Story of a Hoodoo Ship
As the British ship Ellisland was being made fast to one of the piers in the Erie Basin a few days ago, four sailors who stood leaning over the forward deck rail saw something that made them start suddenly and cross themselves superstitiously. What caused their uneasiness was a blurred inscription on the pier's string-piece. It was printed in half-illegible and badly formed letters and read like this :
The names of the four sailors were R.Cochrane, John Johnson, Charles Walback, and H.Kimber. More than two years ago, in the early part of 1898, they came to this port in an English bark called the Blengfell, from Liverpool, and she had only been here two days when these four members of her crew left her on the ground that she was a " hoodoo ship." A month afterward she sailed homeward again, but she never reached port, for the evil fate that hung over her fulfilled its mission, and the battered remains of her big hulk have long lain many fathoms under the sea.
When Cochrane and his companions saw the name of their former ship written on the Erie Basin pier, their memories took a turn by no means pleasant. It seems that the ill-omened Blengfell's disastrous experiences began three voyages before the one that brought her to America, though it was on that trip that all hands aboard became convinced of a hoodoo's presence among them.
During a trip she took about three years before that time, a seaman went mad because of "visions" in his cabin at night. He drowned himself at last in despair. On the next voyage a negro sailor, who had been sick and in delirium, suddenly arose from his bed, grasped a brace of pistols, and ran all the rest of the crew aft, where he kept them at bay for twenty-four hours. Finally he threw down his pistols, uttered a wild shriek, and jumped headlong over the railing, disappearing immediately under the water and never rising to the surface again.
During the trip that came next, another seaman saw nightly visions that drove him to madness. For weeks he muttered and groaned and shrieked, frightening all his companions half to death, and then he was found hanging by his neck on one of the yards. In a note which he left in his cabin he said that the hoodoo had commanded him to depart from life and that it had prophesied a horrible doom for the bark Blengfell.
It was after this that Cochrane, Johnson, Wallback, and Kimber shipped with the bark. They got aboard of her at Liverpool. Her commander was Capt.Johnston of Whitehaven, and with him sailed his wife and little girl. The bark sailed from Liverpool to Brisbane, Australia, and thence to New York, touching at Newcastle, Valparaiso, and Junin on the voyage. When she reached here, the Captain ordered some of his men to put a new coat of paint on the bark, and while they were doing the job, some of them scrawled the ragged inscription on the Erie Basin pier.
"It was while that painting was being done that we skipped," said Seaman Cochrane, in telling the story of the hoodoo. "And it's a good thing we did, for if we'd sailed away with the blasted bark, the fishes would have had us long before this. Do you know what happened to the Blengfell and how the hoodoo at last got in his work ? No ? Well, I'll tell you."
"Capt.Johnston, his wife and child; the two mates, and two apprentices were blown into so many little pieces that not a trace of them was ever found. And as for the bark, there wasn't anything left of her but driftwood. The Dover pilot was killed too, but they found his body later on
"It was all the work of the hoodoo, wasn't it, boys ?" added the seaman, turning to his companions. "But we were old in the business, so we knew what was coming and jumped the game. It's a good thing to know a little about hoodoos once in a while. You may live a bit longer for it, you know, and, besides, when you die you don't want to get a sure pass to hell. And that's what you get if a hoodoo sees your finish."