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Capt. Don Sanders: Nothing like ghost stories on cold dreary evening; here are river ghosts for you


By Capt. Don Sanders
Special to KyForward

There’s nothing else like a good ghost story on cold, dreary, wintry evenings. With that thought in mind, here are some I’ve heard told on such evenings.

Several hours before boarding was scheduled to start after the noon hour, orders came directly from Cap’n Betty Blake’s office on Broadway Street, in downtown Cincinnati.

One long-ago morning, several hours before boarding was scheduled to start after the noon hour, orders came directly from Cap’n Betty Blake’s office on Broadway Street, in downtown Cincinnati, that, without exception, no passengers were allowed on board until 11 a.m. Around the same time that Betty’s directive reached the DELTA QUEEN docked at the Cincinnati Public Landing; an odd-seeming couple was reported scurrying around the QUEEN as though they owned the boat.

As soon as I saw them whizzing about on the ironwood deck of the Orleans Room, they were informed that they could not be aboard until three more hours had passed. The woman was insistent that she, a repeat-passenger, could, indeed, be allowed aboard early, but I held my ground according to the orders from above.

The two reluctantly exited the boat and went ashore but returned later. As I was soon to find, the strange lady was Dame Sybil Leek, reportedly “an English witch, astrologer, psychic, and occult author who wrote more than 60 books on the occult and esoteric subjects.” Despite my lapse of hospitality, Ms. Leek revealed something rather positive that I do not know fully if it came true or not, so I will not divulge her divination concerning myself. Not long after, rumors of a “curse” put on the QUEEN by the Dame Leek were whispered about, but apparently not cast as a result of our uncomfortable encounter.

The strange lady was Dame Sybil Leek, reportedly “an English witch, astrologer, psychic, and occult author who wrote more than 60 books on the occult and esoteric subjects.”

Please note that I do not discount the sincerity of many incorporeal sightings aboard the DELTA QUEEN so often reported as those of Captain Mary Becker Greene, but, as I told the late Miss Jane Greene, granddaughter of the oft-reported specter, I am not convinced her grandmother deserves the credit. I may be wrong, although the resident spectral aficionadoes of the time, veteran steamboat deckhands “Cap’n” Ernest Johnson and Lewis “Red Rooster” Bayless, who knew the exact locations where everyone fell who exited this life while aboard the QUEEN, neither ever credited their otherworldly recollections to the Grande Matriarch of the Greene Line, Cap’n Mary. Later wags fomented tales of apparitions walking those wooden decks and labeled them as “Ma Greene’s Ghost,” a moniker Miss Jane and other Greene family members found offensive.

Anyone familiar with the 1848 Fontaine and Porter Daguerreotype of Cincinnati along the riverfront may recall the sign on a building on Plate 3 reading: “H. ALBRO & CO. MAHOGANY SAWMILL.” Behind that sign stood the woodworks of Mr. Henry Albro, a resident of Covington, across the Ohio River from the waterfront mill. For several years, I owned the manse of Henry’s widow, Harriett.

On a certain morning in the early 1970s, as I lay awake looking toward the hallway door, a woman’s voice was heard outside the room. As I previously experienced an unpleasant visitation by a seemingly “evil spirit” encountered in similar circumstances while serving in the U. S. Air Force in the Republic of Korea, I watched the door to see if there was something I could observe of a spectral nature coming toward my bedroom. Although the house was unlit at 5 a.m., I dimly recognized the form of a small woman who swept into the room toward my bed, where I lay frozen and unable to move as though cast in concrete.

I do not discount the sincerity of many incorporeal sightings aboard the DELTA QUEEN so often reported as those of Captain Mary Becker Greene.

My feminine visitor wore a costume reminiscent of the 19th Century with long sleeves reaching to her wrists. As I lay watching, fascinated, and strangely unafraid, my spectral visitor reached over and touched the back of my hand, paused, and then exited by the path from whence she arrived.

Over the years, other sightings were claimed by residents and visitors to the lovely manse who credited the long-deceased Mrs. Albro fully responsibility for the visitations, although several other strong, yet likewise deceased female personalities have inhabited the house since the passing of Henry’s widow in 1904.

The sign on a building on Plate 3 reading: “H. ALBRO & CO. MAHOGANY SAWMILL.”

I admit that I am just as guilty as those who credited the apparitions on the DELTA QUEEN to Mrs. Greene for naming the “ghost” at the gray mansion on Russell Street for Mrs. Albro. And like Mother Greene’s ghost and the QUEEN, Mrs. Albro’s phantom has added to the intriguing character of her stately home.

Onboard two small, private Tennessee Riverboats, some say the equally-divided cremains of a beautiful young woman, once the inamorata of the grief-stricken master of the riverboats, lie secreted within the hulls of the two vessels.

Although the riverboats, one a single-screw former towboat, and the other a replica stern paddlewheeler, no longer belong to the anguished riverman, the remains of the woman, once a riverboat gal, herself, lie so remotely embedded within the steel recesses deep inside the lowest extremities of the riverboats, their whereabouts can never be uncovered without the veritable destruction of the vessels enshrouding them.

Visitors aboard the riverboats, especially those overnighting on them, recall unusual sounds like the rustling of long dresses in narrow passageways, and whispers spoken softly yet undistinguishable in their undertones.

Visitors aboard the riverboats, especially those overnighting on them, recall unusual sounds like the rustling of long dresses in narrow passageways, and whispers spoken softly yet undistinguishable in their undertones. Some reported the sudden, swift movements of dark shadows fleeing like blackbirds where none should be. Others recalled anomalous dreams where they were held powerless to move or wake from their slumber. A certain guest believed he saw himself hovering outside his body lying motionless and impuissant upon the bunk. He also recollected that the sensation was so relaxing and soothing that the pure joy of the encounter overcame all anxieties and fears and he awoke more relaxed and refreshed than he remembered in ages.

Whether or not the cremains of the lost riverboat beauty secreted within the recesses of the Tennessee River vessels’ framing has anything to do with the peculiar anomalies reported by those overnighting aboard them remains undetermined. What else is uncertain is whether or not the separation of the buried cremains far removed from the bereaved, former owner of the riverboats will effect a variation on the intensity of the strange sensations reported happening aboard the boats. Only the passing of time will tell.

As it’s been said before, there’s nothing else like a good ghost story on cold, dreary, wintry evenings.

Onboard two small, private Tennessee Riverboats, some say the equally-divided cremains of a beautiful young woman lies secreted within the hulls of the two vessels.

Captain Don Sanders is a river man. He has been a riverboat captain with the Delta Queen Steamboat Company and with Rising Star Casino. He learned to fly an airplane before he learned to drive a “machine” and became a captain in the USAF.  


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