Waratah Found

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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JASON: Pretty impressive! You found the definitive version, the one burned into my memory from YEARS of bad paperback reading. Perhaps someone might check on those surprisingly graphic details.....but of course that "is said to be" line about the log implies that it isn't, so checking might prove to be a chore. Remember the one about "The Phantom Porthole of the Windsor (or was it Arundel) Castle?" Or, "Ellen Austin and the Derelict?" Or the "evil force" that drove the crew of the Ivan Vassily insane? Or the haunted oil-tanker? And, hey, wasn't there an IDENTICAL story to that of the Octavius, only set in the South Atlantic and on a ship named Jennie, in 1913? I prefer my mysteries to be along the lines of the CAROL DEERING: believable.
 
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Jason Bidwell

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Come on, Inger, why bother? It's in a book, with names, dates, places - it HAS to be true!

Actually, even Connell didn't take it too seriously. He prefaced his account of the story with the words: "There is a story about the merchantman Octavius which is so bizarre that one cannot help feeling suspicious. Yet it may be true. If not, never mind: it's marvelous." Connell's right: it is a marvelous tale. I wonder what its ultimate source is; investigating that might actually be worth someone's time and effort.

Oh, man, James - they're all classics! (in a "Plan 9 from Outer Space" sense). Remember the sailor sleeping who was on a ship trapped in ice, and how in his sleep he managed to teleport himself onto another nearby ship where he wrote on a chalkboard, "Sail to the Northwest", thus saving everyone aboard? Or the ghost faces on the Watertown (was that your haunted oil tanker)? One of my secret pleasures is a well-read copy of the Reader's Digest "Mysteries of the Unexplained"; it has everything: ghosts, rocks from the skies, weird animals, alien abductions. I now know that most of it's hokum, but I still pick it up now and again and read it.
 

Jim Kalafus

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JASON: Yeah, I read that Reader's Digest book to the point of complete recall when I was a kid. I always found "Spring Heeled Jack" to be intriguing. Yes, I was referring to the Watertown with a (hopefully implied) sneer. But to bring this SORT OF full circle, do you remember all of the elaborate variations on Mr. Sawyer's Waratah experiences? Mr. Behe's book pretty much stripped away all of the garbage (thankfully) and left a story that was STILL pretty odd. My favorite variation? The one in which a wide-awake Mr. Sawyer sees a "Soldier in Roman Armor" rise up out of the ocean (off South Africa???) brandishing a bloody sword and mouthing the word "Waratah." MILES from the actual story, and pretty stupid as well. I was well into college before I found Mr. Villiers' book and learned about the stability problems and the storm, two details the "World of The Strange" books always omitted. I knew a variant of "Sail To The Northwest" in which it was the captain's wife's' "doppelganger" who appeared on another ship with the same results. I guess that happens more than we'd expect....
 
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Jason Bidwell

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You were interested in Spring Heeled Jack too? From what I can understand (unless that information was false too) there seems to have really been an actual sex offender in 1830s England who is the source of the legend, but pretty soon after that the story ran away with itself and got supremely bizarre.

Actually I was fortunate in that I never encountered any of the pulp versions of the Waratah; I first read of it through a pretty honest and reliable source - I cannot now recall which it was; it might have been Villiers, or maybe someone else; I'm not sure. Thus the supernatural stories were to me always more of an somewhat interesting sideshow, like the mummy in the Titanic; I was informed from the start that the Waratah had a lot more factors against it than the paranormal.
 
Nov 22, 2000
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Jason, "Spring Heeled Jack" must have been quite a lad! He made his first appearance in London sometime around 1830 but was still "doing the rounds" up here in Liverpool as late as 1900. I know the British train service is pretty diabolical but seventy years for a journey of 225 miles is pushing it a bit! Jack could, supposedly, leap entire buildings, appear and second floor bedroom windows, always wearing his distinctive evening cape and top hat. He had piercing red eyes which gave out a glare and was never heard to speak a word. It was always considered to be one of the tales that parlour maids were so fond of until he supposedly assaulted the local police constable who, upon blowing his whistle, summoned several other constables who gave chase only to see Jack leap an entire row of houses in his escape! Several ladies claimed to have been "assaulted" by Jack and to have become pregnant as a result - an easy way to pass of a previous indescretion! I always wondered who they put as the father on the birth certificate? There is an entire book devoted to this tale, it's rather odd to say the least!
Geoff
 
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Jason Bidwell

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Yes indeed, and I heard that Jack (or his brother) finally crossed over here to America around World War II. At least that was when housewives and little children started to see him out in the Midwest. This book you mentioned: is it a serious look at the legend, or just a gullible recounting of the stories?

