The Unsolved Mystery of the Carroll A. Deering, the Outer Banks’ Most Famous Ghost Ship
Nearly a century after she was discovered aground off the coast of Cape Hatteras, the story of the Carroll A. Deering remains one of history’s most famous maritime mysteries.
It may not surprise you to learn that The Gray Man isn’t the only eerie tale to come out of North and South Carolina’s beloved barrier islands.
Nearly 300 miles north of Pawleys Island and its benevolent shadow figure, the rocky sandbars off the coast of Cape Hatteras have their own stories to tell. One in particular, the unsolved mystery of the Carroll A. Deering, has captivated locals for generations.
Nearly a century after she was discovered, hull run aground on the treacherous rocks of Diamond Shoals and with her crew vanished, the story of the Carroll A. Deering remains one of the most famous ghost ship tales in maritime history. And the speculation continues to this day.
At 255-feet long, 44-feet wide, and weighing 1,879 tons, the Carroll A. Deering was, by all accounts, a very large cargo ship. And she was in excellent shape when she set sail from Norfolk, Virginia on August 22, 1920. Onboard was an experienced captain, a crew of 10 men bound and a cargo of coal bound for Rio de Janeiro. They reported delivering their cargo a few months later and began their journey home in December.
On January 29, 1921, the Carrol A. Deering was spotted by a lightship keeper aboard the Cape Lookout Lightship in North Carolina. The Carrol A. Deering hailed the lightship and a crewman reported that the ship had lost its anchors. The lightship keeper would later testify that the crew of the Carroll A. Deering appeared to be "milling around" suspiciously on deck.
Two days later, on the morning of January 31, a member of the Cape Hatteras Coast Guard Station spotted the abandoned schooner aground on Diamond Shoals. Her sails were still set, and her lifeboats were missing. More worrisome still, was the fact that her crew was nowhere to be seen and it appeared as if they had left in a hurry.
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Due to rough waters, surf boats were unable to reach the wreck until February 4. It was then that it was confirmed that the Carroll A. Deering had been abandoned, and her crew had vanished. Their personal belongings, navigational equipment, papers, and the ship's anchors were also missing. Food in the galley was set out like it was being prepared for the next day’s meal. The FBI investigation that followed was unable to find a trace of the crew or the ship's logs.
Attempts were made to tow the ship’s wreckage, but ultimately, she was determined to be a hazard and on March 4, 1921 the Carroll A. Deering was destroyed and sunk. Wooden timbers from the schooner eventually washed ashore on Hatteras Island, and were used by locals to build houses.
The theories about what happened to the ill-fated Carroll A. Deering are plentiful. Many suggest piracy, while others point to a mutiny. Some even suggest it has something to do with the fact that it passed through a long stretch of the Bermuda Triangle on its journey. But what really happened has been lost to the sea forever.
Today, pieces of the Carroll A. Deering, including her bell and capstan, are on display at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras.