Underwater Hauntings: The rarest form of paranormal activity

Wreckage of the USS Maine

A few days ago, while talking shop with a fellow paranormal enthusiast, we got around to the topic of rare paranormal phenomena. We discussed seldom-seen phenomena such as full-bodied apparitions appearing in broad daylight, apparitions witnessed by large crowds, and even reports of apparitions of people who were still among the living (here's one example). Then she asked if I had ever come across any stories about underwater hauntings-- namely, ghosts that have been seen by divers. The idea fascinated me immensely, and so I devoted a few days to researching the matter.

The conclusion? Ghosts-- at least on one occasion-- have been seen by deep sea divers.

In January of 1898, the USS Maine was dispatched to Havana to protect American assets during Cuba's war of independence against Spain. On February 15, while the ship was in Havana Harbor and the crew was asleep, a huge explosion-- believed at the time to be caused by a Spanish mine-- destroyed the battleship, taking the lives of 261 American sailors.

Although historians now believe that the explosion was caused by an internal coal fire igniting the ship's ammunition, the sinking of the USS Maine was the event which precipitated the Spanish-American War.

After the explosion, two U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry were ordered, in addition to an investigation commissioned by the Spanish government. The Spanish Inquiry, headed by naval officers Del Peral and De Salas, took place in 1898 and involved the gathering of evidence from Spanish divers who were the first to examine the wreckage of the sunken battleship.

John Magee, Jr., who was the captain of the wrecking tugboat Right Arm, was tasked with the responsibility of ferrying Spanish divers from Havana to the site of the tragedy. In May of 1898 Capt. Magee revealed that the government of Spain was having a difficult time finding divers to participate in the Del Perla and De Salas investigation. According to the crew of the Right Arm, no diver was able to remain underwater for more than fifteen minutes at a time, and the Spanish government never sent the same divers on back-to-back days. While the crew of the wrecking tug initially chalked this up to Spanish incompetence, faulty equipment and poor training, Captain Magee conducted his own investigation into the matter-- and discovered the horrifying truth about what the Spanish divers found at the bottom of Havana Harbor.

History records that the name of the first man to examine the wreckage of the Maine was an experienced and accomplished diver by the name of Juan Alvarez. However, less than five minutes into his first dive, he pulled to be hoisted and was brought back aboard the Right Arm. He explained to Capt. Magee that he had suddenly fell sick and asked to be excused from further dives. However, when all of the other Spanish divers aboard the tug also refused to dive-- all of them complained of being sick-- Magee suspected that something was up. He eventually extracted from the Spaniards the true reason why Alvarez demanded to be hoisted up-- the mangled wreckage of the Maine was crawling with the ghosts of hundreds of dead American Marines. Alvarez told his fellow divers that the Maine's hulk was "infested" with ghosts who beseeched the diver, by mute pantomine, for a proper burial.

Magee returned to Havana and waited for Spain to send a replacement team of divers, and then, once again, the Right Arm chugged out to the scene of the tragedy. These divers, who had not spoken to Alvarez, explored the wreckage. One of these divers, described in a newspaper article as "unintelligent, ignorant and superstitious" claimed to have been haunted continuously by the ghost of a man he referred to as "Lieutenant Jenkins". According to the May 1, 1898, edition of the Buffalo Sunday Morning News, the apparition seen by the diver was that of a commissioned officer in a lieutenant's uniform, whose face was hidden by a dark shroud. The ghost never faded from the diver's view, and he had become so frazzled by the experience that he demanded to be ferried back to Havana.

Lieutenant Friend W. Jenkins

Oddly, the facts seem to suggest that the divers were telling the truth about what they saw. The Naval History and Heritage Command website lists the names of the men who perished in the disaster, and this list does indeed contain a lieutenant by the name of Friend W. Jenkins. While it's possible that the Spanish divers had access to a list of the men who were aboard the Maine, it seems highly improbable that such an "unintelligent, ignorant and superstitious" groups of divers would commit to memory the names and ranks of the 261 men who died in the explosion.

Interestingly, one of the survivors-- Lieutenant George F.W. Holman-- was with Lt. Jenkins at the exact moment when the tragedy occurred. In a letter he wrote to Janie Jenkins, sister of the dead officer, Holman stated that Jenkins was dressed in full uniform at the time of the explosion... just like the Spanish soldier claimed. This is a fascinating detail because virtually all of the men aboard the Maine were asleep (and presumably undressed) when the battleship exploded.