The Ivan Vassili Ship, a Russian vessel, was built as a civilian steam freighter in St. Petersburg in 1897 with the intention of transporting cargo from Russia to the Gulf of Finland across the Baltic Sea.
It was a relatively sturdy, quick, and reliable ship that did its job with a perfect record up until 1903 and the arrival of tensions between the Russian Empire and Japan that were threatening to boil over into all-out war.
It was built of thick iron plates over a wooden hull and equipped with a top-of-the-line steam engine with a range of 2500 miles at a speed of 8 knots. During this turbulent building carnage, Ivan Vassili would turn towards the strange and supernatural. But before we delve deeper into this, we must learn more about The Parrier.
The Chicago Tribune reported on the Russian freighter The Parrier docked off the shore of Santa Monica, California, on April 21st, 1907. The steamship was built in Germany in 1897 and was owned by a Russian firm. It was regarded as an excellent ship, but it was abandoned and lay dead in the dock ten years later.
A thing of unknown origin spread fast among the men who had previously sailed aboard the ship, except for something that remained on board. With that, the Parrier disappeared into obscurity, and fortunately, the horror in the Parrier went dormant.
The Ivan Vasilli, another Russian steamer bound for San Francisco, was the subject of a 1940 article in The Minneapolis Star that described a dread and fear-like psychosis resulting from a similar paranoia aboard the Russian vessel.
One by one, the crew would suffer the same haunting horror that afflicted the Parrier and die a similar death.
Today, we’ll examine two ghost ship tales from Russia that have more in common than just the fatalities and dangers the crew experienced. And although both were widely regarded as factual stories and published in newspapers, magazines, and tabloids, having managed to survive into the internet era, did they actually occur?
The History of the Ivan Vassili Ship
Like many other nations, Japan sought to enlarge its sphere of influence in Asia at the beginning of the 20th century. Russia was looking for a warm-water port at the same time to expand trade and get a new port for its navy.
In addition to leasing Port Arthur from China in 1897, a year-round port, Russia at the time also had Vladivostok, which was only operable in the summer due to the harsh winters.
The Japanese leadership perceived Russia as a threat because both nations were trying to grow, and despite repeated attempts at peaceful discussions, both nations went to war in 1904.
Was the Parrier the Real Ivan Vassili Ship?
Russia activated the Parrier in 1903, anticipating the likelihood of war, with the goal of using it to transport military supplies to Vladivostok.
The steamer, which was at the time berthed in St. Petersburg, would cross the Suez Canal, stop at Port Arthur in China for resupply, go to Vladivostok, Russia, to deliver the military supplies, and then return to Port Arthur before the ice in Vladivostok frozen them there.
Russians, Englishmen, Portuguese, Scandinavians, and Americans made up the crew, commanded by Captain Andrist and second officer Hanson. Given the favorable weather and calm water, the journey appeared straightforward.
The crew first acknowledged this, but after transiting the Suez Canal, the crew started to express feelings of unease.
They could not define the sensation, but they knew something terrible was about to happen. On a calm moonlit night, just two days from reaching Port Arthur, the crew was shaken awake at 3 am by a scream. Followed by another; then another.
Screams could be heard from the men in their bunks, who had been fast asleep a few minutes before but were now screaming out of fear and panic. The night guard and the officer in command were at a loss for what to do.
Before they could even begin, the men raced through the ship screaming and pleading. They were trying to calm them down.
Even the waking men were overcome with fear, which caused them to run riot across the deck and some of them to fall to the ground with helpless expressions on their faces. Others started fighting, slapping, and throwing each other about.
Alec Govinski, a teenage seaman, went straight for the deck while yelling curses and prayers at no one in particular. Govinski approached the ship’s edge and jumped over the railing into the water below them without hesitation as the commanding officer watched, shocked.
The paranoia subsided as soon as he touched the water.
What Happened Aboard the Parrier?
The men awoke from their paranoid stupor, weak and trembling, but whatever had been spreading through them was no longer there. They lowered boats to search for Govinski, but he was lost at sea, and his body was never recovered.
The men could only refer to whatever attacked them as “The Thing” while they continued their mission because they had no idea what it was; it had no name, face, wants, or needs. The men on board sailed for Port Arthur, hoping that The Thing wouldn’t return.
It appeared as though it wouldn’t for a time. Without incident, they arrived at the port and continued on to Vladivostok. Unfortunately, on the third day, The Thing returned. Terror once more overcame the men in the middle of the night.
