Jan 25, 2023 I Brent Swancer

The Mysterious Haunted Island of Antarctica

Lying out in the eternal cold of the faraway frozen land of Antarctica is a place called Ross Island. Discovered it in 1840 by the British Royal Navy officer and polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross, Ross Island is the southernmost Antarctic island reachable by sea, and is a perpetually ice-encrusted frigid wasteland dominated by the imposing Mount Erebus, the planet's southernmost active volcano. Despite its status as an uninhabitable, forbidding realm of relentless cold that seems to actively shun life, Ross Island was the base for many of the early expeditions to Antarctica, and it is the location of several facilities including New Zealand's Scott Base, and the largest Antarctic settlement, the U.S. Antarctic Program's McMurdo Station, as well as the World Park Base, established by Greenpeace. Yet just as life seems to cling to this unforgiving windswept alien world of ice, wind, and lifeless plains and mountains, there also seem to cling ghosts in some form or another, the elements and harshness of the terrain seeming to do little to deter them. Out here paranormal forces have long been said to exist far beyond civilization, mulling about and lurking in a possibly eternal loop that not many people will ever even be aware of far from the trappings of modern life in one of the most remote and hostile places on earth.

On the west side of Ross Island is a rocky cape called Cape Evans, which forms the north side of the entrance to Erebus Bay and is just as harsh and bleak as the rest of the island. It was here that during his second expedition to Antarctica, the British Antarctic Expedition (1910–13), also known as the Terra Nova Expedition, Scott built his headquarters, which is called Scott's Hut. Although it was Scott’s headquarters, Scott’s Hut is not the grandest or most luxurious of buildings. It is little more than a prefabricated simple wooden rectangular structure huddling in the cold, measuring 50 feet (15 m) long and 25 feet (7.6 m) wide, insulated by seaweed stuffed into quilts placed between the inner and outer walls, with a roof composed of three layers of plank insulated by more seaweed, and the whole of it lit by acetylene gas and heated by coal. In 1911, twenty-five men overwintered in the hut during the ill-fated expedition, and from here tragedy would strike, and imbue this place with death.

The tragic expedition, led by Scott, was of a scientific nature, and also aimed to be the first to reach the geographic South Pole, but not only did they fail to be the first, but nearly the entire team would die during the ordeal out there in the bleakness far from home. It would not be until 8 months later that any signs of the men would be uncovered in the form of remains, photographs, and journals, one of which was Scott’s, and in which was written the haunting final entry dated March 2, 1912, which eerily reads:

Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. Last entry. For God's sake look after our people.

Following the failure of Scott's southern party to return, several surviving men remained behind for a further winter in 1912 in order to search for the frozen bodies the next spring. One of these was a Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who at the age of 24 was one of the youngest members of the doomed Terra Nova expedition. According to Apsley, as he and the others alternated between searching the frozen wasteland for the dead bodies of their team members and cowering in the darkness and cold within the hut, they would have some rather eerie, unexplained experiences. He would say:

This place is dismal. I expect to see people coming in through the door after a walk over the surrounding hills. The whole place is very eerie, there is such a feeling of life about it. Not only do I feel it but the others do also. Last night after I turned in I could have sworn that I heard people shouting to each other. I thought that I had only got an attack of nerves but Campbell asked me if I had heard any shouting, for he had certainly done so. It must have been the seals calling to each other, but it certainly did sound most human…Last night we had turned in about two hours when five or six knocks were hit on the little window over our heads… Someone one lit a candle… and we all rushed out. But there was no-one there. It was the nearest approach to ghost work that I have ever heard.

The interior of Scott's Hut

What was going on here? Were they perhaps being contacted by the dead, or was this just seals and one of the dogs rapping its tail against the hut, as they liked to think? In 1913, the expedition ended and the hut was left behind stocked with provisions such as food, oil, and coal so that it could be used for future expeditions. It would be used again by ten marooned men from the Ross Sea party expedition led by the famed Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, when their vessel, the Aurora, was lost in the ice. The hut in this case saved their lives, and they were successfully rescued, but not before three of the men died and were buried nearby with crosses to mark their graves. After this, the hut was locked and abandoned in 1917 to sit there in the ice like a relic from some ancient lost civilization. 

The hut was unearthed out of the ice and snow in the 1950s and still stands to this day in a state of remarkable preservation, and it has been designated an Antarctic Historic Site or Monument. It is also considered to be intensely haunted, especially in the vicinity of a memorial cross set that was set out by the Ross Sea Party in the ice not far from the cabin to commemorate three of the men who died at the hut. Not only are there said to be the ghosts of these members lingering about the cross, but this cross is also said to draw the wandering spirits of other explorers who have died trying to reach the geographic South Pole of Antarctica, as if it is some way station for the dead. The hut itself is also said to be permeated with a sense of stifling dread and inhabited by shadow figures and various anomalous noises such as footsteps, voices, and the sounds of something dragging over the floorboards. An eerie place for sure, made all the more so in that it stands alone out int the middle of nowhere in one of the loneliest places on earth. 

