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CRANSTON, R.I. - Rhode Island legend tells of a spectral ship that haunts the waters off Block Island, bursting into flame and sinking into the ocean. Depending on who's spinning the tale, the islanders involved in the human drama turned out to be heroes — or monsters.
The tales hold that the ship is the ghost of one that wrecked on the island's northern point shortly after Christmas 1738. Different versions say the vessel's appearance augurs bad weather and appears on the Saturday between Christmas and New Year's.
And while there's good evidence that a British ship, the Princess Augusta, carrying a load of passengers from territory that would become Germany, ran aground on the island on Dec. 27, 1738, there's accord on little else about the incident.
A deposition taken from the ship's crew shortly after the incident — and republished in 1939 — tells of a voyage in which provisions were scarce, half the crew had died, and others were hobbled by the extreme cold. In the document, crew members said a heavy snowstorm drove the ship aground.