This time, no deaths were recorded, but they were still no closer to understanding what it was, and they were aware that it might happen again.
Twelve men attempted to escape the mission after arriving in Vladivostok; half were apprehended and brought back to the ship. The sailors had to depart for Port Arthur before the winter froze the harbor at Vladivostok since Captain Andrist couldn’t guarantee their safety, and they could have explored given more time.
Unfortunately, the thing kept returning every night. One man passed away in his sleep from terror after screaming in agony until his heart stopped. Two more people committed suicide because they were terrified and couldn’t stand it night after night.
And three days before arriving in Port Arthur, Captain Andrist committed suicide.
When the ship finally reached Port Arthur, Except for six men, the crew of the stricken vessel deserted. Many people hoped they wouldn’t ever have to travel on the Parrier again.
The Parrier Sails Again
Second officer Hanson, one of the six men who remained on board, was among the few that remained. The ship’s owners gave him a command. The other five men remained on board, hoping that the terror-inspiring Thing would stop now that the ship was under a new captain.
They were unable to see how mistaken they were.
The Parrier’s owners asked Hanson to assemble a crew and deliver the last supplies and cargo to Sydney. The only account of the journey was in Hanson’s own notebook, in which he described how The Thing came back over several nights and killed his crew one by one.
Some men killed themselves, while others would murder their own fellow crew members while yelling in terror at what they had done and what had driven them to do it.
One day before arriving in Sydney, Hanson shot himself because the terror had been too much for him to handle.
The remaining crew left the ship after they arrived in Sydney, warning everyone they could about the bad things happening on board. All but one man, Captain Govinski, remained (no relation to the sailor who killed himself during the first voyage).
He was a man who was said to have no fear. The owners instructed him to take control of the ship and return it to Port Arthur.
Captain Goinski’s Journey
Despite word of the ship spreading, he assembled a small team to assist him in bringing it back, including one man named Nelson, who wanted aboard to assist and learn what caused the deaths.
Nelson questioned the guys, who appeared to be fairly sane while traveling to Port Arthur, and asked them what they felt and, if anything, saw as the phenomenon struck once more.
Nelson said, “It was like a sudden rush of warm, dry air passing through the ship.” A stampede of violent, scared men attacked one another until someone died due to the chaos it brought about. When someone died, whether by suicide or by being beaten to death, everything went back to normal.
Once the crew arrived in Port Arthur, everybody but Captain Govinski once more departed the ship. Nelson also left but eventually came back. The men thought the tranquility would prompt the ship to leave because, for a while, there was no motive for it to go again.
New Orders for the Perrier
Captain Govinski finally received new orders in February 1907 to carry hemp and goods to San Francisco. In the hopes that the creature wouldn’t come back, he gathered a new crew and set sail with Nelson.
The ship cruised for several days while feeling nervous and anxious about what might happen at night. They seemed to have escaped the creature at this point. This time, nobody fled the ship as they sailed to Honolulu for replenishment.
They set sail once more, sure that they were safe for their intended destination of San Francisco. The staff finally slept well without worrying about their safety that evening. A scream then echoed throughout the ship.
The night guard hurriedly rounded up two wailing men and imprisoned them in the ship’s hold in the vain hope of stopping the outbreak, but it was already too late. The creature had already begun to proliferate.
When it returned, it was even more repulsive and ravenous than before, terrifying the crew once again. According to reports, the crew thrashed and cut each other while yelling in anguish till one died.
This continued for three nights before Captain Govinski shot himself in the head on the fourth night. The crew nearly abandoned the ship after being diverted from San Francisco to Santa Monica, but they eventually found their way. Before arriving at the harbor, another crew member threw himself overboard.
The crew left the ship when it docked and didn’t want to return. Nelson informed the ship’s owners that no amount of cash or awards would persuade anyone to join, and according to the narrative, nobody ever did. Reports say that a mysterious fire broke out not long afterward, burning the ship to the ground.
The Parrier and the Truth About the Ivan Vassili
Ivan Vassili and the Parrier have very similar stories; in fact, they are the same ship. A few facts have been changed in the identical narrative told decades later.
As was customary at the time, the story of the Parrier first appeared in the Chicago Tribune in April of 1907; but, after some searching, I was able to locate the piece in the Sunday edition of the newspaper, dated April 21st, 1907, titled “The Mystery of the Haunted Ship.” It may be found in the Special Features section on page 50 of volume 97.
