Day Trips

Eyesore or mysterious landmark?

Day Trips
Photo by Gerald E. McLeod

The S.S. Selma is either Galveston's ugliest eyesore or its most mysterious landmark. Visible from the ferry traveling between the island city and Port Bolivar, the World War I-era tanker's hull rises from the waves near Pelican Island.

For 92 years, rumors and legends have swirled around the slowly deteriorating ship as it sinks into the bay's muddy floor. It has been called a pirate ship, was rumored to harbor a nest of spies, and was home to a reclusive hermit. Only the last tale had any truth to it.

The truth behind the ship's short career is nearly as good as any legend. The Selma was one of 12 oil tankers built of concrete near the end of World War I, when steel was in short supply.

Launched on June 29, 1919 at Mobile, Ala., the day after the war in Europe ended, the Selma was a massive 431 feet long, but with a single propeller it was extremely slow. After less than a year of operation, the clunky ship ran aground near Tampico, Mexico, ripping a 60-foot gash in its hull.

Towed to Galveston for repairs, the Selma languished until finally in 1922 it was stripped and towed to its final berth. After the ship was scuttled, attempts were made to turn it into a resort, a fishing pier, and an oyster farm. Nothing came of the plans and the Selma's bow has become a favorite fishing spot and source of tall tales.

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S.S. Selma, Galveston, Port Bolivar, World War I

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