Jason
 

Jim Kalafus

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Mr. Whitfield: You wouldn't happen to have the title or the author on hand, would you? I know of the story only through my habitual pulp reading as a kid. I'd enjoy reading something less sensational on the topic.
JASON: You are familiar with the American version of Spring Heeled Jack from the 1940s? Illinois? He lacked the Victorian Charm of the original, and the whole thing was was pretty silly. And that name they gave him.....
 

George Behe

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Hi, all!

My friend Mick Goss wrote a booklet about the folklore connected with supposed sightings of one of Jack's North American 'cousins' -- the "Halifax Slasher." It's fascinating how stories like these begin to feed on themselves and spur additional -- and ever more outlandish -- sightings of the specific fiend in question. :)

All my best,

George
 
Nov 22, 2000
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Jason & James, Sorry but I don't recall the title or author, I borrowed it from the library many years ago so doubt very much if it would still be in print, however, I'll make enquiries.
Geoff

George, And there I was always believing that you were the Halifax "Slasher" at least that's what it says on your criminal record sheet. Until now, I had not realised that the term slasher meant with a knife. I had conjured up a scenario of my own!

Geoff
 

Inger Sheil

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:) I'll take my Spring-Heeled Jack in the cobblestone streets of Victorian London, TUVM, with eyes um...was it flashing fire or with glowing coals??

Have we all seen those splendid photos of the Watertown's ghosts? From memory, one looked as if he had an arm in mid-swimming stroke and was doing the Australian crawl.

The surface has barely been scratched here...there's always the Squando's ghost (one to give the kiddies nightmares), or the apparitions connected with the loss of the HMS Eurydice. Odds and ends of varying believability quotients...the General Grant and the Joyita

Then there's the Asp, whose logs do exist although they apparently make no mention of transparent ladies who had had their throats cut...

Inger
 
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Jason Bidwell

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Hey guys, I'm still looking for wreck photographs of the Waratah, but in the meantime I came across a newspaper article and partial interview with Emyln Brown that discloses some interesting details about the wreck.

It is located "between the Xora and Bashee Rivers, about 11 km offshore." Brown does not intend to reveal the exact location for fear of souvenier hunters.

Brown is also paraphrased as saying "the ship's bow is pointing toward Durban and her forward section is in a 'chaotic' state. Her stern is partially intact while the decks have collapsed midships. She is also fractured in four sections."

"She is an extraordinary sight. She appears so tragic, just sleeping on the sea bed."

The current is pretty strong where the wreck lies, and they had trouble getting video of it, "but ghostly footage of her stern was obtained. In a long shot, the entire length of the wreck can be seen."

"It appears from the location of the wreck and lack of a debris field that she must have sunk to the sea floor in a short space of time."
 

