And that’s when the legend began—an unfair legend, in a way.
Most seaborne legends usually involve a band of cutthroat pirates, or even the maniacal and the deranged setting sail to rape and pillage. In these legends, the ghost-ships’ crews may have practiced the dark arts and threw the innocent into the angry seas as a sacrifice to their unholy gods, and it is because of these evil acts that their souls were raised from the depths and forced to ride their ship until the end of time. But with the Cecilia, that was not the case. In life, its crew was well known and well liked within the small town of Santa Mira. Captain Luther McCreedy was as kind-hearted as any salty dog could be, and at the time of his death, he’d had a wife and nine children, who ranged in ages from eighteen months to fifteen years.
Once a month, the Cecilia set out for a weeklong sail and captured as much as 32,000 lbs of Boston mackerel with each trip. It brought wealth to the town and made the crew comfortable, if not rich.
McCreedy’s eldest child, Henry, was especially shaken by his father’s death. The boy had often accompanied his father on some of the crew’s sea ventures, but was not believed to be old enough to take on the duty full time. Ironically, Henry was not on the final voyage of the Cecilia; thus, his life was spared. It’s something that would haunt him the rest of his days.
Not a year after the sinking of the Cecilia, eyewitness Daniel Kelly claimed to have seen her sailing far off in the distance, hidden behind low blankets of fog. Despite the poor visibility, he claimed to have spotted the Cecilia’s dark purple hull and keel. Some folks laughed at Daniel’s account while some scolded and accused him of poor taste. Regardless, word of his sighting spread through town like a virus, and Kelly’s claims were repeated with great zeal and enthusiasm.
Two days later, Daniel Kelly was found dead in his home. The official cause of death was reported as drowning, as salt water and sand were found in his lungs. Members of the town ridiculed this ruling for one very obvious reason: Daniel Kelly had not been found in the ocean, but in his own, very dry home. Theories that he had been drowned in the water before being returned to his home were disregarded; it was determined no murderer would go through such trouble.
A month following Daniel Kelly’s demise, a local woman claimed to have seen the Cecilia late one night as she sat on the shore to dip her toes into the cool water. She went on to explain that the ship wasn’t actually sailing in the water, but several feet above it. She described seawater dripping from the ship’s hull, and staring at her from the main deck was a pale white figure wearing a majestic blue coat—believed to be Captain McCreedy. She said the sight had so scared her that she soon fainted and awoke an hour later. The ship was gone. This eyewitness, Mary Leonard, was described as the local town oddball, and if it had been any other dubious claim that escaped her lips, most folks would have disregarded her. However, because she spoke of the Cecilia, her story became part of its mythos.
As did her ensuing death not a week following her sighting.
Hers was not a drowning death, but rather a more curious one. Upon first examination, there appeared to be no official cause of death. No harm had come upon her person, and so it was assumed she had died of natural causes—or perhaps of alcohol poisoning, being that she was known not just as the town oddball, but the town drunk as well. However, during her autopsy, six full-grown mackerels were removed from her stomach cavity. The first mackerel, which it had seemed was forcefully inserted into her mouth and down into her stomach, had been partially digested. Indeed, the mackerels had not only been crammed down her throat before her death, but the force-feeding of the fish had been the cause of the death in general. Scales that had scraped off the fishes’ oily bodies were found coating Mary’s teeth.
News of her demise quickly spread, and now that a second death had occurred in conjunction with a sighting of the Cecilia, a new sensation rocked the small town. It was no longer one of excitement and intrigue, but rather fear. Because of this, the legend of the Cecilia was born: Should you see her, anchor raised and roaming the seas, your fate has been sealed. Your death would soon come.
A poem was even written, its author unknown:
She sails the blue still, e’er in motion,
Traversing the waves and taming the ocean.
The Cecilia’s men, lost to the deep,
Stand at attention, forever asleep.
Should you see her in the horizon afar,
Your doom has been written, your life has been marred.
Don’t speak her name, and shush those who do,
Or forever you’ll be a part of her crew.
