ByTom Chapman, writer at Creators.co
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Tom Chapman

We may have weighed anchor for another year on Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story, but when the show sets sail again next year, where could we be heading?

As usual we were promised big hints about next season during Roanoke and fans were clamoring for possible Easter Eggs. It looked like we were salvaging an empty wreck, but eagled-eyed viewers focused on the image of a schooner that landed conveniently in the middle of a shot during the season finale.

'American Horror Story' [Credit: FX]
'American Horror Story' [Credit: FX]

The official #AmericanHorrorStory Twitter then went and posted a cryptic tweet of a seemingly calm ocean, so everyone is now "shipping" an ocean themed season. Little else is known, or even if will be sailing a nautical theme, but knowing #RyanMurphy, probably not. However, Redditor joshy_pants tells the tale of the S.S. Ourang Medan, a ghost ship that has been doing the rounds since 1948. Part urban legend, part truth, Japanese weapons of mass destruction and the inclusion of UFOs — this sounds right up Horror Story's street. Man the decks, ghost ship ahoy!

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The S.S. Ourang Medan

The story goes that around late 1947 to early 1948 (no one is exact) several ships traveling along the Straits of Malacca picked up a radio signal from the S.S. Ourang, a Dutch freighter. The transcript reportedly said:

All Officers, including the Captain, are dead. Lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead. … I die.

At this point you might be saying, "but this isn't American, how can it be relevant to American Horror Story." Ha, well the story has you there too. It was two American ships that picked up the signal and it was the USA's Silver Star that was the first boat on the scene. After seeing no signs of life, the rescue crew of the Silver Star boarded the Ourang to find a horrific scene. The deck was littered with corpses, "sprawled on their backs, their frozen faces upturned to the sun with mouths gaping open and eyes staring, the dead bodies resembled horrible caricatures." Even the ship's dog didn't escape, found dead, but apparently snarling at an unknown menace. Have we piqued your spooky interest yet?

Just A Legend?

[Credit: Jim Nichols]
[Credit: Jim Nichols]

Of course there is a twist in the tale, no S.S. Ourang can be accounted for on any shipping logs; while the Silver Star did exist, it didn't ever record an incident like this. However, all is not lost — skeptics say that the Ourang Medan could have been moving underground chemicals after WWII and been involved in a highly illegal operation. Some suggest that the Ourang could have been transporting stocks of potassium cyanide, nitroglycerin, or wartime stocks of nerve gas, which would have been impossible to use on a US ship due to the paper trail, so the Ourang was used off books.

'De Locomotief' [Credit: Delpher.nl]
'De Locomotief' [Credit: Delpher.nl]

Whether it was true or not, there were 1,940 newspaper reports on the incident, although the details varied wildly. The story first originated in Dutch-Indonesian newspaper De Locomotief, which ran three articles. The second two told the story of a "sole survivor" who said they had been transporting hazardous chemicals when a sulphuric acid leak choked most of the crew. The survivor conveniently passed away shortly after, but not before telling his story to a missionary on the Marshall Islands in the North Pacific. The missionary then passed on the details to Italian reporter Silvio Scherli in the world's spookiest game of telephone. De Locomotief ran their final article with the following disclaimer:

This is the last part of our story about the mystery of the Ourang Medan. We must repeat that we don't have any other data on this 'mystery of the sea.' Nor can we answer the many unanswered questions in the story. It may seem obvious that this is a thrilling romance of the sea. On the other hand, the author, Silvio Scherli, assures us of the authenticity of the story.

So, was it pirates, the explainable chemical leak, or something wholly more Horror Story-esque. An article in Fate Magazine in 1953 proposed that something supernatural must have happened to the Ourang Medan and that UFOs were involved. The reasoning was the contorted faces on the victims and the apparent lack of natural causes surrounding their deaths. We already know how Murphy likes to shoehorn in a good alien storyline among the rest *wink* Asylum *wink. Just imagine Evan Peters playing intrepid reporter Silvio Scherli trying to unravel the mystery of the Ourang Medan and finding himself aboard the fateful ghost ship.

Boat Loads Of Stories

'Ghost Ship' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'Ghost Ship' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

More importantly though, and what lends the story of the Ourang Medan so well to American Horror Story is that truth doesn't really matter to Ryan Murphy. Did a Harmon family really die in a spooky ol' Los Angeles house? Was there really a sadistic nun called Sister Jude? The show does best when it takes a little bit of truth and expands it, like the Black Dahlia storyline from Season 1. If anything, it is probably for the best, those eagle-eyed AHS fans can't nitpick the real-life details if it isn't true.

While the story of the Ourang Medan might not be enough to hold up a whole season of the show, it could be a great segway, or launching-off point. Imagine the stories of several lost ships caught together in a Bermuda Triangle-type setting — combining that well-known Horror Story trope of old and new merged together.

I previously mentioned the story of the Mary Celeste in another article, but you could also have salvagers (a'la Ghost Ship), The Flying Dutchman, and even weave in Jaws by having a crew hunting a giant sea beast. Castwise, Cheyenne Jackson would make a superb, lost 19th Century captain, Lady GaGa as a wealthy dowager from a luxury ocean liner, and Kathy Bates as some colonial ship's wife. This stuff just writes itself — horror off the port bow.

Not everything on American Horror Story is made up though, check out our video on the real-life killers who inspired the show, and don't forget our poll below!

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Poll

Does the S.S. Ourang Medan make a great 'Horror Story' story?