Cruise Story Silver Winner: Ghost Ship

By MJ Pramik

USS Hornet conducts spook maneuvers.

Darkness hangs opaque around me. I hover close to my crewmates assembled tonight on the USS Hornet, berthed in Alameda, California. We all breathe aloud as heaviness fills the air. I ask oceans of questions to keep any lingering spirits at bay. I’ve joined an evening “History, Mystery Tour” on the USS Hornet, the CV-12 battleship, or what’s left of it. Several tour attendants voice a belief in the paranormal.

“We’re essentially a nineteen-story building floating on water.” Says Mike Gordon, one of our spook quest guides this evening. “Decks descend eight levels below the water line, and ten decks reach skyward.” Mike and paranormal tour leaders plan to take us way below the water line.

The Hornet served as the launch for the Doolittle Raid (also called the Tokyo Raid) flinging sixteen B-25B Mitchell medium bombers each with five crew aboard off its deck on 18 April 1942. The raid, led by Lieutenant Colonel James (Jimmy) Doolittle of the US Air Force, retaliated against the Japanese for Pearl Harbor. While all sixteen aircraft were lost, only three crewmembers died. Though not a gleaming battle success, the Doolittle Raid raised US military morale at all levels while cracking the Japanese spirit say some historians.

With so much Pacific battle experience, the USS Hornet has a reputation as one of the most haunted warships in the US Navy. Featured on several television paranormal programs (MTV’s Fear and the TV series JAG Season 3), the Hornet boasts its own resident paranormal team, the Alameda Paranormal Researchers. Ubiquitous accounts of supernatural happenings invite many of those now present to pay the thirty-dollar fee to peer into their own fear.

One middle-aged woman on tonight’s tour recounts it’s her third time on the ghost tour. She’s accompanied by her teenaged daughter this evening. As we chat, she dials the photo gallery on her iPhone and displays a shot of her middle school son with a blue luminescent orb the size of a water polo ball floating about his head—on board the Hornet.

“This photo was taken three years ago when we visited the ship.” I glance up immediately above my head. Nothing … yet. I scan the darkening room. It’s only eight o’clock. The spooks may be just waking up.

“Now hear this. Now hear this. Time to switch. Time to switch positions.” I jump. The lead guide voice over the speaker could scare anyone. Shadows grow denser in the hangar hold.

“Let’s start our journey to see whose about tonight. Oh, that beam over there is where Eddie hanged himself.” And who is Eddie? A member of the restoration crew. Ahhh. Full disclosure.

We wend our way down excruciatingly narrow metal steps—it’s a battleship—of course it has tortuous stairs. We enter the galley and mess.

“Pull down a chair each of you,” says Mike. “We’ll be here a while.”

Mike and co-paranormals, Andronike and Heidi, set up three flashlights (Mini Maglite 2-Cell AA [Xenon]) by turning the torches on, then ever so slightly twist the caps until the light shuts off. The room is dark save for a power supply light on the side. The ghost detector guides explain when energy moves in the room—a spirit or ghost of a former sailor, for example—that force can switch the flashlight on or off. Others in the group set up their K-II EMF meters or K2 meters, devices that sense radio frequencies of energized objects or persons (ghost energy) nearby.

About ten of us perch on the edge of hard Naugahyde chairs. We sit in close proximity though the mess hall commands a large space. We stare at the darkness in the adjoining mess room.

“In this room we’ve seen a white amorphous figure. It’s white and misty.” Heidi recounts.

“Yes.” Agrees the woman on tour for the third time. “I have seen misty shapes in this room.” I see nothing but the glow from the Maxwell House coffee maker against the right side wall.

“Is there anyone here who would like to say hello?” Heidi enquires, projecting her voice toward the darkened room.

“If I whistle, will you whistle back?” Mike entreats the spirit.

Whistling sounds (from Mike).

Expectation hangs in the air. We sit still as ice.

The word “guess” floats into sound.

“What do you want us to guess?” Mike asks, no shirker he.

Silence.

“If you hear us, why don’t you turn on the light?”

The flashlight flickers, then the beam grows stronger, brighter.

Morse code taps out of the flashlight, transmitted by Heidi.

“Yikes,” someone jumps. We all mumble a laugh, a nervous ha-ha.

“Can you duplicate the code on the flashlight for us?” Goodness, these ghost busters do challenge the poor spirits.

