Wednesday, September 16, 2009

USS Cyclops

The story of the USS Cyclops has special significance for me. One of my great , great uncles, Frank C. Nigg was a crew member on the Cyclops. My Great, Great Grandmother Jessie Nigg ( gone many years now) used to tell us the story of her older brothers loss on the Cyclops. She told us that one early Spring her mother was very sick and confined to bed. She, Jessie was the oldest still at home and was caring for her mother during the illness. One evening Jessie heard her mother call her name over and over, she ran upstairs to see what she needed. Her Mother said ' Do you hear that?' ' Do you hear?' I hear the ships bells ringing ( they lived nowhere near a harbor) ' Something has happened to Frank, and I am hearing the ships bells!' her mother said. Try as she might, Jessie never heard the bells. But indeed, a few weeks later, the U.S Navy declared the ship lost at sea with all hands.

USS Cyclops (AC-4) was one of four Proteus-class colliers built for the United States Navy several years before World War I. Named for the Cyclops, a primordial race of giants from Greek mythology, she was the second U.S. Naval vessel to bear the name. The loss of the ship and 306 crew and passengers without a trace sometime after 4 March 1918 remains the single largest loss of life in U.S. Naval history not directly involving combat. The ship's fate is still a mystery that remains unsolved to this day. No wreckage of the vessel has ever been found.

The loss of USS Cyclops with all 306 crew and passengers, without a trace, is one of the sea's unsolved mysteries, and is often credited to the Bermuda Triangle. It was the earliest documented incident linked to the Bermuda Triangle involving the disappearance of a U.S. vessel. In his 1975 book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved, author Lawrence Kusche investigated this mystery. He revealed that a diver off Norfolk, Virginia, in 1968, reported finding the wreck of an old ship in about 300 feet of water, stating that the bridge "appeared to be on stilts." He was later shown a picture of the Cyclops (which had that peculiar bridge structure) and was convinced it was the ship he had seen. This would have put the Cyclops, according to Kusche, within 60 miles of the Virginia Capes and into the teeth of a storm that hit the area on 9-10 March 1918 (this storm was reported to have done extensive damage between Indiana and Washington, D.C.). The storm, combined with the unusual cargo of manganese, may have sunk her. However, further expeditions to the reported wreck site failed to find anything.
Most who link the disappearance to the Bermuda Triangle cite the fact that the vessel disappeared having sent out no distress signal. However, ship-board communications were in their infant stages in 1918, and it would not be unusual for a vessel, sinking fast, to have little or no opportunity at a distress call.

Most serious investigators of the incident believe the ship was likely farther to the north of the Bermuda Triangle when it disappeared, but there is little evidence to either substantiate or dispute that. An in depth look at the incident can be found in the book, Great Naval Disasters, by authors Kit and Carolyn Bonner.

For a list of those lost on that fateful voyage, including my own relative Nigg, Frank C. - Lieut. (JG) go HERE.


Charles said...

Interesting history.

Sonia ;) said...

My immediate family all live in Norfolk Virginia..very cool history..

wendy =i= said...

Fascinating story, Wendy. Reminded me of my own ancestral story involving a fatal boating incident which occurred I believe on its way to Lily Dale for a picnic! Your Lily Dale post was very familiar to me. More another time.

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