WHH Short Fiction: “The Ghosts of the Glen Doon”

Essay: “The Ghosts of the Glen Doon”, William Hope Hodgson, 1911.

NSB Vol 2
Cover by Jason Van Hollander

The Glen Doon is supposedly a haunted vessel, a ship that capsized in San Francisco’s harbor. Two men were trapped in it but not rescued before they suffocated. The ship was salvaged, but the new owners never found a use for it, so it’s still in the harbor five years on.

There are rumors of strange sounds coming from it, ghosts tapping on the hull just as the trapped men did.

On a bet, one Larry Chaucer, a rich young man “of sport” wagers that he can spend a night on the Glen Doon alone. Provisions are made for the bet which involves people around the ship on rowboats to make sure no practical jokers show up and that Chaucer doesn’t leave.

However, the men in the rowboats hear tapping sounds in the dark and then pistol shots. They go aboard the Glen Doon. They don’t find Chaucer, only his emptied revolver.

Chaucer is the son of a millionaire, so pressure is put on the local police to find out what happened.

A search is made of the ship by the police. They find nothing. Chaucer’s father even pays to have six policemen left on board the ship around the clock with a patrol-boat nearby.

After a fortnight, there is still no sign of Chaucer, so the watch on the ship is withdrawn as is the patrol-boat. However, another patrol-boat is secretly kept on station at night.

Finally, after another three weeks, the sound of hammers on an iron hull is heard by the crew of the patrol-boat one night. The crew quietly boards the Glen Doon.

Hodgson stretches the idea of a haunting out when, after three hours of watching, a man’s head appears with long hair, its skin “white and unwholesome”. His body follows, dripping water and moving silently.

The man is told to halt, but he vanishes down the hold. Shots are fired by the police and they go down the hold only, again, to find nothing.

The officer in charge sends a boatload of mechanics. They map the whole interior of the ship and drill holes in various places. It’s clear, after that, the hull is not double-sided.

Then holes in the bottom are drilled. Only water comes through and they are patched back up.

Continuing his search, the chief of police notices some hairs stuck around the mast. Examining things further, the mystery is solved. The metal masts are hollow.

Counterfeiters are using the ship as a secret base for striking coin. They constructed an elaborate compartment below the hull. They enter and leave the compartment through the hollow metal masts. This also explains why searchers, looking for the source of the sound or men spotted on the vessel, didn’t find anyone.

Hodgson reuses his gimmick of secret ladders inside of hollow metal masts that showed up in “The Mystery of the Water-Logged Ship”. That story was published in Grand Magazine in the May 1911 issue. This story appeared in the December 1, 1911 issue of The Red Magazine, so they very well might have been written back to back.

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