Spiritual soldiers may still wage war onboard the historic USS Olympia
Ghost Stories on the
- An apparition is commonly seen in the engine room
- The engine room entity is said to reach out and grab visitors and volunteers
- Phantom faces are said to appear in mirrors
- Apparitions can reportedly be seen through the halls of the entire vessel
Through Wars and Waves:
History of USS Olympia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has no shortage of intriguing and important history. But, if after your tours of the Betsy Ross House and Independence Hall, you find yourself strolling the nearby shores of the Delaware River then you might just stumble across something you weren’t expecting. A massive hull, painted stark white, with two sandy smokestacks stabbing up towards the sky.
A relic of wars’ past, you won’t see smoke belching from the stacks of USS Olympia today, but in her time she proved to be one of the US Navy’s most valuable wartime assets, and permanently cemented herself in world naval history. You could continue your stroll down Penn’s Landing Marina, or you could climb aboard Olympia and tour the ship museum to see it up close.
But, when you patrol the decks of America’s oldest preserved steel warship, just know you might not always be walking alone.
Timeline of USS Olympia's History
Swipe or use timeline points to see USS Olympia through the years
The story of USS Olympia began with an unceremonious keel laying on June 17, 1891, kick-starting the life of the oldest American steel warship still afloat today. As a protected cruiser warship, Olympia was highly advanced for the US Navy and a true industrial marvel of her era. Unfortunately, shortages of steel and other resources delayed her commissioning into the US Navy until 1895, and her troubles didn’t end there.
During her first gunnery exercises, ship Coxswain John Johnson was killed in a tragic accident with one of Olympia’s 5-inch guns. A few months later, shortly after accepting the flagship position of the US Asiatic Squadron, USS Olympia was forced to lay anchor at Hawaii as it dealt with a cholera outbreak amongst the crew.
Over the next few years, Olympia lived the quiet life of a warship at peace time, making goodwill calls to ports around China. But, the state-of-the-art battle cruiser would soon make a lasting name for itself.
In 1898, Commodore George Dewey took command of the Asiatic Squadron, leading the naval force from the decks of flagship Olympia. Shortly after taking command, the Spanish-American War broke out, and Dewey set sail for the Philippines, then a Spanish colony.
The entire Spanish Pacific naval fleet was stationed at Manila Bay, and Commodore Dewey planned to sink every ship…
…USS Olympia led Dewey’s squadron into Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, and over the next six hours his advanced seamanship and intensely powerful gunships unleashed furious destruction across the Spanish fleet.
When the smoke had cleared, not one Spanish ship remained afloat, and Dewey’s squadron had lost only 10 men. While The Battle of Manila Bay became one of the most important naval battles in maritime history, it was just the beginning of the story of USS Olympia.
After the Spanish-American War, Olympia served in the Atlantic Ocean, making various goodwill calls to nations in Europe. When World War I broke out, she served on the east coast of the United States, patrolling for German warships. Near the war’s end, she was sent to Russia as part of a peacekeeping force to quell the civil war that followed the Bolshevik Revolution.
But, perhaps her most famous assignment came in 1921, when Olympia carried the casket of the Unknown Soldier across the Atlantic on the way to Arlington National Cemetery.
USS Olympia was decommissioned from naval service in 1922, and marked for preservation shortly afterwards. However, it was not until 1957 that she was acquired for the purpose of refitting into a museum. Today, USS Olympia remains as a museum ship, berthed at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as part of the Independence Seaport Museum.
But, despite the ship’s new life, many visitors to USS Olympia say some ghostly remnants of her wartime past can still be encountered on her decks and between her bulkheads.
USS Olympia’s Haunted Engine Room
Not long after USS Olympia began her life as a museum ship, stories of her spirits began to leak onto the mainland. A common story from visitors and museum volunteers is of a shadowy figure often encountered in the engine room.
Some have reported a full-bodied apparition drifting through the corridors, while others have said the entity will reach out and grab them as they traverse around the ship’s triple-expansion engines.
USS Olympia’s Mysterious Mirrors
While the engine and boiler rooms have earned reputations as the most haunted areas of the historic ship, people report seeing lurking apparitions and strange shadows throughout the entire vessel.
The shadow figures on the ship are known to appear suddenly out of doorways and show up in mirrors out of nowhere, only to disappear again just as fast. Disembodied voices are also commonly reported, with visitors claiming spirits repeatedly spoke directly into their ears.
Ghost Hunts Aboard USS Olympia
Many paranormal groups have come to the Olympia looking to investigate the claims, including the crew of TV’s Ghost Hunters. Over time, many groups have collected EVPs, strange images, and experienced unexplainable phenomenon while investigating the hundred-year-old battle cruiser.
Interested locals can also take public ghost tours and attend paranormal investigations on the ship to try and experience some of the reported activity for themselves.
Whether you’re a believer in seafaring spirits or if you just enjoy a good old ship, one thing is for sure: when you’re onboard USS Olympia, history might just reach out and grab you.