Has a Ghost Joined the Spars?
To the Astonished Fisherman,
Theodosia Burr's Spectral
Warning was Unintelligible,
But Before Dawn on the Spot
She Indicated an Allied Ship
was Torpedoed by an Axis Submarine
by WILLIAM SEABROOK
When I was in high school, what I learned about World War II at home in the States was something like this: "There was Pearl Harbor, and then Hemingway tooled around off Cuba looking for Nazi submarines. Then we won the war."
The truth is, America was largely protected by natural barriers during the war. That's why we only lost about 100,000 people a year. (Contrast that with the only 58,209 Americans lost over two decades during Vietnam.) But I learned listening to my grandfather's stories about the Aleutian Campaign, in which he fought, and in which the U.S. drove the Japanese out of the Alaskan islands they had already occupied. Later I learned about the Japanese air attacks on the West coast and bombardments of cities and the German sabotage rings. Nevertheless, it's true that the American Theater was rather quiet during the war.
But the early years of the war caught America disastrously off-guard. The Germans launched Operation Drumbeat and called this the "Second Happy Time", when they could use their U-boats to strike and kill off American shores with impunity. The U.S. was so embarrassingly unprepared that the military relied on civilians -- Hemingway included -- to report enemy craft in American waters.
This is the background against which we should view this article by William Seabrook. As he explains, Theodosia Burr Alston was the daughter of Aaron Burr, the controversial Revolutionary War general, Vice President, and Founding Father who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a famous duel and was at one point tried for treason over what came to be known as the Burr Conspiracy, when it is alleged that he tried to wrest himself an empire in the American west.
What exactly happened to Theodosia remains unclear. She disappeared on a sea voyage and most historians agree with Seabrook that she was ultimately murdered by pirates. Did she become a White Lady, warning of enemies off America's shores?