In August of 1999 "The Sixth Sense" was released. Coming as it did on the heels of "The Blair Witch Project", I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the October column. Indeed, for the printed September / October newsletter I'd already submitted a shortened version of what remains one of my favorite ever Halloween columns.

For our online September issue, as I was at the time immersed in expanding October's column, I returned to the past again, specifically to our first 1990 issue, and revised and expanded a little tale of Lost Gold and ghostly ships in the desert . . .

The Phantom Ship of the Salton Sea


GOLD . . .

The Europeans killed many unfortunate Native Americans in pursuit of its glittering sheen . . . gold . . . many a European in turn died for it himself . . .

Gold . . .

Three or four hundred years ago, when the precious metal was somewhat more easily obtainable, most of the European encroachments were made further East. However, the desires and dreams of the Spanish Conquistadores were ever fixed upon the American Southwest, particularly the area now occupied by California and Arizona.

For rumors abounded of legendary cities where the streams flowed with gold, where anyone might become rich beyond their wildest dreams overnight. The Seven Cities of Cibola was one such fabled land, luring many a hardy Spaniard out into the grim and endless desert.

Of course, no such city really existed - no such hordes of the precious stuff actually lay in wait for the lucky and hardy traveler to enrich himself with.

And yet again . . .

Every region in this country has its peculiarities, its folklore and gables that bespeak the "local color" and give one a strong feel for the locale. In California and Arizona, such tales invariably concern themselves with legends of gold - of lost gold, found gold, gold in the hills, gold under the ground. Even more than those Carolina coastal areas that reputedly boast untold Lost Pirate Treasures, we seem to have an inordinate amount of "gilded" lore.

We have, in columns past, examined some of these legends, although perhaps never in this Online version of the newsletter. (Perhaps we shall correct this oversight in the near future.) We've set our sights east to the Superstitious Mountains outside of Phoenix, to the presumed location of the Lost Dutchman Mine (still not found as of this writing). I believe we've touched on the secret gold mine of Pegleg Smith, located somewhere in the desert between Yuma and Los Angeles. This mine also remains lost, though many have stumbled across it, with at least four lucky souls returning to civilization bearing glittering proof of their encounter in the past 150 years. Unfortunately, not one of them was able to find the mine again.

It's still out there, folks, which means that there are at least two undiscovered gold mines as of late 1999 located mere hours away from Los Angeles, waiting for the lucky explorer . . .

And there's more.

In the year 1610 an expedition of three Spanish ships set off for the west coast of Mexico to hunt for pearls. Luck was with them, and in a short time the ships had been filled. This, however, is when their luck ran out. While one of the ships returned home safely, a second was lost in a terrible storm and lies today somewhere in the Pacific.

It is the third ship that concerns us. For some reason, this ship elected to travel up the Gulf of California. This being 1610, no one was yet quite sure just where the Gulf ended. This unlucky ship soon found out. They sailed to the end of the Gulf, and continued through a narrow passage that seemed promising, and indeed eventually emptied into a great inland sea.

The passage, unfortunately, promptly dried up, trapping the ship and its hapless crew in what we now know as the Salton Sea.

For many years after, local California tribes told of seeing the ruins of a Spanish treasure ship appear and disappear, subject to the caprices of the desert sands. Eventually, the ship was buried. The crew, of course, were long dead - the treasure, as far as we know, remained on board.
Typically, such a tale would end here. However, in 1870, an American named Albert Evans was traveling in the region east of the Salton Sea (which, by the way, is just southeast of Los Angeles, in the California desert). A local paper, the Los Angeles News, printed his account:

"By two o'clock I had reached the summit of the divide between Dos Palmas and the Palma Seca, and looked into the plain. Southward to the very horizon stretched a great plain of snowy salt, the white ghost of a dead sea which once covered all this accursed land but has passed away forever. Across this white plain, as across the waters of a placid lake, the moon threw a track of shimmering light. Right in this burning pathway of light, far out in the center of the ghostly sea, lay what appeared in the distance to be the wreck of a gallant ship, which might have gone down three centuries ago."

A searching party immediately set out to verify his claim. They returned, having found the ship embedded in the sand. Unable to retrieve any pearls, they nonetheless reported its position: 40 miles north of the San Bernardino/Fort Yuma road, and 30 miles west of Dos Palmas.

A second party went out, but the ship had again disappeared. It was not till 1878 that it was seen again, this time by three German prospectors who had gotten lost. They spied the ghostly vessel at sundown, and one of them set off to get a closer look.

He never returned.

Finally, in February of 1882, a reporter from the San Francisco Examiner set off from Yuma with a searching party, and sixteen days out he and a companion both saw the ship.

Which disappeared, permanently, into the dusk - somewhere very close to a certain lost gold mine . . .

Happy prospecting!

Joe Nolte

P.S. Be sure to check us out in October - we promise Halloween thrills galore, as well as an update on the strange and eerie disappearance of longtime Book Again manager Mike Nolte!

(For those wanting a preview of the festivities, pop into the store this month for a free copy of our printed newsletter.)

And, what exactly is the "Rare Kitsch Object"?