The Disappearance of the SS Poet

“Unfortunately, absolutely nothing has turned up, not an oil slick, a life jacket, a plank. Nothing.”

Coast Guard Official (1980)

A plaque memorializing the missing seamen of the SS Poet hangs in Gloria Dei Church in Philadelphia. Lottie Zukier Fredette, a congregant, organizes an annual service to honor the crew of this ship. Her son, Hans, was among those lost at sea. In our second curated exhibit, we explore the mysterious disappearance of this vessel.

This free exhibit opens on May. 1, 2020 and closes on Dec. 31, 2020. It is presented inside the Gloria Dei Church sanctuary, Tuesday through Sunday, 9 am to 4 pm. Here are some highlights:

Operational History

How does a ship twice the length of a football field completely disappear? The answer may lie in its service history.

Omar Bundy, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Originally named for distinguished serviceman General Omar Bundy, this troopship launched on Aug. 5, 1944 under a Maritime Commission contract.

Officers gathered on the  Bundy in 1945.

The Bundy carried troops for the U.S. Navy during World War II. It was transferred to the Army in 1946 where it remained in  service for 3 years.

An aerial view of James River by Martin Norman (1990).

In 1949, the Bundy entered the Naval Defense Reserve Fleet. It was docked in the James River and remained moored there for the next 15 years.

The Bethlehem Steel plant” by William H. Rau (1896).

In 1964, Bethlehem Steel Corp. converted the vessel into a cargo ship. For 16 years, it sailed for different companies as the Portmar and Port.

A plaque honoring the missing seamen of the Poet.

The Hawaiian Eugenia Corp. purchased the ship in 1979 and renamed it the SS Poet. A year later, the vessel vanished without a trace.

An Unsolved Mystery

It’s been almost 40 years since the Poet disappeared. Here are some theories about what happened to it:

Crushed by Politics

Portrait of President Reagan and Vice President Bush (1981).

The Poet was allegedly on a secret government mission on behalf of President Reagan. The crew was to deliver arms to Iran as part of a deal to free 52 U.S. hostages. The operation is said to have failed with all lives onboard lost.

Wrecked by a Storm

Graphic showing the location of the Bermuda Triangle.

While traveling through the Bermuda Triangle, the ship encountered an unexpected storm. The cargo allegedly got wet and expanded, causing the ship to capsize. It is said that vessel and its crew rest at the bottom of the ocean.

Marauded by Mobsters

Mugshot of mob boss Carlo Gambino (c. 1930).

Scotland Yard reportedly received intelligence that the ship was being targeted by South Jersey mobsters.  Gambino family operatives allegedly hijacked the vessel, sailed to Iran, and traded the ship and its cargo for heroin.

Immerse yourself in this mystery at “The Disappearance of the SS Poet,” open May. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020.


Honor the Crew

We’re creating a memory wall to pay tribute to the missing seamen of the SS Poet. You can contribute to this project by filling out this form below. Your tribute will be printed out and added to our memory wall.