Jim Kalafus

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Good Morning. Thanks, Inger for refreshing my memory! How about The Iron Mountain, the Mississippi Riverboat which supposedly vanished without a trace, and the French Speaking water phantom it spawned! Those Watertown pictures were one of the things that awakened skepticism/cynicism in me at too young an age: I read all of those pulp accounts which went into glorious detail as to how "recognisable" and "clearly defined" the images were, and when I finally got to see the picture it was a let-down. SPRING HEELED JACK'S AMERICAN COUSIN (Brace yourself, this is a dumb one, and I'm giving the least elaborate version of the story) Back in 1944/45 between six and thirty (depending on how pulpy the book telling the story is) women in Mattoon Illinois reported being awakened by a man in black who pried their windows then sprayed them with a gas which put them back to sleep. Some versions claim that the women were "tampered with" others claimed, eerily, that they weren't and that nothing was stolen, implying that darker forces were at foot. Unfortunately for him, this interesting figure was dubbed "THE PHANTOM GASSER OF MATTOON." Interestingly, from what I gather, the whole thing was written off as "female hysteria" and few remember it today. In the pulp paperbacks I used to devour he was given considerably more SPRING HEELED JACK qualities for added terror, but I tend to think that he was not of supernatural origin. And, that stupid name has doomed him to further obscurity amongst true crime books, as "Phantom Gasser Of Mattoon" just doesn't pack the same emotional wallop as "Night Stalker" or "Zodiac" when placed on the cover in embossed letters or in the "more frightening than....." blurb.
 

George Behe

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Geoff wrote:

>George, And there I was always believing that you >were the Halifax "Slasher"

Hi, Geoff!

No, I was the Halifax "Masher." :)

All my best,

George
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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JASON: Thanks for that Waratah update. What is interesting about the location is that it coordinates with the location of the floating bodies claimed to have been seen by two ships, and puts to rest those stories of diamond prospectors who alleged that they witnessed her sinking offshore.
 

Inger Sheil

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James -

Ooooooo! I remember that one! The woman's cries, in French, were something like 'help me, the men are hurting me!' Staple of ghost story anthologies.

The Fortean Times (which is tremendous fun for its typically British sense of humour) did an article fairly recently on the 'Phantom Gasser' - a very good analysis of mass hysteria.

I had a look for those images and/or sonar scans of the Waratah and couldn't find them - the funny thing is, I'm certain I found the link here and followed it up (possibly it was on one of the discussion lists).

I, too, wondered how the Watertown's ghosts (was one named something like 'Meehan'?) were identified from those photos. One seemed to have a moustache, but they were rather indistinct - just heads with large black eyes. Do you remember the tale of how they were photographed? The roll was (so the story runs ;-) ) sealed up and only developed when the ship got into port. All the developed prints showed only waves until the last one....

~ Inger
 

Jim Kalafus

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INGER: From what I recall about the Watertown story (and I'm cursing myself for consigning those paperbacks to my parents' attic, as I am now totally without reference material for this) two workers on the Watertown, one named Meehan, were supposedly overcome by fumes while cleaning an oil tank (during the voyage???) and buried at sea. Later, their heads could be seen following the ship, but only on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. You recalled the "last picture on the roll" detail , which I had forgotten. I've only seen 80th generation copies of the photo, which were so muddy that you could have claimed ANYTHING was in them, but as I recall the heads were proportionately so large compared to the parts of the ship showing in the picture that they would have been visible to people on OTHER ships. I'd like to see the original prints, but suspect that they are filed away with the log from the Octavius. Now, how about that weird Hannah Regan "evil harbinger" tale? Or its benign American/Canadian cousin, The Valencia wreck reenactment? And who amongst us can forget the "shrieking spirits of Vanderbilt Reef" (Princess Sophia pseudo-legend)? I never heard that Asp story, but anything involving a cut throat transparent woman HAD to have been good! THANK YOU for that Fortean Times reference for the "Phantom Gasser" (I CANNOT say that with a straight face, with or without the "of Mattoon") I'll be seeking the article out directly. Much like the strange tale of The Michigan Murder Solved By A Dream, it's a subject on which I'd like to do some primary research, but like most of us, I'm just not in Mattoon as frequently as I'd like to be. JIM. PS I admire your memory for detail, as I HAD forgotten what it was that the Mississippi Water Spirit was shrieking!
 

Jim Kalafus

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BACK TO THE WARATAH for a moment. Over at Amazon I found a book by the title "The Waratah" by Paul Nixon, but there was no further information. Is it about the ship?
 
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Jason Bidwell

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Geoff - I saw a reference to the book about Spring Heeled Jack being called "The Legend of Spring Heeled Jack," written by Peter Haining. That's the one you read, right? I would like your opinion of it: is it a well-researched study of an interesting legend, or is it a piece of garbage not even worth reading?

Thanks,
Jason