Brief History: There are a few different versions of this legend, but I’m going with the most popular. Sometime in the 1700s, a Dutch ship on its way home was nearing the Cape of Good Hope when a storm broke out. Captain Hendrick Van der Decken (supposedly based on real Dutch East India Captain Bernard Fokke) refused to turn the ship around and murdered the members of his crew who attempted to mutiny. In some tales, an angel or the devil appear, but the end game is always the same - the captain dooms the ship to sail forever around the world between this world and the next. Ooooo spooky. Then the ghost stories started. From the late 1700s to the 1930s people (mostly Europeans) claimed to see the old ship drifting through the night. Then, usually accompanied by some eerie lights, vanishes once again.
Analysis: Is the fading ship the result of an optical illusion? Drunk sailors? Scooby Doo villains? No matter what, it has taken place of sea monsters as the maritime harbinger of doom. It’s very unlikely that the ghost story is 100% true since there is no record of any Captain Hendrick Van der Decken. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t ghost ships. . . just not necessarily the Flying Dutchman. Of course, I could star analyzing the Pirate of the Caribbean version of the Flying Dutchman, but let’s just not fall down that rabbit hole.
Blame It on the Victorians: As the sightings of the ship became a more common legend, the ghost happy Victorians added the ethereal touches most versions continue today. The 19th Century added an eerie light around There were plays, books, short stories, and music all based on the Flying Dutchman. The best thing to come out of the legend was a painting by illustrator Howard Pyle in which the captain stands aboard the tilted deck of the ship bathed in yellow. In the foreground is a group of tortured souls, wasting away in the storm.
Final Thoughts: James Mason and Ava Gardner did a movie called Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. . . which really had nothing to do with the ship or original ghost story. But there’s car races on an Italian beach.