Weird California
Weird California - By Joe Parzanese

Star of India

Map 1492 North Harbor Drive, San Diego, California 92101

The Star of India at San Diego Maritime Museum
The Star of India at San Diego Maritime Museum

The San Diego Maritime Museum is a wonderful place to visit. With ships ranging from the 1914 Pilot Boat to the 1970s Russian Submarine, one can easily spend hours looking at the beautiful ships, exploring their decks and cruising around the bay on the ninety plus year old Pilot boat. Then there are those visitors who just never leave.

Some say that all ships are haunted. And the ships at the Maritime Museum are no exception. At least three ghosts are rumored to haunt the ships in the museum's collection. Two can be found on the flag ship, the Star of India, and at least one more on the ferry boat, the Berkeley.

At least two ghosts reside on the Star of India
At least two ghosts reside on the Star of India

The Star of India, one of the first iron ships, was first put into action in 1863 as the Euterpe from Great Britain's Isle of Man, making voyages to India and back. This makes her the oldest active ship in the world. She made six voyages to India before in 1871 she changed job duties and began sailing emigrants to New Zealand, Australia, California, and Chile. The first ghost present on the ship is from this time period and involves a young teenaged stow away named John Campbell. Campbell sneaked aboard in Glasgow in 1884 heading to New Zealand. He was trying to exchange a life of poverty for a live of adventure. Campbell was eventually found by the crew and naturally put to work. Sadly on June 26th, 1884, Campbell fell from the main mast and was severely injured. Upon landing he broke both his legs and went unconscious. Three days later he passed away, thankfully never regaining consciousness, and was buried at sea. Now the young stow away can be found playing around the main mast on all the decks of the ship and even occasionally hiding in the various chests and areas of the cargo hold. Visitors have also reported feeling a cold hand touch them when they stand near the main mast.

From 1871 to 1898, the Euterpe made several voyages carrying emigrants to several places around the world. During this time period in 1894, Archibald Campion even charted her for a polar expedition. But eventually, she was sold.

In 1898, the ship was sold to the Alaskan Packers and was used to sail fishermen from the Bay Area of California to Alaska, returning with canned salmon. She was renamed in 1906 to the Star of India. The second ghost on board comes during this time period, and resulted when a Chinese sailor got caught in the chain room while the anchor was being raised. The noise of the rising chains and anchor was so loud that his cries for help went unheard as he was crushed by the enormous chains. Eerie cold spots are now present near the chain room where the sailor met his untimely fate.

By 1923, the Star of India was way out dated and her owners moved on to more modern sailing ships. She was bought for $9000 by several San Diego citizens who planned to restore her. Sadly money combined with the Great Depression and World War II delayed any restoration plans. She was used briefly to stage a showing of The Pirates of Penzance and for a brief period was used as a floating brothel by her caretaker. As a result it wasn't until 1976 that her restoration was finally finished and she was able to sail again. Now she resides with the San Diego Maritime Museum and sets out to sea at least once a year.

The entire atmosphere of the Star of India seems charged and many other minor ghostly phenomenons have been reported over the years. Outlines on beds have been seen where no one is sleeping. Pots and pans seem to move on their own in the kitchen and even the smell of freshly baked bread has wafted out of the room. The Maritime Museum even holds special nighttime Halloween ghost tours every year.

The Berkeley
The Berkeley at the San Diego Maritime Museum

The other haunted ship is the steam ferry boat from 1898 called the Berkeley. She operated in the San Francisco Bay Area and could originally carry over 1600 passengers. Today, she operates as the Maritime's main museum area, offices, library, and special events venue (for parties up to 800 people). Many years ago in the late 1970s a worked on the ferry reported occasionally seeing a strange person on the ship wearing a fedora style hat. The man appeared multiple times and could never be identified. The museum worker was there alone and no one else was on the ship. The identity of the ghost is still unknown, although it was suspected to possibly be John O Norbom, who died on January 13th, 1911. The style of the hat, however, is more with the 1920s time period than 1911. Norbom was apparently carrying a bottle of nitroglycerine. Police believe he dropped it causing it to explode while he was near the men's restroom on the main deck. He died in the explosion and five others were injured. Could he possibly be the fedora wearing individual or is this man someone else drawn back to the majestic ferry?

In addition to the Star of India, the Berkeley, and the Pilot Boat, the Maritime Museum also plays host to:

The HMS Surprise
The HMS Surprise was used in the movie Master and Commander

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Last Edited: 2006-07-27