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Ghost ship' with a cat — but no crew — wrecked on Outer Banks 100 years ago this week
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Ghost ship' with a cat — but no crew — wrecked on Outer Banks 100 years ago this week

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Carroll A. Deering

The five-masted schooner Carroll A. Deering ran aground on the Diamond Shoals on January 31, 1921, Cape Hatteras National Seashore officials said. Only the ship's cat was found on board. 

NAGS HEAD — The 100th anniversary of a bizarre chapter in Outer Banks history — the arrival of a ghost ship — was quietly marked over the weekend with a tribute posted on Facebook.

"The Carroll A. Deering, a five-masted schooner, fell victim to the Graveyard of the Atlantic when she ran aground on the Diamond Shoals," Cape Hatteras National Seashore officials wrote.

"Rescue efforts were unsuccessful as no crew could be found. Even now, 100 years later, the mystery of what happened to the crew remains unsolved, earning the nickname for this wreck, the Ghost Ship of the Outer Banks."

An introductory overview of the Graveyard of the Atlantic outlining some of the subjects of the exhibits and artifacts at The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. (Plays on a loop).

The wreck of the Deering on Jan. 31, 1921, is "one of the most discussed and written-about maritime mysteries of the 20th century," according to a National Park Service report.

"Some people have even suggested that the notorious Bermuda Triangle was to blame," the park service says.

Ten men and "a six-toed cat" were aboard when the ship set sail from Norfolk, Virginia, historians say. Only the cat survived.

The ocean directly off North Carolina's Outer Banks is home to more than 1,000 shipwrecks, due in part to shoals created by the colliding Gulf Stream and Labrador currents, experts say. Some historians put the number of shipwrecks at closer to 2,000, according to The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum at Hatteras.

The Diamond Shoals is among the deadliest, described as "a cluster of shifting, underwater sandbars that ... extend for miles in varying directions," Outerbanks.com reports.

A Coast Guard Station was the first to report seeing the Deering stuck on the shoals, with "sails still set and its lifeboats missing," the NPS says. Due to rough conditions, rescue boats weren't able to reach the ship until Feb. 4, historians say.

Not only was the crew gone, but also missing were their "personal belongings, key navigational equipment, some papers, and the ship's anchors," NPS historians report.

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum posted its own Facebook remembrance Saturday, which noted investigators found the wreck "had been driven high up on the shoals, which would have taken a massive force to accomplish."

Pieces of the Deering have managed to survive in unexpected ways, however. Some of its timbers are incorporated in the facade of a gift shop at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, which has a standing exhibit about the ship. The display includes the captain's desk, an oak water basin, a silver flask, an oil lantern and ship's bell.

"There are many theories of what happened, but they all leave questions," Stallings said. "The most plausible theories of mutiny, rum runners and pirates doesn't fit in with the ship being abandoned."

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