The Ghost Fleet, 1946-1947

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

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 Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

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. . . .


  1. 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. ↩︎
The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, June 10, 1946. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, June 10, 1946. Courtesy of the New York State Archives.

Hudson Valley Echoes, Issue #2

HVEchoes_2_p1

Below is issue 2 of Theodore J. Cornu’s extraordinary hand-drawn, hand-lettered, self-published journal, Hudson Valley Echoes. To see issue 1 click here. Issues 3 to 4 are coming soon . . .

When the publication opens you can click on the pages and enlarge them. The embedded viewer uses Flash, so if you don’t see it below because your device doesn’t support Flash, you can click here to see images of all the pages.

Winter on the Hudson River

The Peek's Kill

The Peek’s Kill. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Here are excerpts from Benson John Lossing’s classic book, The Hudson, from the Wilderness to the Sea, recording in words and pictures a winter on the Hudson River very different from what we experience today.1

From his first night visiting “Peek’s Kill Bay”—where the river was “cold, silent, glittering . . . except a group of young skaters, gliding spectre-like in the crisp night air”—to the next morning when “the bay was alive with people of all ages” and “fun, pure fun, ruled the hour,” Lossing describes the Hudson “bridged with strong ice” allowing “skaters, ice-boats, and sleighs [to traverse] the smooth surface of the river with perfect safety . . . and the counties upon its borders, separated by its flood in summer” to be “joined by the solid ice, that offered a medium for pleasant intercourse during the short and dreary days of winter.”

Let’s strap on our skates and join the fun.

“A few weeks after my visit to the Donder Berg and its vicinity, I was again at Peek’s Kill, and upon its broad and beautiful bay. But a great change had taken place in the aspect of the scene. The sober foliage of late autumn had fallen, and where lately the most gorgeous colours clothed the lofty hills in indescribable beauty, nothing but bare stems and branches, and grey rugged rocks, were seen, shrouded in the snow that covered hill and valley, mountain and plain. The river presented a smooth surface of strong ice, and winter, with all its rigours, was holding supreme rule in the realm of nature without.

It was evening when I arrived at Peek’s Kill—a cold, serene, moonlight evening. Muffled in a thick cloak, and with hands covered by stout woolen gloves, I sallied out to transfer to paper and fix in memory the scene upon Peek’s Kill . . .

The frost bit sharply, and cold keen gusts of wind came sweeping from the Highlands, while I stood upon the causeway at the drawbridge at the mouth of Peek’s Kill, and made my evening sketch. All was cold, silent, glittering, and solitary, except a group of young skaters, gliding spectre-like in the crisp night air, their merry laughter ringing out clear and loud when one of the party was made to “see stars”—not in the black arch above—as his head took the place of his heels upon the ice.

Skaters on Peek's Kill Bay

Skaters on Peek’s Kill Bay

On the following morning, when the sun had climbed high towards meridian, I left Peek’s Kill for a day’s sketching and observation in the winter air. The bay was alive with people of all ages, sexes, and conditions. It was the first day since a late snow-storm that the river had offered good sport for skaters, and the navigators of ice-boats.2 It was a gay scene. Wrapped in furs and shawls, over-coats and cloaks, men and women, boys and girls, were enjoying the rare exercise with the greatest pleasure. Fun, pure fun, ruled the hour. The air was vocal with shouts and laughter; and when the swift ice-boat, with sails set, gay pennon streaming, and freighted with a dozen boys and girls, came sweeping gracefully towards the crowd,—after making a comet-like orbit of four or five miles to the feet of the Donder Berg, Bear Mountain, and Anthony’s Nose,—there was a sudden shout, and scattering, and merry laughter, that would have made old Scrooge, even before his conversion, tremulous with delight, and glowing with desires to be a boy again and singing Christmas Carols with a hearty good-will. I played the boy with the rest for a while, and then, with long strides upon skates, my satchel with portfolio slung over my shoulder, I bore away towards . . . the shores of Tomkins’s Cove, on the western side of the river, four or five miles below.

Winter Fishing

Winter Fishing

On my way to Tomkins’s Cove3 I encountered other groups of people, who appeared in positive contrast with the merry skaters on Peek’s Kill Bay, They were sober, thoughtful, winter fishermen, thickly scattered over the surface, and drawing their long nets from narrow fissures which they had cut in the ice. The tide was “serving,” and many a striped bass, and white perch, and infant sturgeon at times, were drawn out of their warmer element to be instantly congealed in the keen wintry air.