“If you’d like us to leave, can you give some indication?” Heidi attempts to illicit a response from the energy force.

Footsteps sound from the unlit corridor, our way out of the mess hall. I definitely hear footsteps.

“Whose there? Who are you?” Heidi and Mike ask in unison, turning around to the opposite corridor.

After about ten minutes of sitting in the mess hall, the paranormal team commands us to move on.

We head toward sickbay and the wounded ward, where we sit on narrow lumpy beds, stacked two up (a luxury since healthy sailor quarters sport a foursome stack of bunks). We’re reminded that men who slept here had disease, broken bones, burns, contagion, and battle wounds. Pitch blackness piles up morose thoughts. Off to the side is “The Quiet Room,” a chamber organized for dying sailors. Four bunks, straddled with bent wire tubing, were meant for burn victims and dying sailors for a peaceful exit from this world.

“I definitely don’t feel good in here tonight,” says Heidi, stepping up and over the doorframe. We all remain immobile, frozen.

Mike changes the subject.

“The weirdest place to sleep on the Hornet is the Junior Officer’s bunkroom forward on the ship.” He says.

“One bunk in that room offers the most hassle against a good nights sleep on this ship.” Recounts Mike.

Initial weird experiences began with the original restoration crew since the Junior Officer’s bunk room was one of the few clean areas on the ship.” Men who slept in the bunk reported being shoved and pushed out. One fellow reported being very warm as if someone slept on top of him. The restoration team stopped sleeping in this bunk. One fellow left his backpack on the bed at night. When he awoke, he found all the contents of the pack laid out very neatly on the bed.

“We discover this spirit does not want anyone in his bed and he’s a neat freak.” Mike sums up.

After six months of avoiding anything on the bunk, a crew chief set his alarm clock on the bunk so he’d have to get out of bed to turn it off in the morning. In the middle of the night all sleepers heard a crash. The next morning the crew chief overslept, then found his alarm clock scattered in a hundred pieces behind an air-conditioner across the room.

Next area to visit: The engine room—where a restoration crewmember hung himself.

I feel this chamber’s definite toxic vibes, particularly when we disable all possible lights.

The engine room leads up and over steel steps to the Officer’s Mess. Here, I witness a Maglite flashlight roll back and forth several times on a flat surface counter, finally resting at the edge. In this room, one device programmed to translate energy noises into words repeats “Set. Sorry. Set. Sorry.”

We march over metal barriers projecting from the ship’s floor (ingress doors to prevent water from rushing into a room). Our final location for ghost detection, the flight command chamber where the squadron commander meted out orders for bombing missions.

We occupy individual chairs facing a curved desk and the blackboard. The stage for orders to kill and bomb. Evil actions.

“People have reported being touched physically in this room,” Mike says cheerfully.

“Please, not me.” I think. I don’t want to believe in spooks. I note I am holding my breath.

“Hi, is anyone here?” asks Andronike.

“Who is here tonight?” Heidi queries.

We watch Mike set up his Maglite, turned off on the right side of the desk. After a few seconds, the light turns on and the flashlight rolls a full three feet to the left in the curve of the desk. It halts, blinking. On leaving, I check the desk’s surface. It’s flat.

“Now hear this. Now hear this. Time to move. Time to move. Your tour of duty is over. Return to the hangar.”

I inhale. We can leave.

The Hornet’s planes supported the US landing at Okinawa and sank the Japanese battle ship Yamato. The ship endured many a torpedo, shot down two hundred and fifty-five Japanese planes in a month, and continues to hide many scars.

I stand in the bleak hangar at ten o’clock on a dark night as the tour closed. The USS Hornet can certainly claim haunting with so many guns, so many deaths, so many unhappy times on this behemoth floating tower.


Mary Jean (MJ) Pramik moonlights as a medical writer, contributes to Travelers’ Tales “Venturing in” series on the Canal du Midi, and Southern Greece and Ireland, and anthologies on Costa Rica, Bali, and Cornwall, England. She teaches graduate writing skills at San Francisco State University. MJ Pramik has won Solas Travel Writing awards for her travel essays, blogs about travel and science at Field Notes: Travel in Times of Catastrophic Change, and recently returned from Cuba, Ohio, and Japan.

Comments are closed.

Travelers' Tales