Docked at the German-American pier, at the foot of Ferris Street, in May of 1897 was the clipper ship Belfast - known as a ghost craft in the British Merchant Marine.
The World newspaper reported that:
"Seamen Burke and Leonard never trust themselves alone on her fo'c's'l head in the middle watch. It is declared aboard that often between midnight and 2 A. M. a man with a spectral figure and face rises from the sea, sits for awhile on the starboard whisker boom, and then crosses the fo'c's'l head and perches on the port whisker boom before returning to the water. The apparition, it is believed by the sailors, is the mascot of the ship."
While unnerving, the specter is credited with helping the ship and her crew survive gales at sea that destroyed most of her masts and threatened to blow up the stores of dynamite stored in her hold.
Complete text of the article: "Whisker Boom Sprite" The World, May 2, 1897
WHISKER BOOM SPRITE
A Spectre that Seems to Preserve the Good Ship Belfast
Walks the Fo'c's'le at Night
The Ship Survives Perils of Fire, Evil Birds, Lightning, Gales, Banging Spars and Dynamite.
The clipper ship Belfast, with her masts of spectral white towering above the pier sheds and stores at the German-American dock in Brooklyn, is known as a ghost craft in the British Merchant Marine.
She is a Liverpool East Indiaman, and has had some uncomfortable and weird experiences. In her day she has carried some uncanny beings, but despite all this, sailors like to ship aboard the white-sparred clipper, because a good destiny has guided her safely through her perils.
Seamen Burke and Leonard never trust themselves alone on her fo'c's'l head in the middle watch. It is declared aboard that often between midnight and 2 A. M. a man with a spectral figure and face rises from the sea, sits for awhile on the starboard whisker boom, and then crosses the fo'c's'l head and perches on the port whisker boom before returning to the water. The apparition, it is believed by the sailors, is the mascot of the ship.
A cruel 'midshipmen's mess once dipped a rat in turpentine, set the animal on fire and turned it loose on the Belfast's decks. Joe St. Leonard, seaman, was just recovering from the fatigue of a trip ashore. He saw the streak of flame running towards him and thought it was a fiery serpent. St. Leonard ran out on the fo'c's'l head and would have jumped overboard if he had net been grabbed by his shipmates.
While the ship lay at Calcutta, flocks of bramley kites and carrion crows built their nests in the crosstrees and on the heads. Clusters of sticks and mud here and there gave a grotesque appearance to the rigging. The apprentices gathered four crows' eggs from the main crosstrees and the shifting of the gear when the ship sailed destroyed the nests before the eggs were hatched. Some of the crew feared that the presence of the feathered ghouls of the East might bring bad luck, but the Belfast's sprite that perches on the whisker booms never deserted the white-masted clipper.
In the chops of the eastern edge of the Atlantic, sixty miles west of Land's End, on a bitter night, lightning broke off the fort-top gallant, foretop and maintop gallant masts, springing the fore and main upper topsail yards. The wreckage aloft swung out to starboard, threatening to drop alongside, but a roll of the ship swung it inboard again and the top hamper landed on the lower yards and rigging, half of the foreroyal yard crashing down and punching out the bottom of the port forward lifeboat. While the Belfast rolled, hove to, with the wind southwest and the weather freezing cold, the crew worked to clear away the wreckage aloft, a four days' task. After the fifth day the gale hauled from southwest to east and Capt. Lane tried to make for St. John's, N. F. All was going well when the wind switched into the west. Away went the three lower topsails, while the fore lower topsail yard and the foreyard came adrift from their gear.
On top of the cargo in the hold under the main hatch, mate Oldfield says, were tons of blasting dynamite and gunpowder. If a falling spar should puncture the hatch there would be a pyrotechnic end to the Belfast. The fore lower topsail yard came down alongside, while the foreyard tilted in such a way that it could be lashed to the stump of the foremast.
Now the extra spars broke from their lashings on deck and pounded over the mine of dynamite. All the sails had been lost with the exception of the mizzen-royal and mizzen-topsails, which alone were of no use and the lower mizzen-topsail which was set from the upper topsails, one sewn over the other, were set on the upper topsail yard.
With this misfit rig, after five and a half weeks of gales, freezing cold, decks under water, snow and ice and the swells rolling her sails under, white the mizzen-topgallant-mast threatened to tumble every minute and prick the dynamite magazine, the Belfast pitched into the harbor of Porta del Gado, Island of St. Michael in the Azores, once more preserved by the spectre of the whisker booms.