Ghost in the Machine


Though named "Ghost" - it is unlikely that the boat pictured above was an actual ghost ship (aka phantom ship) with no living crew aboard. The concept of a ghost ship may sound like a bit of mystical creativity best kept for one-upmanship in spooky storytelling or for musical inspiration to Tori Amos and Iron Maiden, but such occurrences can be fact rather than fiction. They range from the rather mundane instance of a boat that becomes unattached from its ropes and drifts away driven by wind or current, to the mysterious instance of the Marie Celeste, an American brigantine found adrift and unmanned near the Azores in the Atlantic on December 5, 1872. Originally bound for Genoa after departing New York City weeks earlier on November 7, the Marie Celeste was found unmanned with much of its cargo and the possessions of its captain and crew intact. The ship's log had last been updated ten days earlier, and its lifeboat was missing. With its crew vanished and the resulting investigation inconclusive, conjecture about the cause of the mysterious fate of the ship's crew eventually escalated from insurance swindles to seaquakes, waterspouts, giant squid attacks and paranormal forces.

In addition to being the last departure point of the ghost ship the Marie Celeste, New York City is also the site of the Procession of the Ghouls at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, created under the direction of Ralph Lee, Artist In Residence at the cathedral and creator of the famous Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. The procession of fearsome costumed creatures and larger-than-life-sized puppets is the perfect finale to the annual screening of a classic 1920s silent horror film (comprised of a three film rotation which includes The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Nosferatu (1922), and this year's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)) on the Friday before Halloween.

A skeletal cellist plays in advance of the screening, and the cathedral's impressive 8,514 pipe organ provides appropriately moody music to accompany the silent film played on a screen suspended from the ceiling, as well as processional music for the ghouls which culminates with "When the Saints Go Marching In." It's a fantastic spectacle in the fifth largest church building in the world, and after going for the first time this year it is now on my annual Halloween to-do list. Experiencing it once makes you want to experience it over again.

Happy Halloween!