Here are some dramatic aerial photos of what locals call the Ghost Fleet, taken soon after the ships were moved north from Tarrytown to Jones Point (at one time known as Caldwell’s Landing) at the foot of Dunderberg Mountain. The anchorage remained at that location until the last two ships were towed away on July 8, 1971, to be sold for scrap to Spain.
The fleet, officially known as the Hudson River National Defense Fleet and the Hudson River Reserve Fleet, was established by an act of Congress in 1946 “to provide a sizable group of merchant ships to support the military effort at the outset of any war.”1 According to an article published in the journal of the Rockland County Historical Society in 1972 (adapted online here):
“When foreign nations at the outbreak of World War I had diverted their ships for wartime service, the small American Merchant Marine fleet was unable to transport even 10 per cent of normal foreign exports. Docks in major ports were stocked high with products of American farms and factories for which no ships were available. When foreign vessels were again available, their rates were ruinous. . . .
The fleet was at its peak with 189 ships in July of 1965. Anchored in ten rows, it extended from the fleet office at the Jones Point dock several miles to the south—to the Lovett Orange and Rockland Power Plant and the Boulderberg House at Tomkins Cove. Several viewing points were established along Route 9W for the hundreds of motorists who stopped daily to look at the ships.
During the Korean War, a total of 130 ships were taken from the Hudson River fleet leaving only 39 ships. During the Suez Crises in 1956, 35 ships were put back into service when British and French ships were diverted from trade routes to supply their nations’ armed forces. The Vietnam War required more than 40 ships.
When the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1953 needed storage space for large volumes of government-owned wheat, it turned to the Hudson River Reserve fleet. During the following ten years more than 53,563,948 bushels of wheat were loaded into 231 ships. Approximately 255,000 bushels of wheat were stored in each ship with the number of ships carrying wheat at any given time ranging from 70 to 90. The last ship was unloaded in 1963. Ships that had stored wheat rose about twelve feet higher above the water surface and exposed a bright orange band of rust.
A ventilation system had been installed in the ships, making it possible to maintain the quality of the wheat for long periods of storage. This saved the U.S. government some five million dollars on commercial storage estimates. None of the grain, sold to foreign countries in the 1960s, was found to be spoiled when unloaded. . . .
The ships were kept in condition . . . by a crew of 86 men under the supervision of Charles R. Gindroz of Pearl River, fleet superintendent and one-time chief engineer on the George Washington, the ship which years before had carried President Woodrow Wilson to France and in 1950 burned at Baltimore.
The reserve fleet ships, valued at over $255 million, had their machinery turned over periodically and their internal surfaces sprayed with a coat of preservative oil on a regular basis. Electrical equipment, such as generators and motor wiring, were cleaned and coated with a fungus-retarding varnish. All loose scale and rust were water-blasted off decks, hulls and superstructures. Then the entire outside of the ships was sprayed with a gray-tinted preservative oil. This was done at least once a year on each ship. The underwater portion of the hull was protected by means of an electric current, a method known as cathodic protection . . . preventing corrosion from taking place.”
The images shown here come from a large collection of aerial photos at the New York State Archives, which has been scanned and made available online.
These specific photos must be missing identifying information other than dates because they all have vague descriptions like “Multiple boats in the water in an unknown location, possibly in the Hudson River.”
This archival mystery about the fabled Ghost Fleet is fitting because Dunderberg Mountain and Caldwell’s Landing have long been associated with ghosts, goblins and Captain Kidd’s treasure.
We will have much more to say about those legends in a future post. . . .
- Quote from the online adaptation of the article by article by Scott Webber from South of the Mountains, the journal of the Rockland County Historical Society, Vol. 16, No. 2, April-June 1972. ↩︎