These fishermen often find their calling almost as profitable in winter as in April and May, when they draw “schools” of shad from the deep. They generally have a “catch” twice a day when the tide is “slack,” their nets being filled when it is ebbing or flowing. They cut fissures in the ice, at right angles with the direction of the tidal currents, eight or ten yards in length, and about two feet in width, into which they drop their nets, sink them with weights, and stretching them to their utmost length, suspend them by sticks that lie across the fissure. Baskets, boxes on hand-sledges, and sometimes sledges drawn by a horse, are used in carrying the “catch” to land. Lower down the river, in the vicinity of the Palisades, when the strength of the ice will allow this kind of fishing, bass weighing from thirty to forty pounds each are frequently caught. These winter fisheries extend from the Donder Berg to Piermont, a distance of about twenty-five miles.

Sleigh Riding on the Hudson

Sleigh Riding on the Hudson

The winter was mild and constant. No special severity marked its dealings, yet it made no deviations in that respect from the usual course of the season sufficient to mark it as an innovator. Its breath chilled the waters early, and for several weeks the Hudson was bridged with strong ice, from the wilderness almost to the sea. Meanwhile the whole country was covered with a thick mantle of snow. Skaters, ice-boats, and sleighs traversed the smooth surface of the river with perfect safety, as far down as Peek’s Kill Bay, and the counties upon its borders, separated by its flood in summer, were joined by the solid ice, that offered a medium for pleasant intercourse during the short and dreary days of winter.”

Thanks to the Oechsner Archive for allowing us to scan the 1866 edition of Lossing’s book.


  1. Lossing’s book was published in 1866, but most of the material was first published in magazine form in 1860 to 1861, so Lossing’s trip to the area described in this excerpt probably took place sometime in the 1850s. The wood engravings illustrating the text are all based on Lossing’s own drawings.
  2. In a footnote, Lossing describes the ice-boats: “The ice-boats are of various forms of construction. Usually a strong wooden triangular platform is placed upon three sled-runners, having skate-irons on their bottoms. The rear runner is worked on a pivot or hinge, by a tiller attached to a post that passes up through the platform, and thereby the boat is steered. The sails and rigging are similar to the common large sail-boat. The passengers sit flat upon the platform, and with a good wind are moved rapidly over the ice, oftentimes at the rate of a mile in a minute.”
  3. Tomkins Cove is on the west side of the Hudson River, opposite Verplanck.

View of Haverstraw Bay, circa 1868

View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Published by the United States Coast Survey, Washington, D.C., 1868

View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Published by the United States Coast Survey, Washington, D.C., 1868.
Click the image to enlarge it.

At first glance you might think this beautiful print is an etching made by a Hudson River painter—looking north from Scarborough, showing a sweeping, placid panorama of the widest section of the river, stretching from Rockland Lake to the mouth of the Croton.

View Haverstraw-cropped-center_w

The artist has depicted a sailboat in the foreground—representing the romantic, natural state of the river—and contrasted it with the industrial future—a steamboat chugging to New York City from the factory buildings on the distant shores of Haverstraw.

Detail from View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Click the image to enlarge it.

Detail from View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Click the image to enlarge it.

This is a beautiful print, but it’s a steel engraving, not an etching; created not by Kensett or Cole, but by what was then called the United States Coast Survey—the oldest U.S. scientific organization, dating from 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson signed “An Act to provide for surveying the coasts of the United States.”

Detail from View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Click the image to enlarge it.

Detail from View of Haverstraw Bay, from off Scarborough. Click the image to enlarge it.

The print is one of a series of views of the Hudson which were produced to supplement detailed maps and “trigonometrical surveys” that began in the harbor of New York City, expanded up the Hudson River and eventually covered the entire coast of the United States.1

Antipodean Books, Maps & Prints, a rare book dealer just up the river in Garrison, was kind enough to let us share this print, which is just one of a group of similar views of the Highlands they are offering. To see this specific print click here. For all the Hudson River Coast Survey prints click here.

If you enter “Hudson River” in the search box you’ll get 448 items, including this Art Deco treasure:

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  1. See this previous post for a U.S. Coast Survey map of Croton Point and links to additional information about this remarkable organization.

Hudson River Sights by Walt Whitman

A short prose piece by Walt Whitman from his 1882 collection Specimen Days & Collect.