Writing articles without sources or a mechanism to verify the information was another widespread practice in newspapers at the time. For instance, the Devil was depicted as sitting on top of a barrel of whisky in a little piece titled “Whiskey kills Like Consumption,” which was also published in the same newspaper.
According to the article, a French specialist says whisky is more lethal than cocaine, morphine, and opium combined. Only the claim that it is true was made; there was no mention of the doctor, source, or statistics.
The author of the Parrier story does the same thing; they need to explain how they got the information, whom they talked to, or what they saw. At the outset of the piece, the author states, “The narrative of the Parrier is not… some weird aberration of some drug-crazed novelist’s imagination. It is an actual genuine story from the present.”
In truth, neither the Parrier nor the soldiers who perished ever existed. There are no records of the Parrier ever having arrived at any port, and there are no records of a ship with that name being a part of the Russian fleet during the Russo-Japanese War.
Further investigation reveals that the editor of the Special Features section had a penchant for publishing ghost stories without real basis. Did A Ghost Drive Mrs. Marshall Field Jr. from Ashby St. Legers? appeared in the Chicago Tribune the next week on April 28th, 1907.
According to the report, until a ghost drove her from her home in 1907, Mrs. Marshall Field Jr. resided in the manor where Guy Fawkes planned to assassinate King James the First in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The story has a problem because Mrs. Marshall Field Jr. didn’t actually reside in the manor. Ivor Guest, the 1st Viscount Wimborne, bought it in 1903.
Although I could not locate any information on the Chicago Tribune website or elsewhere, I surmise that the Sunday newspaper’s Special Features section may have been recognized for producing entertaining stories, and it’s very likely that at the time, everyone knew the story was untrue.
A good fabricated tale has the ability to be brought back to life with a few minor changes, regardless of how dead it may seem at first. In this case, that is exactly what happened. To trace the history of the Ivan Vasilli story, I looked up the names of the crew members mentioned in the Parrier tale.
This led me to The Minneapolis Star, which published an article on April 14, 1940, with the headline “More Proof That Hoodoos Ride Ships.”
The article describes the same narrative with a few small changes. Still, the majority of the crew’s identities and the captains are the same, the same thing affected the men in the same way, and Alec Govinski was the first to pass away in both accounts.
Aside from adding a few new details, the finale was slightly altered; in this version, once the ship, The Ivan Vassili, arrived in San Francisco, it remained there.
Further research led me to a 1983 article by Robert Sheaffer that was published in the Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 8, Number 2. He must have heard about Ivan Vassili’s tale and looked into its genesis.
He traced the tale to a 1965 book by Vincent Gaddis called “Invisible Horizons.” The Ivan Vassili is carried back to Russia in this rendition, where it is ultimately destroyed by fire. The story in the book is presented as fact.
On the other hand, Vincent Gaddis was notorious for inventing tales and presenting them as truth; in fact, thanks to Gaddis, the “Bermuda Triangle” traditions are real because he created them in the same book.
Knowing this, Sheaffer approached Gaddis on the Ivan Vassili story and asked him for his sources. Gaddis replied that he had read it in an issue of the Coronet from 1942 and The American Weekly, which was released on April 14th, 1940. the day it was published in the Minneapolis Star for the first time.
Sadly, the American Weekly doesn’t provide a source or author, but it was well known for publishing made-up stories, much like the modern National Enquirer. R. DeWitt Miller, a science fiction author, wrote a piece about Ivan Vasilli referencing the Coronet.
We may never know who recreated the Perrier’ made-up history as Ivan Vasilli in 1940 before the US entered the Second World War. Still, much like the Parrier, we are certain that it never happened because there is no evidence that it ever arrived at any port, be it San Francisco or anyplace else.
Despite this, numerous accounts of the narrative appeared in publications during the second half of the 20th century, many of which asserted that it was a factual incident. Even now, numerous websites continue to present the story with the same claim of veracity.
A quick reverse image search reveals that some use a commonly used image of a Russian hospital ship from 1918 with the name Ocean instead of the purported ship.
The Parrier and The Ivan Vassili have never existed. Hence there are no images of them. However, just like the unknown terrorizing force that frightened the crew, I believe the lore of the Parrier and The Ivan Vasilli will persist as reality, perhaps going by a different name.
Do you, on the other hand, believe that the dread that drove all those guys insane really did exist? Possibly on a different ship?
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