The Tale of Captain Synagogue
Place item was collected
Point of Discovery/Informant Bio
My informant for this piece is Joshua (Josh) Green. He is 18 years old, and is a freshman at Utah State University studying mechanical engineering. He loves cooking, video games, and spending time with his family; family vacations are one of his favorite things in the world. He lived in Massachusetts for awhile, which is where the story will take place. I met him from the Humans vs. Zombies club here on Utah State campus, of which I am the vice-president. He was one of my rule enforcers, the “mod squad” for the Fall 2018 game of Humans vs. Zombies tag. This game he was given the title of “Salty” by me and the other leaders of the club for wearing a shirt that said, “I’m Salty”.
About 2008 Josh and his family, and his extended family took a vacation to Cape Cod. He said, “it was a blast, it was a fun vacation, one of the things I remember most about this vacation was my bedroom. The room I was in was quite memorable, because it had this one painting; and this painting was titled Captain Synagogue, who was this very lonesome sailor.” He told me it was one of those paintings where the eyes follow you no matter which way you look at it, and that’s always very off putting. His bed was facing the painting on his vacation, and was freaked out by it. The Captain in the painting had a pendant/necklace that would sometimes swing back and forth. He remembers what the necklace looked like for a while after this vacation because he stared at it most nights being unable to sleep over worry that the necklace would come and get him. He was 8 when this story happened. He asked his uncle about the story of the painting, out of curiosity, and was told the story of Captain Synagogue. He knew in his “heart of hearts” that the story probably wasn’t real, but the first night the necklace wouldn’t stop moving; but he said this could have been due to a lot of things.
Captain Synagogue was a wealthy fisherman who fished in the area of Cape Cod, and he owned several houses. Anyway...Captain Synagogue was known for being a high risk-high reward man, and, so, he would always go out fishing no matter the weather. Anyway, one day he met a storm that was to end his life… and while he was on this boat just watching the waves crash over him, as his ship started to sink [3 second pause] he realized this would be the end of him. He grabbed his necklace, and threw it as far towards the shore as he could. Captain Synagogue died that night, and the necklace that he threw was never found, and his family was sad, and all. But the real creepy things started to happen months later. Whenever there would be a storm out at sea, Captain Synagogue’s wife swears she could see his boat still out on the ocean, and this happened for several months; and one day there was the storm on the exact day that Captain Synagogue died, and she was lying awake in her bed thinking about her passed away husband, and then she saw his necklace [2 second pause] In her bed she saw his necklace just floating in the air, and something about this necklace just spoke to her, so she put it on, and she doesn’t remember the rest of the story; but her kids remember her walking out of the house with this necklace on, only to walk into the ocean, and never be seen again. (I was thinking how do we know she doesn’t remember the rest of the story if she left and was never seen again?) So, the story of Captain Synagogue is you see the boats first, and then if the stars align, and you see the necklace you’re going to die. So, that is the tale of Captain Synagogue, and that is why that painting freaked me out.
As an 8 year old, this story had a massive effect on Josh; he said, “it almost ruined the vacation for me because I couldn’t get any sleep.” He told this story with a little bit of a quiver in his voice. He paused twice in his retelling of the story, as if trying to remember how his uncle told the story to him. His expression seemed fragile, but serious, like this story still has some traumatizing affect on him today, or just remembers how traumatizing this was when it actually happened. This story is a fun, yet spooky, one that he seemed excited and reluctant to tell at the same time. I didn’t realize Cape Cod was haunted until Josh told me this story. When I was younger, I was not a skeptic (like I am now), and so hearing this story probably would’ve traumatized me when I was younger; and unlike the Josh this would have ruined the vacation for me, whereas it “almost ruined” it for Josh. This was told in the common area of his dorm, and there were two other people there; so he may have done a less dramatic retelling to save face in front of the two other people in the room.
Introduction to folklore
Prof. Lynne McNeill
Semester and year
Turner, Jake, "The Tale of Captain Synagogue" (2018). USU Student Folklore Fieldwork. Paper 587.
Additional FilesThe Tale of Captain Synagogue.docx (8 kB)