get to know the ghosts of sailors on this haunted battleship
The USS Salem, a heavy cruiser built by The Navy after World War II, is a significant historic and paranormal site in Quincy, Massachusetts. After housing the victims of the tragic 1953 Ionian earthquake that ravaged Greece’s west coast, strange sightings, smells, and noises began to pop-up from all corners of the warship. With the majority of its visitors experiencing some sort of odd encounter, the USS Salem is the perfect haunted attraction for those who have to see to believe.
The spirits of those who passed away aboard the life-saving “Sea Witch” are said to still linger onboard. The navy ship’s third wardroom - or “mess hall” - is said to have the most activity, as it stands right above the makeshift morgue (read freezer) that once held approximately 400 Greek casualties. This same area also reportedly houses a young Greek girl, a dark, taunting entity, and a violent hellhound with a heart-stopping growl.
There is a recurring presence in the anchor windlass room, a man named John, who used to work in maintenance before his death. John’s specter was the first USS Salem tour guide, appearing to visitors in full human form. His presence was unknown until guests began to praise the excellent - yet inexistent - guide.
Among the other exciting warship residents, we find the ghost of a neat cook that maintains the kitchen area organized and a man in the mess hall that drags and overturns chairs.
Believed to be one of the Ionian earthquake victims, The Burning Man has been described as a specter who “smells like death.” He is thought to be one of the many who unfortunately succumbed to their fatal, fourth-degree burns aboard the ship. Ghost tour guides often spot The Burning Man in the same room where the ship’s morgue once stood, which is believed to be where he died.
Earthquakes can cause gas lines to break and explode, making fires an unfortunate side-effect of seismic events. The number of fire-related deaths on the ship might explain the unexpected ash scent that hits the majority of USS Salem visitors.
In 2009, an episode titled “Glimmer Men” of the SYFY series Ghost Hunters aired detailing the paranormal investigators’ experience aboard the USS Salem.
The group identified abnormally high electromagnetic fields they determined to be causing hallucinations and extreme paranoia to those who visit the warship. They also captured EVP recordings of banging noises and what sounded like a woman’s voice, all explained by the vessel’s interesting past.
The USS Salem is one of the Des Moines-class heavy cruisers ordered by the U.S. Navy. In 1945, just before the end of World War II, the Bethlehem Steel Company began its construction in Quincy, Massachusetts. Salem was the last of its class to be commissioned and is the only heavy cruiser still standing.
For ten years, the USS Salem served as flagship for the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and the U.S. Second Fleet in the Atlantic, hosting notables such as the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and King Paul of Greece.
The warship was launched at the beginning of the Cold War when tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were at an all-time high. Although the heavily armed military vessel never had to fire its weapons, its impressive battery was enough to deter possible attacks.
The ship’s most significant deployment occurred in 1953 when it was sent to the Ionian Islands, on the west coast of Greece, to aid disaster victims. The Great Kefalonia Earthquake, as it is often called, was merely one of the over 100 earthquakes that shook the region that year.
The earthquake is still remembered as one of the most devastating disasters in Greek history, measuring a staggering 7.3 on the Richter scale and causing the untimely deaths of approximately 600 people. Israel, Britain, and the United States were some of the first countries to respond after the catastrophe, sending aid and essentials to the islands.
Amongst the significant emergency relief vessels was the USS Salem, which operated as a hospital, helping the injured and storing the unfortunately-large number of deceased locals in its morgue. Although it is unclear how long the warship cared for the earthquake victims, it is known that many took their last breath aboard the Salem, a tragic fact that haunts its visitors to this day.
In 1959, after its station in the Greek coast, the USS Salem was decommissioned and transported to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to become a member of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
It wasn’t until late-1994 when it made its way back to Quincy - its birthplace - where it was fully restored. A year later, it was recommissioned, this time, as part of the Historic Naval Ships Association. Today, the warship serves as a historical museum with exhibits detailing our military’s maritime past.
The USS Salem was a beacon of hope for the devastated Greek islands, but it was also where many spent their last moments. Without ever firing its weapons, the warship witnessed enough death and chaos to last a lifetime. Here we can experience the remnants of a world long gone, all in the company of those who regrettably did not survive the tragedy.
The United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum and USS Salem are currently open to the public, offering both self-guided and guided tours.
The museum also offers “Overnight Adventures” to visitors interested in experiencing life on board the battleship, with simulations that will take you back to the 20th century.
549 South Street, Pier 3 Quincy, MA 02169 (Former Fore River Shipyard)