USS Yorktown

Posted on August 15, 2017

The USS Yorktown

The USS Yorktown is a haunted living museum that’s sure to delight ghost hunters and fear fans. Encounter maritime spirits and relive important American naval battles aboard this grand vessel. She is named after the Battle of Yorktown, which ended in a decisive victory by Franco-American forces. The city of Yorktown is just as historically significant (and haunted!) as Colonial Williamsburg.

The USS Yorktown
Image Source: Wikipedia

The three cities that form the points of Virginia’s Historic Triangle are Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown. They are linked by the scenic, twenty-three mile long Colonial Parkway. Each of these settlements has its own unique claim to fames. Jamestown, for instance, was the first permanent English settlement in the United States. It was established as “James Fort” on May 4, 1607. Its original team of settlers set sail from England late in 1606. Their fleet of three ships was commanded by Captain Christopher Newport, an ex-privateer known for plundering Spanish freighters during the Anglo-Spanish War. During the voyage, Captain Newport charged John Smith with mutiny and planned to execute him upon landing. To learn more about John Smith and the establishment of Jamestown, check out a few of our other posts, here, here and here.

Colonial Williamsburg was originally called Middle Plantation and was settled in 1638. Prior to the founding of Jamestown, Williamsburg was a heavily wooded area and was occupied by the Powhatan Confederacy. The chiefdom’s leader, Wahunsunacock, captured and imprisoned John Smith in 1607. Smith was released a few weeks later, and the Native Americans became trading partners with the English colonists in 1608.

After Jamestown was burned during Bacon’s Rebellion, Williamsburg became the colony’s new capital.  What was once a sleepy little town became alive with activity. For eighty one years, it was where great political leaders, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, George Washington and Patrick Henry, met to shape our nation. State legislators would gather regularly at Williamsburg’s Capitol building, which was constructed by Henry Cary and completed in 1705. Cary was an acclaimed American contractor whose other projects include the Governor’s Palace, the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary, and the President’s House. He designed Williamsburg’s Capitol as a two-story, H-shaped structure, which really functioned as two buildings. One wing was dedicated to the Council, while the other served the House of Burgesses. Cary made sure the structure had no fireplaces, as many of Virginia’s earlier capitols had been destroyed by fires.

Yorktown, Virginia is the famous site at which General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. General Charles Cornwallis was a British Army officer born in London. He began his military career as a member of the 1st Foot Guards. He studied at the military academy of Turin, before participating in fights including the Battle of Minden, the Battle of Villinghausen and the Battle of Wilhelmsthal. When the American Revolutionary War broke out, he played a pivotal role during the Virginia Campaign. The Virginia Campaign (also referred to as the Yorktown Campaign) lasted from January to October 1781. Two British officers – General William Phillips and Benedict Arnold – had been sent to raid Virginia. Franco-American forces responded by dispatching the Marquis de Lafayette to defend the colony. Due to a series of confusing orders from General Sir Henry Clinton, General Cornwallis eventually found himself and his troops trapped in the Virginia Peninsula. Thus, during their final attack on October 14, 1781, Franco-American troops easily battered the British. General Cornwallis, realizing that the situation was hopeless, was forced to surrender. In the morning of October 17, he sent a drummer and an officer to the battlefield with a white handkerchief, to signal the British army’s relinquishment.

We have previously posted about some haunted structures in Yorktown (including the Nelson House, the Moore House and the Dudley Digg’s House), but did you know that the city is also the home of a haunted ship? If you are interested in encountering some maritime ghosts, stop by Patriots Point’s Naval & Maritime Museum and climb aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-10). This grand aircraft carrier “is the fourth of five United States ships to bear the name, a name that was taken from the [aforementioned] Revolutionary War battle”1. It is rumored to be haunted by members of the ship’s old crew.

Patriots Point’s museum was established in the 1970s and is located on Charleston Harbor. Besides the USS Yorktown, it houses2 the USS Laffey destroyer, the USS Clamagore submarine, the Vietnam Experience exhibit and the Medal of Honor Museum. The USS Laffey (DD-724) was named after the famous seaman Bartlett Laffey and is also known as “The Ship That Would Not Die,” due to her ability to withstand numerous assaults during D-Day and the great Battle of Okinawa. The USS Clamagore (SS-343) was built in 1945 and served in the United States Navy for thirty years. The Vietnam Experience exhibit spans two and one-half acres and simulates wartime experiences, complete with 3D holograms of marine officers. Finally, the Medal of Honor Museum displays interactive biographies of American heroes who served during the Civil War, the War on Terror, etc.

The USS Yorktown was originally named Bon Homme Richard, which means “good man Richard” in French. She was renamed to commemorate the USS Yorktown (CV-5), which was lost during the Battle of Midway. The Battle of Midway occurred during WWII and lasted from June 4 to June 7, 1942. The USS Yorktown (CV-5) was found, remarkably well intact, over five decades later, by a team of scientists and veterans.

CV-10 was built in 1941 and first launched on April 15, 1943. She served during the Pacific Theater, WWII and the Vietnam War. In total, she has earned eleven battle stars. In 1974, she was donated to Patriots Point Development Authority to become a part of their living history museum. Since then, multiple scary incidents have been reported by vessel visitors. On a cold evening in 1987, for instance, a group of Boy Scouts having a sleepover on the ship saw several apparitions all dressed distinctly in sailor uniform. One lad also witnessed a series of eerie red lights emerge from just below the surface of the harbor. According to the book Haunted Harbor: Charleston’s Maritime Ghosts and the Unexplained, “no phenomena in Charleston has elicited so much haunting at one time”3. Then, in August 2008, William Butterfield took a photograph of what looks suspiciously like a ghost in the USS Yorktown’s radar room. The locker room, where many sailors committed suicide, is another area that people have frequently encountered spirits.

The locker room, where sailors have commited suicice
Image Source: Scares and Haunts of Charleston

The Executive Director of the museum became concerned by the vessel’s high level of paranormal activity. Thus, in February 2012, the T.A.P.S. team from SciFi channel’s Ghost Hunters were invited to investigate the haunted ship. The team cites hearing odd noises (including door slams and disembodied voices) and spotting strange movements as some of the supernatural occurrences they experienced. While on the second deck of the USS Yorktown, two members actually managed to film a ghostly figure “stand up and move”4. Spirits were also seen by T.A.P.S. on the flight deck.

During the Battle of Midway, one hundred and forty-one men were killed on USS Yorktown (CV-5), and it seems that many of their spirits have made CV-10 their new home. If you need more proof that the vessel’s haunted, check out the “Ghost Caught on Camera at USS Yorktown”5 video filmed by the ETV production team in 2014.

Works Cited

1. Orr, Bruce. Ghosts of the USS Yorktown: The Phantoms of Patriots Point. Charleston: The History Press, 2012. Page 31.

2. “Explore.” Patriots Point, n.d. Web. 5 June 2016.

3. Buxton, George and Ed Macy. Haunted Harbor: Charleston’s Maritime Ghosts and the Unexplained. Charleston: The History Press, 2005. Page 53.

4. “Haunted by Heroes.” Ghost Hunters – Season 8, Episode 10 Recap. NBCUniversal, 2015. Web. 5 June 2016. Para. 4.

5. “Ghost Caught on Camera at USS Yorktown | Palmetto Scene.” Footage filmed on October 6, 2014 by ETV Crew. South Carolina ETV Commission, 2016. Web. 5 June 2016.