I’ve been in Chicago for most of the week, helping my sister move. She has a lovely apartment (okay, the apartment is lovely – the three-story climb up to it is not so lovely) about a half-block from Lake Shore Drive – and then mysterious and ever-changing Lake Michigan beyond that.
We walked along the lake one late afternoon, watching a storm front slide in and watching the water turn from inviting blue to a dark, ominous blue-gray. And, you must wonder, what stories are hidden beneath its waves?
The Cottage Life website wrote an article about “6 Spooky Mysteries of the Great Lakes.” Here’s one excerpt:
Ghost Fleet of the Great Lakes
No bodies of water that have had as many shipwrecks as the Great Lakes are able to get away without being haunted by ghost ships, and there are so many on the lakes that the spectral vessels are collectively known as the “Ghost Fleet.” Shipwrecks in the Great Lakes weren’t unusual—their size and potentially devastating weather patterns make them closer to inland seas, with the accompanying risks to ships.
The oldest of the Great Lakes ghost ships is Le Griffon, which vanished on Lake Michigan in 1679. It was rumored to have been cursed and has since been seen tracking a collision course with other vessels in Michigan Harbor, only to vanish before contact. Its wreck has never been definitively located.
Another ship in the ghostly fleet is the Bannockburn, a Canadian freighter which disappeared in 1902 on Lake Superior. It is still reported to be sailing the water of the lake, most often between Port Arthur, Michigan and the Soo Locks between Lakes Superior and Huron.
Other ships in the Ghost Fleet include The W.H. Gilcher (Lake Michigan), The Western Reserve (Lake Superior), The Erie Board of Trade (Lake Huron), and The Hudson (Lake Michigan).
You’ve probably heard the Gordon Lightfoot song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I’ve been singing it all week because there have been gale warnings for Lake Michigan. But the website Night Watch Paranormal added some creepy twists to the tale that I’d never heard before. “Let us start with the lake herself. Lake Superior, known as Gitche Gumee by the local tribe, is the largest freshwater lake by surface area. This lake is large enough to drastically affect the surrounding climates. The Witch of November is supposed to be living in the lake, tales of which predate the coming of the white man to the region. She is said to never give up her dead. Interestingly enough, due to the make-up of the lake and its cold temperature, the bacterial action that usually causes the human body to become gas-filled is completely stopped. This causes the bodies to sink instead of floating like they normally do. Upon a dive on the wreck (of the Edmund Fitzgerald) in 1994, a body of one of the crew members was spotted face up in the mud, in remarkably good shape for being underwater for several decades. He was left in peace. No matter whether you believe it was the Witch or the weather, in the past 300 years 10,000 ships have perished on the lake with 30,000 crew going down with those doomed vessels.”
So, I’m never going to go swimming in Lake Superior again – not with 30,000 bodies looking up at me.
More from Night Watch Paranormal: “Being the “pride of the American side” she was known by several nicknames, including “The Queen of the Great Lakes,” “The Toledo Express,” and the unfortunate “Titanic of the Great Lakes. She was an impressive sight on the Great Lake.
Her date with destiny started like so many other late-season runs. She was loaded with 26,116 tons of iron ore pellets on the 9th and left at 2:30 p.m. Gale warnings were in effect from the prior day, but that is a given this time of the year. Changing temperatures cause hurricane-like storms to brew up out of nowhere (or maybe it is the cauldron of the Witch of November.) While she was sailing to her destiny the advisory was upgraded to an official storm warning. Swells reached 35 feet, and the wind gusted to over 100 miles per hour as the sunset with the Mighty Fitz running before the storm.
We know the conditions, because as luck would have it, a second ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, sailed 10-15 miles behind the Fitzgerald as a precaution, and the two ships remained in radio contact. The Fitz’s captain Ernest McSorly contacted the Coast Guard and her fellow traveler about 7:10 PM saying they were taking on water, but “holding their own.” Their position was about 15 miles north of Whitefish Point. This was the last communication from the ship.
The ship vanished. Nothing on Radar. Nothing on the radio. Just emptiness and silence. When the Anderson made it to the last known location of the Fitz about 8 pm to nothing. Captain Cooper contacted the Coast Guard then sailed back into the storm. He later found a pair of lifeboats and debris. Of the crew of 29 men and officers, Nothing.
On May 20, 1976, the Navy discovered her on the bottom in 535 feet of water.