Hudson River Railroad tracks running through Sing Sing Prison. Stereoview by G. W. Patch.

Hudson River Railroad tracks running through Sing Sing Prison. Stereoview by G. W. Patch.

It was a happy thought to build the Hudson river railroad right along the shore. The grade is already made by nature; you are sure of ventilation one side—and you are in nobody’s way. I see, hear, the locomotives and cars, rumbling, roaring, flaming, smoking, constantly, away off there, night and day—less than a mile distant, and in full view by day. I like both sight and sound. Express trains thunder and lighten along; of freight trains, most of them very long, there cannot be less than a hundred a day. At night far down you see the headlight approaching, coming steadily on like a meteor. The river at night has its special character-beauties.

Shad fishermen starting out with their net. Photo by Clifton Johnson from his book The Picturesque Hudson, 1909.

Shad fishermen starting out with their net. Photo by Clifton Johnson from his book The Picturesque Hudson.

The shad fishermen go forth in their boats and pay out their nets—one sitting forward, rowing, and one standing up aft dropping it properly—marking the line with little floats bearing candles, conveying, as they glide over the water, an indescribable sentiment and doubled brightness. I like to watch the tows at night, too, with their twinkling lamps, and hear the husky panting of the steamers; or catch the sloops’ and schooners’ shadowy forms, like phantoms, white, silent, indefinite, out there. Then the Hudson of a clear moonlight night.

View from the Tunnel near Garrisons. Hudson River. From the stereoview published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.

View from the Tunnel near Garrisons. Hudson River. From the stereoview published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.

But there is one sight the very grandest. Sometimes in the fiercest driving storm of wind, rain, hail or snow, a great eagle will appear over the river, now soaring with steady and now overhended wings—always confronting the gale, or perhaps cleaving into, or at times literally sitting upon it. It is like reading some first-class natural tragedy or epic, or hearing martial trumpets. The splendid bird enjoys the hubbub—is adjusted and equal to it—finishes it so artistically. His pinions just oscillating—the position of his head and neck—his resistless, occasionally varied flight—now a swirl, now an upward movement—the black clouds driving—the angry wash below—the hiss of rain, the wind’s piping (perhaps the ice colliding, grunting)—he tacking or jibing—now, as it were, for a change, abandoning himself to the gale, moving with it with such velocity—and now, resuming control, he comes up against it, lord of the situation and the storm—lord, amid it, of power and savage joy.

Breakneck from the South. From the stereoview published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.

Breakneck from the South. From the stereoview published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.

Sometimes (as at present writing,) middle of sunny afternoon, the old “Vanderbilt” steamer stalking ahead—I plainly hear her rhythmic, slushing paddles—drawing by long hawsers an immense and varied following string, (“an old sow and pigs,” the river folks call it.) First comes a big barge, with a house built on it, and spars towering over the roof; then canal boats, a lengthen’d, clustering train, fasten’d and link’d together-the one in the middle, with high staff, flaunting a broad and gaudy flag—others with the almost invariable lines of new-wash’d clothes, drying; two sloops and a schooner aside the tow—little wind, and that adverse—with three long, dark, empty barges bringing up the rear. People are on the boats: men lounging, women in sun-bonnets, children, stovepipes with streaming smoke.

From Specimen Days & Collect by Walt Whitman. Rees Welch & Co., Philadelphia, 1882.

Related posts

Hudson Valley Echoes, Issue #1

HVEchoes_1_p1-detail

Below is issue 1 of Theodore J. Cornu’s extraordinary hand-drawn, hand-lettered, self-published journal, Hudson Valley Echoes.

When the publication opens you can click on the pages and enlarge them. The embedded viewer uses Flash, so if you don’t see it below because your device doesn’t support Flash, you can click here.

Issues 2 to 4 are coming soon . . .

The Hudson Highlands, 1776

Jeffreys-1776-2

Detail of the Hudson Highlands from Thomas Jeffreys’ magnificent map, The Provinces of New York, and New Jersey; with part of Pensilvania, and the Province of Quebec. Drawn by Major Holland, Engraved by Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to His Majesty. Corrected and Improved, from the Original Materials, by Governr. Pownall, Member of Parliament 1776. London. Printed for Robt Sayer & John Bennett … 17 Augt. 1776.

The entire map is available online at David Rumsey Map Collection.