The old sailing ship floating quietly in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has a long and bloody history. Not surprisingly, the USS Constellation also has a reputation of being one of the most haunted sites in America. It has been rebuilt and refitted many times, but the ghosts still linger. The original vessel, built as a 36 gun frigate, was first launched from Harris Creek, Maryland on September 7, 1797. She was among a group of ships commissioned for the US Navy that included Boston’s Constitution.
Commodore Thomas Truxton was the first captain of the Constellation, and he got her off to a bloody start. One day in 1799 the ship’s crew scored a major sea victory when they captured the French Frigate L’Insurgent while in the West Indies. During the battle, seaman Neil Harvey fell asleep while on watch. When Truxton learned of Harvey’s lapse in duty he ordered a Lieutenant to run a sword through the man’s gut. Later, after the battle was over, Truxton had Harvey’s body tied to a cannon and blown to pieces to serve as a warning to other sailors. Neil Harvey has become one of the most frequently seen ghosts aboard the Constellation. He has even been mistaken for a costumed tour guide.
The ship in her many incarnations went on many missions, including slave interdiction and providing support for land troops fighting against the Seminole Indians. The Constellation distinguished herself in the War of 1812 and against the Barbary Pirates. She has sailed to such exotic places as China, West Africa, and Hawaii. In 1822 a boy was serving aboard as a surgeon’s assistant. He was stabbed to death by two other sailors, though it is not known why. It is believed his spirit is still on the ship.
The USS Constellation entered the Norfolk, Virginia Navy yard in 1845. The restructuring that she underwent there is still a source of argument among historians. Some believe that the entire 1797 vessel was scrapped and a completely new ship was erected. Other analysis has proved that timbers, materials, and equipment were used from the original ship. It is very unlikely that one hundred percent of the 1797 ship was intact, even in 1845.She had received a new stern (back end) in 1829-30. Not to mention, the hull of a wooden ship had to be rebuilt on an average of every 16 years. Whatever was left of the original vessel, it’s use in the new ship was enough to keep the ghosts around.
In 1855 the Navy’s modifications were completed. The Constellation had been downgraded from a 36 gun frigate to a 22 gun sloop of war. She was launched on July 28 of that year and is now considered the last all sail powered vessel built for the US Navy. (Ship builders had begun to prefer steam power.)
Late in the 19th century the Constellation outlived her uses and in 1893 was moved to the Naval station at Newport, Rhode Island. She served as a stationary training ship until 1914 and for the first half of the twentieth century she sat rotting. In 1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt recommissioned her as the Flagship of the US Atlantic Fleet. When the money for that project ran out she was towed to Boston.
In 1953 a committee of Maryland citizens collected the money needed to get the ship home to Baltimore. The Constellation arrived in that it in September of 1955 and was docked at a local ship yard to await repairs. This is when stories of ghosts began to surface. Sailors standing night watch on nearby ships reported odd noises and unidentifiable shapes. The submarine Pike was moored closest to the Constellation and the submariners frequently saw ghosts walking on the old war ship.
By December 1955 Lieutenant Commander Allen R. Brougham had heard lots of these stories. He set out to investigate them. He called a photographer friend and asked him to come aboard one night with his camera. They set up on a spot overlooking the ship’s wheel. Very close to midnight the figure of a nineteenth century US Navy Captain appeared and was captured on film. “It was all over within the time he took to make a single stride.” Brougham told a reporter. The stunning photograph appeared in a local paper a few days later. It shows a man in gold epaulets bending over slightly, reaching across his waist with his right hand as if to draw his sword.
Some believe this figure was Captain Thomas Truxton, who is known to haunt the ship. There are other spirits aboard as well. A seaman has been seen running across the gun deck. Cries and moans have been heard in the hold, and witnesses have heard the sound and felt the motion of unseen people running about. An anonymous seaman has been spotted sadly wandering around the gun deck. He is believed to be a sailor who became overwhelmed by the harsh life at sea and hung himself. People have reported smelling gun smoke before the appearance of some apparitions, especially of Captain Truxton.
Carl Hansen, a mid-twentieth century night watchman, is believed to be the only spirit that is actually happy aboard the ship. He cared for the Constellation until an alarm system was installed in 1963. Hansen’s spirit has been seen playing cards on the lower decks. One day a priest came aboard the ship and was given a tour by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. Before he left he praised the man’s services to the staff. The guide didn’t fit the description of anyone working there-but it did fit Carl Hansen.
The Constellation has been restored several times since she returned to Baltimore in 1955. She most recently came back from dry dock on July 2, 1999. The spirits are still there. Late one evening a night watchman was inspecting the ship’s orlop (storage) deck. It was late and he had only a flashlight to lead him through this narrow area at the bottom of the ship. A misty white light appeared out of nowhere and became a sailor in an outdated uniform. He walked towards the watchman. The man stood still as the ghost passed through him.
The USS Constellation is docked at Pier 1 in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
1) Ghost of Neil Harvey – sometimes seen on the orlop deck, below the main deck. In 1799, he was court-martialed for cowardice. He had left his assigned station at his gun in fear during a battle with the French, on February 5, 1799 where the 36 gun French frigate Insurgente was engaged and captured. As a result as being convicted of not only being a coward but also being a traitor, a Lieutenant Starrett started off Harvey’s punishment by sticking him with his sword. Wounded, but still alive, Harvey was then
executed in the traditional brutal way, used by both the British and Americans in this era. He was tied in front of a cannon and blown to bits, by order of Captain Thomas Truxton himself. He appears as a shimmering mass, because that is the way he sees himself after being blown up. He wants to be forgiven for being a coward. He wasn’t a traitor though and wants to find a way to clear his name.
2) Captain Thomas Truxton – He was an experienced officer from the Revolutionary War, who was the first commander of the USS Constellation from 1798-1801. He wrote the book, concerning the drill manual and tactical methods, which became a mainstay of Navy procedure. Under his gifted leadership, The USS Constellation had many important victories. He may be the officer often seen in an old navy uniform who
makes consistent appearances on the forecastle deck. He still loves his ship. Lieutenant Commander Allen Ross Brougham, on board the Pike, took a picture of one entity of an 18th or 19th century officer that was described as having a “bluish white radiancy,” wearing an old fashioned uniform, with gold stripes on his trouser, wearing a cocked hat and carrying a sword.
3) Carl Hansen – He was the ship’s 20th century watchman, until 1965. He adored the ship, and had a strong emotional bond to the ship. In his younger days, he was a Royal navy cook, making him an old sailor himself. His ghost likes to play cards, and will cheerfully give tours to unsuspecting people, such as a priest who thought he was a real person. At a Sea Scout Halloween Party, he sat next to a young girl and smiled at her.
4) Spirit of a 11 year old boy – The boy was the surgeon’s assistant aboard the USS Constellation in 1820-1822. He was murdered by two other sailors with a knife in the cockpit of the orlop deck, according to Sybil Leek, a psychic with Hans Holzer.
5) A sailor on one of the vessels – He had become overwhelmed with the awful conditions on board, and hung himself. He is described as a sad entity who likes to float around and across the gun and forecastle decks.