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Second world war ‘Ghost Boat’ emerges in California lake, puzzling officials
The drought hit Lake Shasta coughed up a Higgins vehicle and experts are struggling to explain its presence
Waning water levels across the west – symptoms of the region’s record drought – have revealed yet another artifact.
Dubbed the “Ghost Boat” by officials, the decayed carcass of a second world war Higgins boat, used to transport troops into battle and on to beaches overseas, began to emerge from the shallows in Lake Shasta last fall. Levels have sunk low enough this year to excavate the craft fully.
But how it ended up in California’s largest reservoir, buried in the depths for decades, is uncertain.
“The circumstance of its sinking remains a mystery,” US Forest Service officials with Shasta-Trinity national forest wrote in a Sunday morning Facebook post, including photos of the historic find perched atop dried cracked earth of the desiccated lakebed. Numbers painted along the boat’s ramp show that it was once assigned to the Attack Transport USS Monrovia, used as General George Patton’s headquarters in the Sicilian occupation in 1943.
“Eisenhower also was on this ship at that time, and it went on to a further six D-Day invasions in the Pacific,” officials said in the post, noting that it was reportedly used in the invasion of Tarawa and that it “sank in shallow water during that invasion”, but was later salvaged. Classified as an attack transport in 1943, the ship earned seven battle stars during the war, according to NavSource, a volunteer-run history site, but was sold for scrap in 1969.
This boat appeared in low water of Shasta Lake. It is marked '31-17' confirming it as a boat assigned to the Attack Transport USS Monrovia. This ship was Patton's HQ during the invasion of Sicily. The circumstance of its sinking remains a mystery. pic.twitter.com/y7foKWbExt — Shasta-Trinity NF (@ShastaTrinityNF) October 9, 2022
Still, the fate of the USS Monrovia and its illustrious history does little to shed light on how the little Higgins boat went from the battles of Europe to the bottom of Lake Shasta. For now, it is on its way to a museum in Nebraska where experts will work to preserve it and restore a “weathered ‘combat fatigue look” before it is put on display.
The boat is just the latest in a series of peculiar finds pulled from the muck in receding waterways across the west. Another boat linked to the second world war was discovered in Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US, along with three sets of human remains that may be linked to mob murders.
Meanwhile, the drought is expected to worsen in the coming years, spurred by the climate crisis, that has put more pressure on declining water resources. Roughly half of the American west is categorized as in severe drought by the US Drought Monitor and researchers are concerned that there is little chance for a rainy season strong enough to offset the long periods of dryness.
There may be more mysteries that will emerge from the mud. For now, officials are trying to piece together the story of the Lake Shasta Ghost Boat.
“There is more to discover of its history and obviously its time on Shasta Lake,” they said. “It really is quite remarkable how it emerged from the lake with so many stories to tell.”
- California drought
- Climate crisis
- Climate crisis in the American west
- Second world war
Mystery surrounds WWII-era 'ghost boat' found in drought-stricken California lake
Eisenhower used the boat as a headquarters, Forest Service said.
A World War II-era boat was discovered at drought-stricken Shasta Lake in California, the U.S. Forest Service announced.
The Shasta-Trinity National Forest shared photos of the vessel it called the Higgins boat, or "Ghost Boat," on Facebook on Sunday.
Officials discovered that the boat has "31-17" marked on its side, which it said is confirmation that the ship was assigned to the attack transport USS Monrovia, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
World War II-era ship emerges in Lake Mead amid climate impacts
The boat was also used as a headquarters for Gen. George S. Patton during the 1943 invasion of Sicily, the Forest Service said.
"[Dwight D.] Eisenhower also was on this ship at that time, and it went on to a further 6 D-Day invasions in the Pacific," it wrote on Facebook.
"It really is quite remarkable how it emerged from the lake with so many stories to tell," the Forest Service said. "Any 'restoration' will be done to preserve as much of the integrity of the boat as possible and will hopefully preserve it in a weathered 'combat fatigue' look, and that is how it is intended to be displayed at a museum in Nebraska."
How the Higgins boat sank remains unknown, but drought conditions in the western U.S. have led to other discoveries.
In July, another Higgins boat surfaced on Nevada's Lake Mead because of receding waters amid rising temperatures.
The ship was so far under the surface that the National Park Service sent divers looking for it in 2006.
Those receding waters also led to the discovery of multiple bodies in Lake Mead. So far this year, five sets of human remains have been found in Lake Mead, the country's largest reservoir.
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Shipwrecked ‘ghost boat’ looms on California coast. Where did it come from?