Citizens of the town began avoiding traveling roads that faced the ocean. Those unlucky enough to live in a house on the shore blocked out the windows closest to the water. In some extreme cases. a few families hastily abandoned these houses in lieu of something further from the ocean.
Despite most of the citizens’ best intentions, deaths continued. And it’s believed they continued because some of the town’s other and less mindful citizens simply could not help but boast upon seeing the Cecilia sailing off in the distance (whether or not the claims were true).
The deaths were as follows:
Mark Picket was found hanging by the neck in his cellar. Wrapped around his throat and strung into the rafters was a leather strap removed from a fishermen’s satchel. The initials L.M. (Luther McCreedy) had been burned into the leather. An examination determined that the leather strap – as well as the burned initials – were old, and had been exposed to a long period in or near salt water.
Brian Lannegan’s body was discovered tied upside down to a buoy one-quarter mile out in the water. It was estimated his body had remained undiscovered for close to four days; by the time it was finally removed, most of his face and neck were gone—eaten away by ocean wild.
Daisy Franke, barely thirteen years old, was found amidst the rocks of the jetty. Details of the girl’s death were scarce due to her young age (out of respect to the family), but rumors persisted that large and rusty fishhooks were later removed from her person by the coroner.
After the Franke death, the more loose-lipped of the town no longer found the legend of the Cecilia riveting or exciting. No one dared speak her name. As far as the town was concerned, it was not a matter of if the undead men would come when the name of their vessel was uttered, but when.
And so, for a long time, the town was without unnatural deaths. But the damage was seemingly done. Many townspeople picked up and moved away, taking their small businesses with them. Fishermen, metalworkers, school teachers – even one of the town’s two doctors – left Santa Mira. The town struggled in their absence. Other businesses died. Employment became scarce.
Twenty-six months after the Cecilia first sunk, something peculiar happened: Henry McCreedy, Luther’s eldest son, was spotted being taken into custody by Santa Mira’s constable. Word then quickly spread: Intentions were to charge him with multiple murders—all of them originally credited to the Cecilia legend. Many members of the town were shocked and refused to believe the claims that Henry had confessed to the murders. They cried that Henry was a victim of the system—of a group of faceless men that had no real evidence and were concerned only with the diminishing wealth of the town. Protests rang out, denouncing Henry’s charges as a callous attempt at killing the legend of the Cecilia, which had chased away many businesses. A scapegoat was needed in order to set the minds of the town’s citizens and neighboring communities at ease—to make Santa Mira plentiful again.
Town council met informally to discuss what to do with Henry McCreedy. Higher law enforcement systems outside of the town were not involved in the decision, nor even made aware that someone had been charged with the murders.
Twenty-seven months after the sinking of the Cecilia, Henry McCreedy, a teenager, was hung on the dock of Santa Mira’s shore. Though only a few men were present for the hanging (carried out in secret in the middle of the night), a rumor began circulating soon after: Upon one of the men’s demanding to know why Henry had taken the lives he did, the boy’s response was “to quell the tongues of the blasphemous,” or something along those lines. Again, this has never been confirmed, and the murders have never been “officially” attributed to Henry McCreedy, though town council was certainly willing to hold him accountable.
The remaining McCreedy family was forced out of town and soon disappeared somewhere into the Midwest, presumably with new identities.
Santa Mira did its best to move on from this dark event in their history, and while Henry’s execution did cease some of the chatter involving sightings of the Cecilia and her crew, it did not altogether vanquish them.
Late-night stories continued to be swapped between men on the decks of their own vessels. Children kept the legend alive as well. Town historians worked feverishly to identity the faceless men who had carried out Henry’s unjust prosecution and execution, though nothing ever came of their attempts.
From time to time, the Cecilia is spotted, her anchor raised, her bowsprit pointed toward the heavenly sky. Only this time some eyewitnesses claim to have spotted a new figure on the deck of the ship standing next to another figure dressed in a majestic blue coat—standing next to the captain. Some eyewitnesses claim that Henry, once again, was riding the seas at his father’s side…just as he was always destined.