Abandoned huts on the remote Ross Island seem to be prime haunting locations, because another one is a hut built by Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, for his 1907-09 British Antarctic expedition. The hut sits on Cape Royds, which is a dark rock cape forming the western extremity of Ross Island, and it is a humble small prefabricated building with cramped living conditions for up to fourteen people, dog kennels, stables for ponies, a meteorological station, and a laboratory. Shackleton’s hut, like that of Scott’s, is also considered a historic monument, and is remarkably well-preserved, with even cans of food and other items set up or stored. The stove and scientific instruments are all still intact, the various tinned and dried food have remained in fairly pristine condition considering they have been here for over a century, and the whole place seems as if someone might come home at any minute. Indeed, when the hut was abandoned it was apparently left with sufficient provisions and equipment to last fifteen men for one year, all of which remains little changed from the 1900s, kept the way it was by the subzero temperatures, like an insect stuck in amber. 

Explorers at Shackleton's Hut

Although Shackleton’s expedition failed in their goal, turned back just 156km from their destination by bad weather and dwindling supplies, at the time they were the first people to ever make it that far South. Shackleton’s Hut is listed on the World Monuments Fund's 100 most endangered sites and has undergone extensive conservation efforts to preserve this unique piece of history. It is also said to be very haunted, and the paranormal phenomena here were even experienced by none other than famed New Zealand adventurer and conqueror of Mt. Everest Sir Edmund Hillary, who actually claimed to have seen Shackleton’s ghost there. He would explain of his bizarre encounter:

I remember when I first went to Shackleton’s hut—and I’m not a person who really sees things very much—but I went inside the door ... when I opened the door—it’s a rather sort of bare hut inside—but I distinctly saw Shackleton walking towards me and welcoming me and then it all sort of flashed away and he was gone. It’s the only time I can ever remember something occurring like that, so I have a very warm feeling indeed for Shackleton and for his hut and I really believe that those huts, Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott’s, must be preserved. Shackleton has always been my hero. I still admire enormously his courage and skill in moments of danger.

Just across the way from Shackleton’s Hut is McMurdo Station, a United States Antarctic research station on the south tip of Ross Island that is the largest permanently occupied settlement in Antarctica, with a capacity of about 1,200 people and hosting three year-round United States Antarctic science facilities. Initially designated Naval Air Facility McMurdo, McMurdo Station was built by U.S. Navy Seabees and officially opened on February 16, 1956, and it holds the southernmost bare ground accessible by ship in the world. It is a major hub for activities in Antarctica, but in 1979 it would become the scene of a great tragedy that has gone on to make it known as one of the most haunted places on the island. 

At the time, Antarctica was a rather popular destination for brave tourists who were looking for a bit of adventure and something different. On November 28, 1979, a New Zealand sightseeing plane carrying 257 people took off towards Ross Island, but things were seemingly doomed from the beginning, as it was carrying a crew who had little experience flying in Antarctic conditions, the flight data was mistaken, and visibility was poor. While lowering the plane through overcast skies so that passengers could see the Ross Ice Shelf, the pilot made an error of judgment partly due to the bad data, and took the plane far below the minimum allowed altitude, which due to the low visibility caused him to realize all too late that they were headed right towards the side of the volcano Mount Erebus. The plane would spectacularly smash into the mountain at full speed, killing every last person aboard.

McMurdo Station

The numerous dead bodies were retrieved from the frozen barren wasteland and kept at McMurdo Station, before finally being shipped back to New Zealand. With so much tragedy surrounding the accident it is perhaps no surprise that the place is supposedly haunted. Visitors and staff at McMurdo Station tell of seeing the ghosts of the flight victims wandering about aimlessly over the frozen tundra or appearing within the base itself, as well as hearing disembodied footsteps, voices, or even eerie moaning and screaming. These wraiths never seem to actually interact with anyone, and it has been speculated that they perhaps don’t even know they are dead, or are mere memories somehow imprinted onto the landscape like images onto film. Whatever the reason, it would certainly be a spooky thing to see shambling over the frigid, lifeless landscape in one of the most remote, inhospitable places in the world.

Is there anything to these tales, and if so what is it about this place that binds these forces to them? Are there ghosts wandering about in the most inhospitable and lifeless places in the world? It would seem that ghost stories can spring from anywhere, including even the darkest and most remote realms known. It is a rather creepy notion, to think that these lost souls could be wandering about in the icy depths of Antarctica, and at the very least it is all rather chilling, indeed. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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