Radiance and translucency—Baltimore, Maryland

USS Constellation
Pier 1, 301 East Pratt Street

In 1955, a photographer was poised to snap a photograph of a spirit aboard the USS Constellation, the historic ship docked in Baltimore Harbor. The photographer, Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander Allen Ross Brougham, set up a camera on deck just before midnight December 29th. A friend interested in the psychical world advised him that midnight was the best time to capture something. At 11:59, something materialized on the deck and the lucky photographer snapped the shutter on his camera, capturing an incredible image.

Sometime later, Brougham recalled the moment. “How can you describe a ghost? It’d be difficult to do it justice—the sudden, brightening blueish-white radiance; the translucency.”

ghost USS Constellation Baltimore Sun 1955 Baltimore Maryland
Lt. Cdr. Allen Ross Brougham’s 1955 photograph of a spirit aboard the USS Constellation. This photograph was published in the Baltimore Sun, December 31, 1955.

Just before, the naval officer had detected the sharp odor of gunpowder. The spirit appeared for a brief moment, took a single stride, and vanished after he captured the photograph.

The photograph, which was published in the December 31st issue of the Baltimore Sun, shows the figure of a man beginning to materialize. His right leg, seemingly fully formed, is determinedly stepping forward and a white or gold stripe rises up the side of the spirit’s trousers. From the hips up, the image is blurred by movement, though there is still enough detail to make out that this is a naval officer. The man’s right arm is drawn across his waist as he reaches for the hilt of his sword.

The man’s coat appears to have a swallowtail that seems to lift at the back as he marches forward. Echelons of gold buttons rise on the breast, possibly with fanciful embroidery, and large epaulets crown the shoulders. Above the figure’s craggy face, he seems to wear a captain’s bicorn hat.

US Navy uniforms 1852
An illustration of Navy uniforms in 1852. The second man from the right is a ship’s captain. From the U.S. Navy’s History and Heritage Command Website.

A glance at a history of naval uniforms puts this style to around 1852, dating this figure to around the time that this ship was constructed. In the Sun article, Brougham posits that the uniform is from around 1800, but the figure’s pants with braiding on the side, prove that this is later. A ship’s captain of 1800 would have worn a similar jacket, though with knee breeches and stockings.

USS Constellation 2008 ghosts haunted
The USS Constellation at its permanent berth in Baltimore Harbor, 2008. Photo by Nfutvol, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The history of the USS Constellation is complicated. The sloop-of-war that is docked in Baltimore Harbor was constructed here in 1854, though some parts of the original 1797 frigate of the same name were used. For much of the 20th century, authorities argued that this ship was simply a rebuilt version of the 1797 ship, which has not hold up under close scrutiny. From the date of her construction, the ship remained commissioned by the Navy until 1955—nearly 100 years—before she was retired for preservation as a museum ship.

During her time as a museum ship, the Constellation has seen several restorations and paranormal investigations. Staff and guests have experienced much activity aboard the historic vessel. I plan to explore these encounters in further articles.

Sources

  • Catling, Patrick Skene. “’Ghost’ appears, but Navy doesn’t give up the ship.” Baltimore Sun. 31 December 1955.
  • Mills, Eric. The Spectral Tide: True Ghost Stories of the U. S. Navy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2009.
  • USS Constellation (1854). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 September 2019.
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