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Monday, January 22, 2018

Southern California Vol. 9 - The Ghostly Gambling Boat of Coronado

What good is living by the ocean if there's not at least one decent "ghostly" ship story to tell, right?  Well, in this case I've mislead you a little.  The "ghost" ship is an actual verified ship, but the ghostly part is how rarely it makes appearances.

To tell this story, we have to go back to a time just after prohibition, when organized crime was focusing on new opportunities.  Now that alcohol was legal, many of the major crime figures had done one of two things.  They either went "legit", applying for the licenses, etc. that they needed and providing access to alcohol legally, or they branched out into other areas that were still off-limits like gambling and prostitution.

Enter the S.S. Monte Carlo.  It was an interesting ship in its own right.  It was one of twenty-four ships commissioned by Woodrow Wilson to be made of concrete at a time when there was a steel shortage in the United States.  It was originally an oil tanker named the S.S. McKittrick.  Later, after changing hands a few times, it eventually made its way to two very enterprising individuals who had a great idea.  

Ed Turner and Martin Schouwiler converted the ship into a gambling boat.  They anchored it in international waters off of Coronado Island and offered free water taxi rides out to the "sin ship" for anyone looking to spend an evening playing cards, throwing dice, drinking bootleg liquor and/or spending time with "ladies of the evening".  With the ship in an area where they were protected from U.S. law, the two men and their criminal partners began raking in some major money.  One estimate puts the total at close to 15,000 gamblers visiting per week and upwards of 50 million dollars (at today's value) flowing through the ship's tables.

Needless to say, the good people of San Diego were not very happy with this but there was literally nothing they could do.  Legally, all they could do was try to warn the populace away from visiting the boat.  Local ministers preached about the dangers of the "sin ship" and many prayed that God himself would intervene.

You can bet that they took credit when mother nature did just that.  On New Year's Day 1937, a huge storm actually pulled the ship off it's anchorage and set it adrift.  Where did it go?  Well, of course it went right into shore at Coronado.  Without the benefit of international waters, no one wanted to claim the boat.  The local authorities confiscated everything of value and it was left to rot on the shore.

So why do I call it a "Ghost Ship"?  Well, because it disappeared over time.  You may think that I mean it rotted away, but that's not what happened at all.  The boat was actually claimed by the sand and sea, however periodically it appears again.  At extremely low tides or most recently, during the El Nino Southern California experienced in 2016, the ship will surface so close to shore that people can actually walk out on it.

Pretty cool, huh?  

So, if you ever think you may be in the Coronado area, check the tide tables and see if you can find the S.S. Monte Carlo.  There's a rumor that it's still got a ton of gold on board somewhere.  Maybe you'll get lucky like so many of her visitors did before.



Lisanne Harrington said...

Your knowledge of SoCal never ceases to amaze me. As a native to the area, you'd think I would have heard all these stories, but here is yet another one I knew nothing about.

Keep up the good work!

Cary said...

Thanks, Lisanne!

Tom said...

That's quite a story. I'm surprised a movie hasn't been made about it or something.