Historic Ghost Photograph: The S.S. Watertown


This photograph has been around for a long time and is one of the first "ghost photographs" I recall seeing. According to the legend, in 1924, James Courtney and Michael Meehan, two crewmen of the tanker S.S. Watertown, were killed by gas fumes while cleaning a cargo tank. They were buried at sea on December 4, 1924, off the Mexican coast as the Watertown made its way from the Panama Canal to New York City. On December 5th, the first officer reported seeing their faces off the port side of the ship. Over the next several days, every member of the crew reported seeing their faces.

It wasn't until they docked in New Orleans did someone suggest that they try to photograph the faces. Captian Keith Tracy brought a camera onboard for that very purpose. Over the next several days, Tracy took six pictures. He then secured the camera in the ship's vault. The camera stayed there until it was taken to a commercial developer after the ship docked in New York City. Of the six photos taken, only one showed what appeared to be the faces of the two crewmen.

The photograph has been thoroughly scrutinized and no evidence of forgery or tampering has ever been found. It wasn't until a new crew was brought aboard the Watertown that the faces stopped appearing.

This picture is compelling for several reasons. First, it was witnessed by numerous credible witnesses. Second, the photo was released at the time, and not decades later like the Freddy Jackson photo. I also have a hard time believing that an entire crew would decide to use two fallen comrades as part of a hoax on the American public. If it is a hoax, I imagine someone would have confessed before now. Yet, the photo remains undisputed.

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