Spirit Song of George's Banks/The Ghostly Sailors (Trad.)

One of the many fine ghost stories of the sea, this song can be found from Maine to Newfoundland. Thanks to Valentine Doyle and Dick Swain for helping me remember it.

The story that I heard was that the schooner Haskell, out of Gloucester, was anchored near George's when a sudden gale parted her ground tackle and she went charging, bare-poled, down through the fleet. She cut the schooner Johnston almost in two, killing all her men. On every voyage thereafter, a crew would appear on her deck at night and go through the motions of fishing. After a few trips, no crew would even sign on her, and she rotted at the wharf.

 

Gordon & cellamba

 

You may smile if you've a mind to, but perhaps you'll lend an ear

We've been boy and man together, close on for forty year

I've sailed across these waters from Western Banks to Grand

And in some herring vessels that hailed from Newfoundland.

 

I've seen some storms, I tell you, where things looked kind of blue

But somehow I was lucky, and always did come through

But I'll not brag, however: I'm not so much, but then

I'm not much easier frightened than most of other men.

 

This one dark night I speak of, we were offshore a ways

I never will forget it in all my mortal days

When in the darkness of my watch I felt a chilling dread

That bore me down as if I'd heard a calling from the dead.

 

Then o'er the rail they climbed, all silent, one by one

A dozen dripping sailors just wait till I have done -

And on the deck they assembled, but not a voice was heard

They moved about together there, but never said a word.

 

Their faces, pale and sea-wet shone ghostly through the night

And each one took his station as if he had a right

And Eastward steered the vessel till land was just in sight

Or rather, I should say we saw the lighthouse tower's light.

 

And then those ghostly sailors moved to the rail again

And vanished in the morning mist before the sun of man

We sailed right up the harbor, and every mother's son

Will tell you the same story, the same as I have done.

 

They are the same poor sailors I pray God rest their souls -

That our old craft ran over one night near Georges shoals

And now you have my story, to you I will confess

I have believed in spirits from that day until this.

 

Spirit Song of George's Bank is recorded on the album Schooners