Seagulls screeched across a cloudless sky as tourists climbed down the bluffs north of Cayucos to reach one of San Luis Obispo County’s mysteries: a shipwrecked fishing boat.
The sun-bleached vessel leans against the rocky Estero Bay shore, caked with rust and algae. Relentless seaside weather has eroded holes into the ship’s hull, and visitors can hear waves slosh inside the abandoned boat as the tide rolls across the beach.
“It’s an old boat, that’s for sure,” one visitor said with a laugh.
Rumors circulate about how the so-called “ghost boat” came to rest off the coast of Estero Bluffs , with some claiming that its owner fell asleep at the helm while returning home from a fishing trip.
How did fishing boat wreck on SLO County shore?
According to a U.S. Coast Guard incident report , boat owner Jonathan Smith was fishing on July 28, 2017, when his boat drifted too close to the Estero Bay shore.
Smith’s deckhand wasn’t feeling well and “went below deck to rest” — leaving Smith to fend for himself, the incident report said.
At about 3:45 a.m., the boat’s propeller caught on a crab pot line, so Smith stopped the engine to try to untangle the line, the report said.
Fog settled into the bay, partly obscuring Smith’s surroundings as he drifted on the sea, according to the Coast Guard.
He ran aground at about 4:40 a.m. in Estero Bay below the bluffs, the report said.
At high tide, Smith tried to catapult his boat back into the sea with a winch attached to his anchor, which he dropped about 100 yards offshore.
When Smith started his main propeller, “the line was fouled in the propeller and parted,” the Coast Guard said, and the boat drifted another 45 feet towards the shore.
The vessel was officially stuck in the sand.
When the tide receded at about 6:40 p.m., Smith and his deckhand exited the vessel safely, and the Coast Guard declared the boat a total loss.
What would it take to remove fishing vessel?
The ghost boat is beached on land owned by the California State Lands Commission , according to Coast Guard External Affairs Chief Sheri Pemberton.
Removing the vessel would cost about $70,000 — money the State Lands Commission doesn’t have to spare, Pemberton said.
California State Parks runs a program to remove “abandoned and derelict recreational vessels, but there is no program for commercial vessels,” Pemberton wrote in an email to The Tribune.
Smith is ultimately responsible for removing the boat, but being uninsured, he chose to abandon it, Pemberton said.
The Coast Guard extracted petroleum and hazardous waste from the boat in 2017, but residual waste will likely leak into the ocean, she said.
“The vessel’s condition is unknown to commission staff and for that reason, the public should stay off and away from it,” Pemberton said.
What happened to fisherman?
So where is the boat’s owner?
Some community members say Smith is a mechanic in Morro Bay. Others say he still boats on the Central Coast, docking his new vessel in the Morro Bay Harbor .
All agree that he’s committed to his privacy, and only sometimes has a cell phone.
Smith is notoriously ornery, often clashing with local agencies and other anglers, according to the beached boat’s previous owner, Frank Loving.
“John was his own worst enemy,” Loving said.
Loving said it’s “a tragedy” to see a once-productive vessel marooned in the cove.
Washington state resident Joseph Smith visited the ghost boat on April 30.
As a boater, he wasn’t thrilled about the idea of a shipwreck.
“It’s horrific, the idea of a boat going ashore,” he said. “We try to be cautious on the ocean.”
In the eantime, the story of his shipwreck echoes across the Central Coast — drawing adventure-seekers to Estero Bay to examine the wreck.
That’s SLO Weird
Ever wondered about the mysteries of SLO County? Our series, “That’s SLO Weird,” explores all the things that make San Luis Obispo County wonderful ... and weird!
Curious about something? Send your story ideas to Stephanie Zappelli at [email protected] .
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Legends of America
Traveling through american history, destinations & legends since 2003., ghosts of the queen mary in long beach, california.
The Queen Mary at Long Beach, CA. Photo by Kathy Alexander.
Resting in Long Beach Harbor is the RMS Queen Mary, a colossal ship that was bigger, faster, and more powerful than the Titanic . The 1,000-foot ship began her life when the first keel plate was laid in 1930 at the John Brown shipyard in Clyde, Scotland. The Great Depression held up her construction between 1931 and 1934, but she was finally completed, making her maiden voyage on May 27, 1936.
For three years, the luxury ocean liner hosted the world’s rich and famous across the Atlantic, including the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, David Niven, Mary Pickford, George, and Ira Gershwin, and Sir Winston Churchill, to name a few. Considered by the upper class to be the only civilized way to travel, she held the record for the fastest-ever North Atlantic crossing.
