Is USS Salem Haunted?

USS Salem

Ghosts of creepy cooks and long-dead dentists may still linger on the decks of the ‘Sea Witch’

Ghost Stories on
USS Salem

  • Objects in the ship's kitchen are reportedly kept organized by the ghost of a chef
  • Apparitions are often seen all around the ship
  • Sounds of dental operations taking place can still be heard in the ship's dentist office
  • Chairs in the officers' mess hall reportedly get pushed and knocked over without explanation
  • Smells of rotting, burning flesh have been reported alongside the appearance of one specific apparition
  • Phantom screams have been heard and recorded in the ship's operating room

History of the Sea Witch

In the same shipyard where she was built, the USS Salem remains on guard as if she never left at all. The last heavy cruiser warship in the world, USS Salem’s presence on the shores of Massachusetts is both endearing and intimidating. And though the massive bow turrets are aimed directly at the residential neighborhood of Quincy Point, it’s unlikely they will ever fire again.

Now a popular museum ship and referred to by its moniker, the Sea Witch, the ship invites countless tourists and history buffs on board each year to tour the decks, take in the exhibits, and participate in a variety of adventurous events, including a few more mysterious ones.

Over the years, shadow people, disembodied voices, and moving chairs have some guides and visitors convinced the old ship is haunted. It seems that the big, gray warship is out to prove there’s more than one spooky Salem in the state of Massachusetts.

Timeline of USS Salem's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see USS Salem through the years


On Independence Day, 1945, in the final days of World War II, a new keel was laid at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. Included in this project were the world’s first 8-inch automatic guns and the first 8-inch naval guns to use more efficient case ammunition. When she was launched in March of 1947, this ship would be the last heavy cruiser to enter active service.

Named the USS Salem after the historic town near the shipyard, and sporting a witch on her naval badge, the Salem quickly gained the nickname ‘Sea Witch.’


Though commissioned as part of World War II, USS Salem entered into post-war seas. She started life running maneuvers with the Atlantic Fleet before becoming the flagship of the Sixth Fleet shortly afterward. Under the Sixth Fleet, USS Salem saw seven deployments to the Mediterranean Sea for patrol and training exercises.

While this allowed her to avoid combat in the Korean War during this time, she was able to see some action in Greece in 1953 when an earthquake devastated the Ionian Islands in August of that year.


USS Salem was the first warship on the scene in the aftermath of the quake, and provided pivotal supplies to the impacted populations. Along with providing locals what food and water the crew could spare, the ship served as a makeshift hospital for the islands.

In the years that followed, the ship served a more ceremonial role, hosting US Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gates, being a movie prop for the 1956 film The Battle of the River Plate, and later hosting Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco.


After over a decade of active service, USS Salem was decommissioned in January, 1959. For many years after her decommissioning, USS Salem was held at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard as part of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet of ships. While she was considered for reactivation during naval expansions in the early 1980s, she was ultimately passed over and remained decommissioned.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that she was sent back to the shipyard, where she was rebuilt to be part of the US Naval Shipbuilding Museum.

Is USS Salem Haunted?

USS Salem has been moored in Quincy, Massachusetts as part of the museum ever since then, greeting thousands of tourists in that time. The USS Salem has proven to be one of the more popular landmarks in the area…and one of the more mysterious museums.

Along with exhibits, tourists have reported seeing apparitions, hearing unexplainable sounds, and seeing objects move on their own while touring the ship. That has some figuring the USS Salem might just be as haunted as its namesake town.

Mysteries of the Mess Hall

The most active part of the ship is said to be around the officers’ mess hall and kitchen. The kitchen is reportedly haunted by the spirit of a former cook who likes to keep everything in ship shape. Objects in the kitchen are often said to be moved around into well-organized positions, and people who mess up the kitchen’s organization reportedly feel suddenly unwelcome in the space, as if the cook is shooing them out.

In the officers’ mess hall, also known as the wardroom, visitors and tour guides have reportedly seen chairs pull out from the table and fall over on their own, as if being tossed around by some unseen entity.

Spirits of Ship Doctors?

Not far from the wardroom, the ship’s dental office is also said to be a hotbed of activity. Sounds of a dental drill running have been reported, as have other unexplainable mechanical sounds.

In the ship’s operating room, phantom screams have been heard and recorded by past investigators, like the sounds of an operation gone wrong.

Apparitions on Deck

Aside from these defined hotspots, paranormal activity has been reported on every deck. Around the whole ship, moving shadows are just part of the experience, as are the strange sounds of footsteps echoing through the corridors. Full-bodied apparitions are common sights as well, and a few have been named.

One well-known apparition is called John. While some have only seen his shadow, other visitors claim John was their guide for a whole tour.

Another established apparition around the ship is known only as the ‘burning man,’ due to how his presence often comes with a smell of burning flesh. Though no one is certain of his identity, many attribute this apparition to a casualty from the 1953 Greek earthquake.

USS Salem: A Haunted Old Hull?

The museum operations around the USS Salem work hard to make time for the folks interested in their paranormal claims. Ever since the ship appeared on Syfy’s Ghost Hunters and Travel Channel’s Most Terrifying Places in America, the resident spirits on board have been widely sought after.

Guided ghost tours and paranormal investigations are offered during the ship’s operational seasons, and prove regularly popular.

Along with those tours, the ship offers overnight stays for interested groups who are hoping for a full-fledged investigation, or are just looking to experience the life of an old Navy sailor.

In recent years, the ship has also offered a ‘Ghost Ship Harbor’ haunted attraction around the Halloween season. So, though not everyone visits the USS Salem with paranormal interest in mind, it sure seems like the old Sea Witch still has a few supernatural secrets to share.