Sitting proudly at rest in Baltimore Harbor, the USS Constellation emits an aura of peace of and security. Where once men died under the hail of grapeshot, children now walk.
During her 175-year history, much blood has flowed over her wooden beams. So what or who, among the countless who have met death on her deck, was the ghostly apparition that was photographed in the forecastle in 1955?
Lt. Cmdr. Allen Ross Brougham, USN, the man who snapped the photo, believes it is a captain returning to inspect his ship.
Hans Holzer, a professional ghost hunter and author, says it could be any one of three spirits "haunting the old ship."
To a Catholic priest who came face to face with the ghost, it is an old salt, unwilling to leave the beloved sea.
Legends of ghosts and other strange occurrences have long been told about the United States Navy's first ship. But the first indication that they were more than the reminiscences of old sea dogs came at 8 bells on a cold December night in 1955.
Commander Brougham had his camera set. Waiting patiently, he allegedly caught the ghost forever on film.
At 11:59:47 P.M., to be exact, the Navy officer "detected a faint scent in the air-a certain something not unlike gunpowder."
Then before him, he said, appeared a "phosphorescently glowing, translucent ectoplasmic manifestation of a late Eighteenth Century or early Nineteenth Century sailor, complete with gold stripe trouser, cocked hat and sword."
He barely had time to snap the shutter before the eerie figure vanished, he said.
A few years later, repairmen heard strange moans and cries coming from below the decks, but every time they went to investigate they found nothing.
In Hans Holzer's book, Portal to the Past, reference is made to the experience of a Catholic priest who visited the Constellation in 1964.
When the priest arrived, there was no member of the Maryland Naval Militia to take him aboard for a tour. So he went below by himself.
While wandering beneath the deck, he said, he was startled by an old sailor who volunteered much information about history of the ship and the proper names for the equipment.
After thanking his guide, the priest went above deck where he met several of the regular tour guides. He congratulated them for having such a knowledgeable man as the one who led him around.
The real guides were horrified. "We have no one below," they protested.
In haste, the guides and the priest rushed down the narrow stairway, but the old guide had vanished into the air.
Sybil Leek, the famous English witch, once paid a visit to the stately ship. She claimed she picked up vibrations from three spirits; a captain, a sailor and an apprentice seaman, who had all died violently.
Which one of these denizens of the spirit world was the one photographed, if any, is unknown.
From Classic American Ghost Stories edited by Deborah Downer. Copyright 1990 by Deborah Downer.