But, when World War II broke out in 1939, luxury travel immediately ceased, and the ship was transformed into a troopship known as “The Grey Ghost.” During this time, her capacity was increased from 2,410 to 5,500. By the end of World War II, the ship had carried more than 800,000 troops, traveled more than 600,000 miles, and played a significant role in virtually every major Allied campaign. She had also survived a collision at sea, set the record for carrying the most people on a floating vessel (16,683), and participated in the D-Day invasion .
During her service in the war, the Queen Mary was painted a drab grey, hence her nickname, the “Grey Ghost.”
At the close of the war, the ship began to transport more than 22,000 war brides and their children to the United States and Canada. Known as the “Bride and Baby Voyages,” she made 13 voyages for this purpose in 1946.
Its duty to the war complete, the Queen Mary was refurbished and resumed her elegant cruises in July 1947, maintaining weekly service between Southampton, Cherbourg, and New York. However, by the early 1960s, transatlantic cruises were falling out of fashion due to air travel becoming affordable for the masses. In 1963, the ship began a series of occasional cruises, first to the Canary Islands and later to the Bahamas. However, she proved ill-suited for the work without central air conditioning, outdoor pools, or other amenities now commonplace on cruise ships. In 1967, she was withdrawn from service after more than 1,000 transatlantic crossings.
That same year, the Queen Mary was sold for $3.45 million to the city of Long Beach, California , as a maritime museum and hotel. On December 9, 1967, she made her final voyage to Long Beach. After 1,001 successful Atlantic crossings, she was permanently docked and soon became the luxury hotel she is today.
The decks on the Queen Mary still sport their original wood flooring, Kathy Alexander.
Internationally recognized, the historic floating hotel and museum attract thousands of visitors annually. It has also attracted several unearthly guests over the years. Some say the Queen Mary is one of the most haunted places in the world, with as many as 150 known spirits lurking upon the ship. Over the past 60 years, the Queen Mary has been the site of at least 49 reported deaths, not to mention having gone through the terrors of war, so it is no surprise that spectral spirits of her vivid past continue to walk within her rooms and hallways.
The Queen Mary’s engine room is located 50 feet below water level, which is said to be a hotbed of paranormal activity. Used in the filming of the Poseidon Adventure, the room’s infamous “Door 13” crushed at least two men to death at different points during the ship’s history. During a routine watertight door drill in 1966, the most recent death crushed an 18-year-old crew member. Dressed in blue coveralls and sporting a beard, the young man has often been spied walking the length of Shaft Alley before disappearing by door #13.
In the area of this heavy door in the Engine Room, we got some very creepy feelings, Kathy Alexander.
Its first and second-class swimming pools are two more popular spots for the Queen’s otherworldly guests. Though neither is utilized today for their original purpose, spirits seemingly are not aware of that. In the first-class swimming pool, which has been closed for more than three decades, women have often appeared in 1930’s style swimming suits wandering the decks near the pool. Others have reported the sounds of splashing and spied wet footprints leading from the deck to the changing rooms. Some have also spied the spirit of a young girl clutching her teddy bear.
In the second-class poolroom, the spirit of another little girl named Jackie has often been seen and heard. Allegedly, the unfortunate girl drowned in the pool during the ship’s sailing days and reputedly refused to move on, as her voice and laughter have been captured here. However, author, and paranormal investigator, Cher Garman points out that there are no known drownings to have ever occurred on the ship, although she says Jackie is there.
In the Queen’s Salon, which once served as the ship’s first-class lounge, a beautiful young woman in an elegant white evening gown has often been seen dancing alone in the shadows of the corner of the room.
Yet more odd occurrences have been made in several first-class staterooms. Here, reports have been made of a tall, dark-haired man appearing in a 1930’s style suit, as well as water running and lights turning on in the middle of the night, and phones ringing in the early morning hours with no one on the other end of the line. In the third-class children’s playroom, a baby’s cry has often been heard, which is thought to be the infant boy who died shortly after his birth.
Other phenomena throughout the ship are the sounds of distinct knocks, doors slamming and high-pitched squeals, drastic temperature changes, and the aromas of smells long past.
These are a few of the many reports of apparitions and strange events at this luxury liner-turned-hotel.
Today, the Queen Mary, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, provides a wide range of guest rooms for travelers and 14 Art Deco salons, tours, restaurants, shops, and exhibits.
The first-class pool on the Queen Mary is said to host a number of unearthly spirits.
Queen Mary Hotel and Museum 1126 Queens Highway Long Beach, California 90802 562-435-3511 or 800-437-2934
© Kathy Alexander / Legends of America , updated January 2023.
The Queen Mary: A Haunting Like No Other (more about the only officially sanctioned paranormal investigation of the ship)
Ghostly Legends & Mysteries
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