From tales of shipwrecks and storms, to wars and pirates, those who have taken to the seas have long shared tales and ancient lore from their travels. And sometimes, on dark moonless nights…the stories turn to whispers as sharp winds whip the seas into a fury.
Stories of restless souls that still roam the waters, looking for a new ship to call home. Screams that catch and carry on the winds, before they are carried back to sea. Decommissioned moored ships, where all hands are still reporting on deck.
One thing is for certain. Some that go down to the sea with the Navy, will be moored to its waters, and its ships, forevermore.
USS Hornet, Alameda, California
The first Hornet was christened in 1775, and along with the Wasp, were the first two ships in the new Continental Navy. There would be eight Hornets,(the seventh was sunk during WWII) before the name was decommissioned. The eighth, and final, USS Hornet set a number of Naval records, including plucking the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 crews out of the sea upon their splashdown returns to earth – before being moored near San Francisco as a maritime museum. The Hornet is also considered one of the most haunted ships open for tours, anywhere in the world.
It is widely rumored that the Hornet rests a bit uneasy to this day, for many reasons. With the ship’s namesake dating back to the 1700’s, many lives have come and gone over the years, across the decks of “The Gray Ghost.” WWII would see 140 men lost when the (seventh) ship was sunk in 1942, with reports of over 300 lives total lost during the Hornet’s commission.
But it’s the grisly string of accidents and, regrettably, suicides onboard that cause many to say the proud ship keeps a powerful grip on the souls who sailed with her.
Snapping flight arrest cables decapitated three men, while others were sucked into air intakes, or blown off deck by aircraft exhaust. A few unfortunate souls met their ends by accidentally walking into aircraft spinning props from planes on deck. In 2007, a museum volunteer committed suicide in an engine room, well below deck.
USS Salem, Quincy, Massachusetts
Founded in 1626, the town of Salem is one of the oldest in the country. It can be argued that it was the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 that put the city firmly on the paranormal map. In the hysteria of the time, multiple people were accused of witchcraft – with 19 hanged, and one crushed.
The USS Salem commissioned in 1949, and was the Navy’s last heavy cruiser to enter service. She is now the only heavy Des Moines-class cruiser still in existence. The Salem traveled the world before mooring in Quincy, Massachusetts – and never fired her guns in battle. The very name Salem is actually of Hebrew-origin, meaning peace – and it is that mantle the heavy cruiser held high as she supported relief and peace efforts around the world.
The great ship was decommissioned in 1959, brought back to her birthplace in the Quincy, Fore River Shipyard in 1994, and recommissioned as part of the US Naval Shipbuilding Museum.
This largely peaceful vessel took a turn for the spooky after a paranormal crew, “The Ghost Hunters,” from the SyFy Channel launched an investigation in 2009. Many believe that investigation opened doors…that can no longer be closed.
Visitors now frequently report hearing disembodied voices, wails, and being followed or watched, as they tour the retired cruiser.
As if, a once peaceful, otherworldly home was disturbed, and might be angry it can no longer rest.
USS Wisconsin, Norfolk, Virginia
“The Big Wisky” was one of the largest vessels ever built as part of the mighty Iowa-class battleships. These battleships were truly spectacular with a length of nearly three football fields (295 yards/887 feet) and packed some serious firepower. The Wisconsin’s guns alone could strike targets at distances of more than 24 miles, and when these guns fired – the ship’s recoil shifted the vessel four feet in the water.
The Wisconsin commissioned in fall 1944, and would see six decades of battles, including the Korean War, and Operation Desert Storm. During battles, “Big Wisky” took but one direct hit, during a bombardment of North Korea. Although little material damage occurred, three men were injured. In response, the Wisconsin swung around her fore and aft turrets, and unloaded massive retaliatory fire using all nine of her 50 caliber guns (each gun was 66 feet long) – in a military maneuver known as a “full salvo” against the offending battery. It was the maximum firepower deliverable from any battleship guns, then, or since – and the muzzle blasts would have created a wall of fire as the guns blazed. The battery was obliterated.
As the smoke cleared, one of the Wisconsin’s nearby escort ships, the USS Buck, flashed a message with their signal lights that read, “Temper, temper.”
That kind of fierce fighting spirit simply does not fade away, as visitors to the Battleship Wisconsin can tell you. Someone, or something, still makes quite a racket on the moored vessel – and is happy to show off for those brave enough to visit.
USS The Sullivans, Buffalo, New York
Now moored at the Buffalo Naval Park, USS The Sullivans is the only ship in the US Navy to be named after more than one person. Her namesake is the five Sullivan brothers who were killed aboard the USS Juneau in WWII during a submarine attack.
The brothers, known as “The Fighting Sullivans” had been inseparable growing up. When the oldest brother George joined the Navy, the remaining four brothers did what the Sullivans had always done. They stayed together, each joining the Navy, until all five brothers were on active duty. With each brother now in uniform, they requested to be assigned to the same ship, and their request was granted. All five brothers were assigned to the Juneau, as they joined the fight in the Pacific.
They would remain together, but not in the way they’d hoped. Torpedoes hulled the Juneau, completely sinking her. Approximately 100 men survived the initial attack, but three of the brothers were killed instantly (Frank, Joe, and Matt.)
With enemy submarines still lurking in the area, rescue efforts were delayed – as the Navy did not want to expose already precious ships to more enemy forces. A B-17 bomber crew had flown the area searching for survivors, but was ordered under radio silence to report back only once they had landed, leaving the 100 survivors – initially including two remaining Sullivan brothers, Al and George, floating at sea and praying for rescue.
But rescue would not be coming for the last two Sullivan brothers.
Al Sullivan drowned the day following the attack. Five days would tick by until rescue efforts were finally mounted. Once the men were reached, only ten survivors remained, the rest having perished from exposure, thirst, battle wounds, and sharks. Survivors reported the final remaining Sullivan brother George, suffered delirium, and went over the side of his raft in a state of profound grief after Al’s death. George was never seen again.
When the brothers’ parents were finally notified there had been a death, the responding casualty officer said to the boys’ father, Tom Sullivan, “I have some news for you about your boys.”
“Which one?” asked Tom.
“I’m sorry,” the officer replied. “All five.”
The Sullivan deaths aboard the same vessel would forever change how the military assigned siblings to mission units, and be the impetus for the Sole Survivor Policy.
A new destroyer was commissioned, sponsored the boys’ mother, Mrs. Alleta Sullivan and named in honor of the family’s tremendous sacrifice. The Sullivans served the Navy from 1943 to 1965, where it became a memorial ship, moored in Buffalo.
Visitors to USS The Sullivans have reported radios clicking on by themselves and broadcasting static, electronic beeps as if relaying a pinging radar, flickering lights, and a strange shadowy figure constantly roaming the decks, believed by many to be the restless spirit of the eldest brother, George Sullivan.
A picture of all five brothers in uniform, aboard the doomed Juneau is mounted prominently in the ship, The Sullivans. But, it’s said that if you try to take a picture of the image, only four brothers appear.
George’s image never shows, as it is believed he roams the seas and ships still looking for his lost brothers.