy and Dantignac, paddled a barge across the bay to Vallejo for a night of drinking and carousing. They were detected by a sentry during the return trip and to avoid capture they leaped from the barge and attempted to swim. Both Marines were drowned, and all that was ever found of them were their caps.


Sources:
Chicago Inter-Ocean, May 15, 1898
Oakland Tribune, October 18, 1883


 Follow us on Twitter: @bizarrejournal

Popular posts from this blog

Jenny Hanivers, Mermaids, Devil Fish, and Sea Monks

Three centuries before P.T. Barnum attracted flocks of crowds with his mummified Fiji Mermaid (which turned out to be a papier-mâché creation featuring a monkey's head and a fish's body), sailors around the world had already began manufacturing "mermaids".  Known as Jenny Hanivers, these creations were often sold to tourists and provided sailors with an additional source of income.  These mummified creatures were produced by drying, carving, and then varnishing the carcasses of fish belonging to the order rajiformes- a group of flattened cartilaginous fish related to the shark which includes stingrays and skates.  These preserved carcasses can be made to resemble mermaids, dragons, angels, demons, and other mythical creatures.


Jenny Hanivers became popular in the mid-16th century, when sailors around the Antwerp docks began selling the novelties to tourists.  This practice was so common  in the Belgian city that it may have influenced the name; it is widely believed …

The Roberto Clemente death conspiracy

Was the Hall of Fame baseball star assassinated by the CIA?



From the Sandy Hook school shooting to the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, it seems that every tragedy in recent times is accompanied by a slew of conspiracy theories. Yet history is filled with events that would be enshrouded in conspiracy theories if they happened today. One such event is the plane crash that killed baseball Hall-of-Famer and Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente on December 31, 1972.

Most of us are familiar with the story: Clemente, playing the role of humanitarian, decides to accompany a flight of emergency aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, after the victims claim that the corrupt military dictator, Anastasio Somoza, was preventing the much-needed emergency supplies from getting into the hands of earthquake survivors. The rickety plane goes down off the coast of  Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, immediately after takeoff. Strangely, Clemente's body is never found.

This story has all t…

The Incest Capital of the World?

At the far eastern edge of Kentucky, nestled in Appalachia, resides Letcher County. In spite of its isolation and poverty (approximately 30% of the county's population lives below the poverty line), Letcher County has managed to grow at an impressive rate, from a population of just 9,172 in 1900 to a present-day population of nearly 25,000. However, even if Letcher County tripled or quadrupled its present population, there's still a pretty good chance that virtually all of the county's inhabitants would be related to each other-- thanks to one particularly fertile family whose astounding rate of reproduction can put even the friskiest rabbit to shame.

Around the year 1900, Letcher County was the home of a man by the name of Jason L. Webb, who made national headlines for having the one of the largest families in the world. According to newspaper reports of the era, Jason had 19 children, 175 grandchildren, and 100 great-grandchildren. Perhaps even more impressive was his br…