Mysterious Disappearance of the Sulphur Queen

The Marine Sulphur Queen heads out on a voyage from which the ship never returned.
The Marine Sulphur Queen heads out on a voyage from which the ship never returned.

“HELLO, AUNTIE RUE, how are you? I love to say that.”

“Hello, Jeremy, I am fine, and I didn’t slew anyone lately either, in case you were wondering, nor have I been slewed.”

“Whatcha doin?”

“I am trying to remember something. I have sent off some emails this morning to see if my facts and figures are correct.”

“About what? Why do they have to be correct, anyway?”

“They don’t. But they are memories that have bugged me for years and I am just curious as to whether I even remember them correctly.”

“What are you trying to remember?”

“When I was thirteen, I was packed off to live in Texas—a foreign land to me—with Mom and Dad, your grandparents. Your father and your other aunt had already left the nest so they didn’t have to go. I thought they were so lucky. One time your father got a job offer in Phoenix for more money than he was making. He liked that town, the way it was laid out. I said to him, I said, ‘Don’t move your kids. It’s not worth any extra money you would make.’ He wasn’t big on taking any advice from his baby sister, but for once I think he took me seriously. He knew how much that move killed me at that age—leaving all my friends, my comfort zone.”

“You mean we almost moved to Phoenix one time?”

“Yeah, it’s a fact.”

“How bad was it? It looks like you did survive.”

“I really don’t know how bad it was, because I stayed in my room all the time. Except for required school days, I barely left my room. I moped and listened to the radio. I never will forget those news stories that played over and over again, the year of 1962-1963, the time up until the JFK Assassination and then that event overtook the news for a year or more. They were strange stories, some very spooky and they stayed in my head along with the popular tunes that played on the radio stations.”

“Like what? What were the news stories? You have me curious as all get out. They were long before my time, and I probably never even heard of them.”

“Marilyn Monroe died the week before we moved. That put a definite pall over me. The Cuban Missile Crisis was the big one, and the Bay of Pigs Invasion. You see, our government discovered by way of aerial photographs that Russia was planting huge missiles in Cuba. There they were, on film, all lined up. It was chilling and they were meant for the United States. It looked as if we were very close to going to war with Russia, and it wouldn’t be just a regular war like WWII but it would be a nuclear war, with atomic bombs, and the whole world could pretty much be destroyed. I think you should read about it. It is interesting and you can look up the airplane spy pictures. It will give you a chill. There were a lot of news stories about The Thresher. It was a submarine of our own, and it mysteriously went to the bottom of the sea, all hands lost. No one really knew why at the time. It was a tragedy and a big mystery. Every few weeks there would be a new story about it, someone spotted a cereal box on the ocean floor or something. It ended up being an engineering error. The next story was sort of titillating and involved British Cabinet members. It was in the news constantly and called the Profumo Affair.”

“What on earth was the Profumo Affair?”

“It was kind of silly and took up way too much time on news, but a thirteen year old girl, such as I was, found it most intriguing. A Secretary of War in Macmillan’s government in Britain was caught using the services of what was called at the time ‘party girls.’ One of these girls was quite beautiful, got a lot of attention and tried to turn her fifteen minutes of fame into a more legitimate vocation, but I don’t think it was successful. It was a story that would not go away, it brought down government officials, and was rumored to have involved communist spies and all sorts of juicy stuff.”

“Well I must read about that one, Auntie. Thanks! I am putting it on the list of things to look up.”

“Read about Candace Mossler while you are at it, Candy, they called her. It was a similar story and took up quite a bit of the news year or two later. You see, Jeremy, what made the Profumo and Mossler stories so unique, is that people did not talk about all of this bedroom stuff back then, like they talk about it 24/7 now. We had better taste, manners, decorum. The fact that they would put it on the news piped into living rooms is what made it so shocking. Normally such stories would have been found in weekly news magazines, tucked away out of sight in a lonely corner, or only in the most indiscriminating tabloid publications. Here they were, blaring it on the evening news and every hour on the radio. It may have been when the floodgates opened for such things, sadly.”

“What else happened, Auntie Rue?”

“I was obsessed by a botulism outbreak that they also broadcasted the details about on the hourly radio. I had never heard of botulism yet, in my young life and I was fascinated by it and scared of it. I became pre-occupied with examining the canned goods in the pantry for any bulges or irregularities. The outbreak came from canned soup, I believe, packed by a good company, and several people died. But the thing that got to me most, that one unrelenting news story of 1962, was the story of The Marine Sulphur Queen.”

“What on earth was that?”

“It was what you would think it would be. It was a rather clunky marine vessel that carried sulfur from one port to another. It operated pretty much in the Gulf of Mexico. It was in Texas waters a lot, even. One day it just up and disappeared. All hands were lost and it was never heard of again.”

“Wow. Unbelievable.”

“Let’s see. It says here it was a 425 foot freighter with a crew of thirty-nine. It was going from Beaumont to Norfolk, Virginia with molten sulphur housed in steel tanks. On about February 2, 1963, it was last heard of near Dry Tortugas on the outer edge of The Bermuda Triangle.”

“Not the Bermuda Triangle!”

“Yes. The boundaries of this mysterious triangle change frequently, but it was considered lost in The Bermuda Triangle. No distress calls from the ship were ever intercepted, and the only reason it was found to be missing was that one of the seamen on board had been corresponding with a broker. The seaman was a speculator in the stock market, of sorts. When the broker could not contact the man or the ship, he alerted authorities. On February 6, the Coast Guard launched an extensive search with planes and ships. The only thing ever discovered was a life jacket from the boat. It was found fifteen miles south of Key West. Another life jacket was found, it could not even be identified as one of The Queen’s, though—then nothing more. What was it? Had the sulphur exploded? Had the ship been hijacked? No one knows. Here is a picture.”

Jeremy looked at the picture of the boat and admired the huge anchor next to the ship’s name on the hull. “So spooky! It just totally disappeared.”

“The news stories on the radio every day about searches for this ship were very dramatic. It was an eerie, eerie time in my life. Bulletins coming through my radio, hourly were made even more bizarre by the often bouncy teenage tunes I was listening to, Be My Baby, Surfin’ USA, Pipeline, Heat Wave, Fingertips, Parts 1 & 2, Up on the Roof, It’s My Party, Big Girls Don’t Cry and the biggie, Sugar Shack.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of The Scavenger’s Song.


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