Adventures in Research: Mystery at Sea

Posted by ractrose on 25 May 2019 in Nonfiction

Digital painting of curious kitten signature image to My Curious Reading

My Curious Reading

Adventures in Research
Mystery at Sea








Two photos of my great-grandmother at sixteen and in the 1940s



My great-grandmother Barker, above, at sixteen, and then in the 1940s. Born Clara Wilda Giles, in Eldorado, Illinois, she comes from a family line not easy to trace. Her father was William Lafayette Giles, buried in Saline County, IL. His father may have been named Calvin. His mother was a Carter. Most of my ancestors came to Illinois through Kentucky or Tennessee. There are many, many Giles and Carter families in these states. And so…


I was following a wildcard clue, and came across these curious little stories, transcribed whole (typos and all) below:



Twain Joke Scares Him; No Sleep Abed in 25 Years


Philadelphia, Pa., July 12—Captain Winfield S. Giles, 70 year old lock tender for the Schuylkill Canal at Manayunk hasn’t slept in a bed for 25 years. About that time he read Mark Twain’s statement that beds were dangerous, as 90 percent of the people died in them. Taking this seriously, Captain Giles has contented himself ever since, with “cat naps”.

The bed in his office is 10 years old, but has never been slept in. It is covered with a cloth and used as a table.

“When the boss gave it to me,” Giles explained, “he said, Winfield, I want you to get at least six hours’ sleep out of the 24,’ but I haven’t had time to do it yet.”


The Richmond Paladium and Sun-Telegram, July 12, 1920




Newspaper clipping describes lockkeeper who won't sleep in bed

Richmond Paladium July 12 1920



Sight Mysterious ‘Phantom Vessel’ on the High Seas
Warn Seamen of Boat that May Solve Fate of ‘Vanishing Ships’


Washington, July 7—Government wireless stations along the Atlantic coast today broadcasted a warning to vessels to be on the watch for a mysterious craft that may furnish a clew to the fate of the “vanishing ships”.

The warning was sent out after a telephoned report from the Munson Lines at Baltimore that the mysterious craft approached their steamer Munalbro 300 miles east of Philadelphia, refused to answer signals and then, with lights veiled, dashed off into the darkness. E. T. Chamberlain, commissioner of navigation, today declared that the story of Captain Giles was the most substantive evidence yet offered of the suspected operations of sea marauders off the Atlantic coast.


Was Afraid

The story also gave a new turn to the investigation of disappearance of half a dozen ships off Cape Hatteras in the last few months. The craft that approached the Munalbro hesitated to attack a ship of her size. It could, however, successfully attack a ship like the Carroll Deering which sailed ashore last January with all the crew missing, officials said.

Chamberlain said it was impossible that a seaman like Captain Giles would “go off on a cock and bull story”. He is awaiting a more complete report on the incident from a Munson line representative who is to come here today.


Give Warning

Baltimore, Md., July 7—Skippers putting out from Baltimore today were on the watch for a “Phantom ships” reported by Captain Giles of the Munson liner Munalbro. It was stated that department of navigation officials would thoroughly investigate the report made by Captain Giles that the mysterious vessel—with darkened lights and traveling at great speed—suddenly came alongside his steamer at a point 300 miles off Philadelphia, “looked him over” and then darted away into the night.

Captain Giles’ statement revived the belief that the vessels which have mysteriously vanished off the Atlantic coast during the last few months numbering over 20, might have been captured by pirate craft or a “soviet cruiser”.

Skippers all along the coast were report, and were taking precautions being advised today of Captain Giles’ report and were taking precautions.


South Bend News-Times, July 8, 1921



Newspaper clipping describes vanishing ships in 1920s

South Bend News Times July 8 1921






We have two Captain Gileses, both working out of Philadelphia, maybe related, maybe not. Their moments of newspaper fame occur almost a year apart, not for any reason. However, there are some oddities in the vanishing ships tale. The peculiar imperative headlines are not the typical style of the News-Times. The use of “Was Afraid” shows some consciousness of departure from the norm. (“Be Afraid” would make a problematic headline.) The article appears on the Sports page. And beside it, the suggestive ad shown below: Stop. Look. Act. It was 1921, not the middle of WWII. But all this leaves you wondering what was going on with those vanishing ships.




Newspaper advertisement for sale railroad crossing sign imagery

South Bend News Times July 8 1921 Warning Ad





Mystery at Sea

Stylized clip art photo of Victorian institutionMaster in Lunacy















(2019, Stephanie Foster)