The City of San Francisco has a unique and incredible history. Chronicles reveal stories that would make you think that someone with a wild imagination created them from thin air. The story of the Ghost Ships, sometimes called Gold Ships, is a great example.
What if I told you that maybe as many as fifty sailing ships are buried within the city limits of the great city of San Francisco. I know you think this story is a figment of my imagination, but it is true. Maps revealing the names of the ships and their location are souvenirs savored by tourists.
So how did they get there? In three of my other blogs, The Niantic, Shanghaiing and Water Lots, I make reference to Ghost Ships, also known as Gold Ships. In order to grasp the significance of the California Gold Rush (1849-1954) and how it played a pivotal role as a world event, you must visualize the impact of some 200,000 men stampeding into the California wilderness within a four to five year period.
It is estimated that half the sojourners arrived in San Francisco, by sea going vessels. Thousands of ship must have transported anxious gold seekers and cargo into the bay. Now keep in mind, the Gold Rush was a world event. Ships therefore came from many foreign ports, as well as from places in the United States.
Many of the men who crewed on these ships had the same motives as those they were were transporting. Consequently, when a ship completed its voyage in San Francisco Bay, a vast number of sailors jumped ship and joined all those who booked passage on their vessel, scattering to seek gold, in an effort to become wealthy.
The result was catastrophic for the owners of the ships and officers who chose to stay with their vessel. Since the supply of crewmen was severely diminished, the concept of Shanghaiing (see Shanghaiing blog) became a common practice. Unfortunately, too few sailors hung out in San Francisco.
The consequences of no crew required the ships captains to anchor off shore and abandon their vessels. Some 500 derelicts never sailed again. They languished for lack of a crew. The ships, over time, became unseaworthy wrecks. It is said that people, on many nights when it got quiet, could hear the groaning and creaking as the old ships “gave up the ghost”. Consequently, they were given the name “Ghost Ships.”
The wrecks became hazards to traffic in the bay. San Franciscans, being entrepreneurial, came up with two ways to utilize what had become dangerous obstacles. Many of the ships were salvaged for needed wood and iron parts. The other way was to drag them into the shallow waters, sink them and pile dirt and sand around them to create a landfill; a literal extension of the city out into the bay to create valuable real estate (See Water Lot blog).
Some 200 ships were used to make water lots and provide buildings for commerce. Some 250-300 ships were salvaged at Charles Hare’s yard for lumber and hardware. His business known as “Rotten Row”, hired 100 Chinese to cannibalize the derelict ships.
Due to devastating fires, the ships used for warehouses, boarding houses and other business purposes located on the water lots burned to ground level and eventually were buried to provide dry places for city expansion. Over the decades, the city spread farther and farther out into the bay. The old ships were forgotten until excavation for foundations of new construction revealed the treasures.
In my novel, Equal and Alike, I discuss this fleet of derelict ships and how the people of San Francisco cleverly used them. Come join me in the adventure. I know you will enjoy it. Equal and Alike is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other fine purveyors of books.