USS Hornet - Staff And
Visitors Report Seeing
& Hearing Strange Things
By Dana Hull
San Jose Mercury News
From the flight deck of the USS Hornet, you can see a magnificent view of the bay and the gleaming San Francisco skyline.
You might also see a ghost.
The Hornet -- which earned nine battle stars for her service in World War II and later recovered the Apollo 11 astronauts after their return from the moon in 1969 -- is a National Historic Landmark open to the public as a museum. But from the time the enormous aircraft carrier first arrived in Alameda five years ago, museum staffers as well as tourists have reported an astonishing number of inexplicable incidents.
They say they've heard footsteps and voices when no one else was aboard. Seen unknown sailors and officers in uniform, who disappeared in a flash. Felt fierce winds rushing through enclosed spaces. Noticed radios and other nautical instruments turning on and off on their own.
In fact, there have been so many ``sightings'' that psychics, clairvoyant mediums and paranormal psychologists from throughout Northern California have descended on the ship.
Last week, more than 200 people turned out to hear from one psychic, who stood in front of a huge American flag while passing on what she said were messages from the ship's spirits. The intense interest is creating a bizarre scene: ``The Sixth Sense'' meets the Stars and Stripes.
And many of the nearly 40 people who said they'd experienced the phenomena were self-described skeptics who insist they've never had anything like this happen to them before.
``I'm not a true believer in all of that stuff,'' said Alan McKean, who works at the museum. ``But I saw what I saw. One day I saw an officer in khakis descending the ladder to the next deck. I followed him, and he was gone. I have no explanation for it.''
The USS Hornet is beyond huge. The flight deck alone is 894 feet long -- basically the size of three football fields. The aircraft carrier was built primarily by women -- think Rosie the Riveter -- and weighs 41,000 tons. It has a full hospital, three barbershops, a tailor shop, a cobbler shop and seven galleys, as well as nooks and crannies too numerous to mention and decks galore.
In her heyday, as many as 3,500 sailors served aboard the Hornet at one time. The ship's lore is legendary.
``Her combat record was unmatched,'' Channing Zucker, executive director of the Historic Naval Ships Association, said from his home in Virginia Beach, Va.
In World War II, the Hornet shot down more enemy planes and sank more ships than any other aircraft carrier. It also welcomed Neil Armstrong back after the first Apollo moon landings, and his steps are marked on the museum's floor.
Historians estimate that nearly 300 people died while working on the ship during her active service, which spanned 1943 to 1970. Though some men perished during combat, others died because of shipboard accidents.
Those who have felt the presence of the spirits say that the ghosts, nearly all of them male, are very friendly and almost playful. Some say they have spotted the ghost of Adm. Joseph James Clark, known by his nickname Jocko, who commanded the ship during World War II.
Many think the ghosts are old sailors who may have died while serving on the Hornet, but a few spirits from other branches of the military have reportedly been spotted as well. Incidents have supposedly occurred in spots all over the ship -- ladders, decks, hangars, even in CIC, the Combat Information Center.
``The spirits are real pranksters,'' said Ron Todd, a Santa Clara resident who regularly volunteers as a tour guide.
``I've felt them five or six times. Whenever I come on board, I say `Hi' to them.''
Todd has felt strong winds in strange places. On one occasion, he said, he was in a bathroom alone when the urinal next to him flushed by itself.
Others doubt the veracity of the reported sightings and easily dismiss them.
``We're a fairly religious and superstitious country as a whole,'' said Dr. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine. ``People just believe this stuff whether there is evidence for it or not. Once the story gets planted, it feeds on itself. If you are inclined to believe in ghosts, then random noises become evidence.''
Shermer, who wrote the book ``Why People Believe Weird Things,'' said that many popular ghost stories are invented to drum up publicity and tourism.
``It's an old, big, metal ship. It doesn't surprise me that it makes noises,'' said Shermer, who added that American military history is full of folklore that includes ghosts and hauntings. ``The Civil War is filled with superstitious nonsense,'' he said. ``Wherever people died, they tell stories about it.''
Still, the number of incidents has piqued the curiosity of history buffs and veterans. Naval History Magazine, a publication of the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Md., will publish its own story about the Hornet's spirits in the December issue.
Psychics and professional clairvoyant mediums from throughout Northern California have begun poking around the ship and conducting their own investigations. After intense deliberation, the Hornet staff decided to invite psychics aboard the carrier in an effort to more fully understand the strange things that seem to be going on.
Last week, the USS Hornet sponsored a lecture by Aann Golemac, a clairvoyant medium who lives in Alameda.
Golemac has spent a lot of time aboard the USS Hornet, and her lecture drew a large crowd. The contrast was striking: Golemac passed on ``messages'' from the Hornet's spirits on ``the other side'' as she stood in front of a huge American flag. Music by New Age singer Enya played before and after the talk. The audience listened with rapt attention.
``Every time I go to the Hornet, I am just blown away,'' Golemac said. ``The spirits are a very cohesive bunch, and there are a lot of them. The fact that it is on a warship is an ironic location.''
Golemac said she doesn't feel any negative spirits aboard the carrier. She said the spirits are making themselves known because they want the restoration work to continue and they want their stories to be told.
In recent years, movies and television shows have made spirits and ghosts, well, almost acceptable and even mainstream. From ``Ghostbusters'' to ``The X-Files,'' pop culture has embraced strange events as par for the course.
``Everyone thinks that California is full of a bunch of wackos,'' said Golemac, an Oakland native. ``But we've just become more aware of the spiritual activity. It's around us all the time.'' _____
The USS Hornet Museum is at the former Naval Air Station in Alameda. It's open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Monday, with limited access on Tuesday. The admission gate closes at 4 p.m.
Admission is $10, or $8 for seniors and military personnel with ID and $5 for youth aged 5-16. Children under 5 get in free. For more information and directions, see the museum's Web site at or call (510) 521-8448.
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