Most of those crew were from nearby Minnesota, with a smattering from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. In 1995, a team descended and retrieved the ships bell for members of the crew’s families. This bell is rung on the annual Remembrance Day at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. It is rung thirty times. Once for each crew member, with the 30th time for the other 30,000 souls still keeping the witch of November Company in the cold clear depths of Lake Superior.”
Of course, unless you are a scuba diver, you probably won’t be visiting the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. But, a little further north of Chicago, you can actually tour a large ship with a history of paranormal experiences. According to Michigan Live, Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum President, Mike Kegley, said he’s a believer when it comes to possible ghosts on the ship.
He points to an incident last year when a man who used to work on the Edson while it was still in commission paid a visit to the ship in hopes of jogging his memory. The man, Kegley says, suffered a traumatic head injury later in his life and his wife hoped the ship would help him remember again.
As Kegley tells the story, the man completed a tour of the ship and his memory started coming back. He then told of his time on the Edson where he worked the mid-watch from midnight to 4 a.m., patrolling the ship.
“While on duty, he saw a bunch of tools laying on a bench, all askew,” Kegley said. “He straightened them out and went about his way. On his second time around, though, those tools were all messed up again.”
Personally, Kegley said he experienced odd incidents with his vehicle in the parking lot of the Edson, 1680 Martin St., in Bangor Township.
As Kegley was heading to a presentation on the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum from the Edson, he unlocked and opened the doors of his Lincoln MKZ and both windows and the moonroof opened while the keys were in his hands.
Another day, a museum employee came in to tell him that his parking lights were on. Kegley told the employee that his lights are automatic, but the employee insisted they were on. Kegley says when he went outside, the car’s engine was running, and the lights were on.
“Some people think I’m nuts,” he said. “Then again, some people know that I’m nuts. But I definitely believe in this stuff.”
In another article, Michael Kegley, president of the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum, said before the destroyer saw combat in Vietnam, it was used as the setting for a 1963 episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “The Thirty-Fathom Grave.”
While the exterior shots were used from another ship, many of the interior shots were filmed inside the Edson.
In the episode, the crew of the ship is far off in the Pacific Ocean, where they pick up a metal banging noise from a sunken American submarine from World War II. They eventually learn the crew died with the ship and the chief of the Edson starts to see ghosts of the doomed crew on his ship beckoning him to join them down below.
Kegley said another part of the ship’s haunted lore is a ghost of the former caretaker of the ship, who died on it while it was docked in New York.
“His name is Paul Spampanato, he worked on the ship and lived on the Edson,” Kegley said. “He always said if he had to die, he wanted it to be on the Edson… On Thanksgiving Day 1999, he had a massive heart attack and by the time they got him to the hospital, he was dead.”
Since then, people report Paul makes appearances on the ship occasionally, he said.
For more than a decade, Paul Spampanato cared for the USS Edson while the destroyer was docked at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, applying fresh paint, chipping rusty decks and providing tours below deck.
“Two years ago, we were here on a Sunday morning, I had put two ladies on the ship (for a tour),” Kegley said, adding that his friend saw a man on the surveillance cameras and asked him if he put a man on the boat. “He said, ‘Hey, there’s a guy up there did you get his money?’ I said, ‘I didn’t put no guy up there’ and I turned around and it was Paul.”
He knew it was Paul because he always wore a khaki shirt and khaki pants. He was walking on the port side of the ship and then he disappeared.
The ship also has a ghostly connection to Vietnam. There, it got its nickname, “The Grey Ghost of the Vietnamese Coast.”
In 1967, the destroyer sustained heavy damage from the North Vietnamese, while escorting the Third Marine Division, and had to quickly leave the area for repairs. The North Vietnamese thought they had sunk the ship because no one saw it leave through the battle smoke.
After it was repaired weeks later, it returned, reportedly frightening the enemy thinking it was a returning ghost ship.
There have been other incidents where weird things have happened on the ship, Kegley said, adding that they have had paranormal investigators conduct night tours.
“They’ve recorded a lot of things that you can’t explain,” he said, adding that the ghost of Paul made an appearance during one of those events. “All the spirits are friendly. Well, there was just one incident where a guy was in the machine shop area and for some reason, this voice in the back said, ‘Get out of my ship.'”
Kegley said other incidents such as hearing a dog barking while down in the ship and hearing thuds on the ground like someone fell down one of the ladders has also happened.
During the Halloween season, the ship is transformed into a haunted-house-style attraction called “The Edson Incident,” about a military experiment gone wrong.
They have been doing it for the last couple of years and have been getting a better turnout every year.”
Um, a better turnout from the tourists or the ghosts?