ALAMEDA – Two small flashlights, resting several feet apart on the darkened mess deck, suddenly lit up. A third flashlight, at the opposite end of the room, joined in. All by themselves.
Then the flashlights went off again, repeating this phenomenon throughout the evening and again, all by themselves.
Did they really go on and off all by themselves?
Or did we get high-beamed with a little help from our “friends?”
Then, a few hours later, did they give a spectral signal to start a music box positioned just outside the admiral’s meeting room, perhaps as the grand finale to a night of emanations and energies?
Welcome to the haunted USS Hornet, a floating museum berthed in Alameda. Better yet, let the decorated and long-decommissioned aircraft carrier’s ghosts greet you. As if 2020 hasn’t been ghastly enough with the COVID-19 pandemic, it also is one of those rare years with 13 full moons including two in October, the second being a blue moon on Halloween night. Call it “paranormal prime time.”
These souls certainly intrigued Faye Navarro, who now coordinates the ship’s haunted tours, the moment she came aboard three years ago.
“I’d had experiences (with spirits) growing up,” she said. “The first time I set foot on this ship, I thought, ‘It feels like home to me.’”
The same applied to Steve Jackson when he came aboard, also about three years ago, to help with the ship’s restoration. He found the apparitions to be active and sociable.
“We’ve gotten some names, but just first names,” Jackson said. “We’ve seen lots of shadow figures.”
Like many other military bases and ships across the United States, including the Mare Island shipyard not far away in Vallejo, the USS Hornet has long been a haunted haven.
A bit of background about the ship: The USS Hornet (CV-12) is the eighth U.S. Naval ship to bear the Hornet name since 1775. The seventh – CV 8 – launched planes for the famed Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo in 1942 during World War II and fought at Midway before the Japanese sank it during the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands later that same year.
Already under construction when CV-8 sank, the Navy changed CV-12’s name from its intended USS Kearage to the USS Hornet in tribute. CV-12 went on to fight major battles in the Pacific over the final 18 months of the war.
The USS Hornet also served during the Korean and Vietnam wars. It plucked Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins and their spacecraft Columbia from the Pacific Ocean in 1969.
Decommissioned in 1970, the USS Hornet opened as a museum in Alameda in October 1998.
So, how did the USS Hornet – already nicknamed “Old Gray Ghost” before it became a popular haunted hangout – morph into a place of real mystery?
Peter Hegarty of the East Bay Times wondered the same in his January 29, 2008, story.
“Perhaps sailors called her the “Old Gray Ghost” from the way her hull would emerge through the darkness of night on the high seas,” he wrote. “Or maybe it was because she was the latest in a long line of U.S. Navy ships named Hornet and so carried the spirits of all those men who served aboard her in times past.”
Under any circumstances, many folks who boarded the ship claiming they did not believe in ghosts “were believers when they left,” Navarro said. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some visitors who planned to spend the night on the ship suddenly changed their minds in a “… uh, no thanks” moment.
“These spirits – some were sailors on the ship,” said Navarro, who coordinates the ship’s haunted tours. “Some drift in. You’ll hear female voices, and there were no women (who served) aboard.”
Navarro spends many nights each year aboard the ship, and does not need electronic detection gear or flashlights to know she is among them. Their equipment, which includes phone apps that pick up voices and electronic devices that detect energies, simply gives them a better chance to understand those who share the room.
On this night, a woman’s voice said, clearly, to the docents in the sick bay, “I know you.” They were able to learn another spirit’s name was “Sampson.” They asked him to turn on the flashlight if he was, indeed, in the room.
The light went on.
Another spirit identified himself as “Fred.” When asked to turn on a flashlight if he had been aboard the Hornet in June 1945 – when the ship steamed into a typhoon and huge waves damaged a forward section of the flight deck – the light went on almost immediately.
Still in the sick bay and questioned about how many spirits were on board, the reply was “200.” Asked that same question on the mess deck, a voice replied, “There’s a whole lot of us.”
Perhaps the evening’s most otherworldly comment? Simply the word “masks,” which the living folks in the room all wore.
“I’d never heard them say ‘masks’ before until just after COVID,” Navarro said.
Many times, a cold chill pervaded ever so briefly, as the spirits replied. Then, the chill vanished just as quickly.
Indeed, Navarro and Jackson can tell stories all night long about their encounters aboard the ship, including the night when a shadow emerged from one of the battle stations and stood in the passageways, shoulders squared. Jackson’s young daughter was there and saw it. Navarro, who also was there and talking at the time, said she stopped in mid-sentence when she saw it as well.
Indeed, folks might be skeptical at first. Then, the flash of a flashlight, a voice in the darkness, or the sound of a music box beginning to play can change minds in an instant.
Such is life – and the afterlife – on the USS Hornet.
IF YOU GO:
The ship is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays. Facemasks are required. Until further notice, only the flight and hangar decks are accessible to visitors.
Click here for information about touring the ship, and about Friday and Saturday’s Haunted Hornet Virtual Tour featuring “Ghost Hunters International” star Dustin Pari and paranormal author Josh Heard.