Nature June 19, 2017
A Ghostly Death Ship Has Been Sailing This Wyoming River For More Than 100 Years
Wyoming has its share of ghost stories and tales of phantoms but one one lesser-known legend is not only terrifying but also has a reputation for being an omen of death.
Not many people know the story but, for over a century, a death ship has been seen on the Platte River about every 25 years or so. Each time, the sighting has foreshadowed the death of someone known to the witness who has had the misfortune to spot the eerie vessel.
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Water pouring from the Pathfinder Dam on the North Platte River can stir up a lot of mist, but not enough to explain away the spine-chilling sightings that have been reported for over 100 years.
The first reported sighting of the death ship was in 1862.
Over 100 years ago, a trapper named Leon Webber reported his encounter with the spectral ship. At first, all he saw was an enormous ball of fog. He rushed to the river's edge to get a closer look and even tossed a stone at the swirling mass. It immediately took the form of a sailing ship, it's mast and sails covered in silvery, sparkling frost.
Webber could see several sailors, also covered in frost, crowded around something lying on the ship's deck. When they stepped away affording him a clear view, he was stunned to see it was the corpse of a girl they'd been looking at. Looking closer, the trapper recognized her as his fiancee. Imagine his shock when he returned home a month later to learn that his beloved had died the same day he'd seen the frightening apparition.
There was a second sighting along the North Platte River in 1887.
The mist on the river always gets thicker right before the ship appears.
Cattleman Gene Wilson was rounding up his herd near the river when his dog began barking wildly. Spooked, his horse wouldn't go near the riverbank and even tried to run away. After chasing down his horse, he tied him to a scrub pine and hiked the few yards to the river on foot. He is quoted as saying that what he saw, "set my nerves a tingle."
There, nearly motionless on the quickly moving current of the river was a fully-rigged sailing vessel that seemed to be formed of the frozen, sparkling mist that surrounded it. Again, a crew was on deck but this time, the captain motioned to them to lower a frost-covered piece of canvas that was suspended by ropes at its four corners. As the bundle reached the deck and a sailor drew the cloth back, Wilson's blood ran cold when he saw his wife's face on the corpse lying there.
The ship vanished when he screamed in terror. Though he wasted no time in racing home, he found his home burned to ashes and his wife lying dead about 100 yards from the smoldering remains of the house.
It would be another 25 years before the death ship was reported to be seen again.
The third man to claim to have seen the spectral ship had not heard of the previous reports.
Victor Hiebe had taken a smoke break from chopping firewood near the bank of the North Platte River. As he held a match to his pipe bowl, he noticed a bank of fog that appeared to come out of nowhere and slowly move down river toward him. As it came closer, Hiebe was amazed to see the swirling mist begin to take the form of a sailing ship covered in ice.
A sail blocked Victor Hiebe from getting a clear view, but he could see that there was a crew standing on deck. He could also hear voices. Hiebe claims to have heard a man's voice asserting that he was innocent and another man's voice responding that they were only carrying out their duty. At that point the sail blocking Victor's view was drawn up and the scene he witnessed was chilling.
On the forward deck stood a gallows with a man's body hanging from it. At that point, with the ship less than 20 feet from the bank where Hiebe stood, he got a direct look at the face of the man slowly swaying at the end of the noose. It was his best friend who had been tried and - Heibe felt - wrongly convicted of murder. The last Victor had heard, his friend had escaped from prison. He would later find out that the friend had been captured and put to death the same day Hiebe encountered the death ship.
An interesting note to each reported sighting of the death ship is that they all occurred during the day, close to the afternoon, not at night when it might be easier to explain away shadows on the water or in the mist.
The Cheyenne Bureau of Psychological Research is credited as the organization that tracks the reported sightings, and a handful of books document the few reports that exist on the Death Ship of the North Platte River. Some recommend that visitors to the river keep an eye out for the spooky craft during autumn, as that seems to be the time of year when it makes its appearances. We say if you think you spy a ship in the mist on the North Platte River, avert your eyes. You might not want to see what's on board.
Though there have been rumors of a couple of sightings since 1903, there are no officially filed or published reports. Still, that doesn’t mean the death ship isn’t still sailing the Platte River.
Have you or someone you know seen the ghostly galley?