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Galveston Monthly

Ghostly Adventure Aboard the USS Cavalla

Oct 02, 2019 02:55PM

Over on Pelican Island, some say the spirits of hundreds of people who died of disease waiting aboard floating ships just beyond Quarantine Station Number 2 in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have finally made their way to shore. The lost souls are said to have been spotted roaming the beach there during inclement weather. Others speak of the days of pirates and tales of millions of dollars worth of treasure that is rumored to have been buried on the small island - pirate ghosts can be extremely protective of their booty.

  But several sightings and otherworldly experiences have taken place in one specific location on Pelican Island: The USS Cavalla (SS 244) World War II submarine berthed at the Galveston Naval Museum at Seawolf Park.

  Seawolf Park itself is named in honor of another submarine, the downed USS Seawolf that was lost at sea in 1944. The 83 officers and men as well as 17 Army passengers aboard were lost without a trace. The Cavalla was first launched on November 14, 1943 and had the unique distinction of being commissioned on February 29, 1944 during a leap year, hence her nickname “Lucky Lady.”

  On the Cavalla’s maiden patrol on June 19, 1944, she sank the 30,000-ton aircraft carrier Shokaku that participated in the Pearl Harbor and Coral Sea attacks. This earned her the Presidential Unit Citation.

   Since retiring on the shore of Pelican Island, the Cavalla has undergone extensive restoration, which many paranormal enthusiasts believe results in increased paranormal activity. Margaret Alexander Moore who works in the museum gift shop is intrigued by the possibility of paranormal activity aboard the Cavalla as well as the USS Stewart, a destroyer displayed alongside the submarine.

  “The ghost hunters who were here several months ago recorded a dog barking aboard the Cavalla,” she muses.

  “They couldn’t understand what a dog would be doing on a sub. The investigators somehow accessed information from some of the old timers that were on the sub during World War II. Those men reported that when they were on the coast of Australia they picked up a dingo dog and it traveled with them. Nobody knew that story except for the people who were on that sub during that time period.”

  Records indeed show that the Cavalla was in Fremantle Harbour, Western Australia for refit on three different occasions. The lack of any official mention about the dingo may have to do with regulations against the unusual pet. Moore also shared that a former superintendent at the site had told her he frequently felt like there might still be people aboard when he was locking up at night, causing him to often make an extra walk-through to check.  

 The Cavalla is open to the public for self-guided tours that lead through the compartments of the submarine, now entirely landlocked, as strains of music from a bygone era float through the original speakers. Thanks to the displays in many of the areas of the boat, it is not difficult to imagine the men who served there going about their daily routines - and perhaps they still are.

  Those servicemen were together in the 311-foot, 9-inch-long boat for 75 days at a time. So many men in such a small space surely had periods of heightened emotions, something that is reported to cause what ghost hunters refer to as “residual hauntings.” These sightings of spirits are somewhat akin to watching a video replay of a moment in time, caused by the impression of strong feelings.

  Fort Worth resident Annette Luevano heads the paranormal investigation team Texas Ghostly Gatherings that has visited the Cavalla multiple times looking for evidence of paranormal activity. They spent the night aboard the Cavalla and the Stewart after all the other visitors had left in the hope of capturing proof that the vessels may be haunted.

  Far from intending any disrespect to the historical significance of the Cavalla and Stewart, paranormal investigators see this type of visit as an opportunity to add another layer of information about them. It might well also attract an audience that otherwise would not have an interest in learning their history.

  “We’ve been around since 2011,” says Luevano. “We go around Texas and the United States and investigate places that have reports of paranormal activity. I found some stories about the Cavalla a while back and that’s what prompted me to set up an overnight visit with the team. We investigated both the Cavalla and the Stewart on all our visits there. Most of us stayed on the Stewart because we’re a bit claustrophobic and the thought of staying on the Cavalla was challenging,” she shares with a laugh.

  “We actually had more activity on the Cavalla. The activity that we captured included some readings on EMF (Electro Magnetic Frequency) meters and also one that detected static electricity. That intrigued us more because the Cavalla, being contained, doesn’t get outside [frequency] contamination being on the submarine. The activity we encountered on the Cavalla was just more compelling to us for that reason. That being said, there is electricity, so we still run baseline tests to see what the existing condition is as far as EMF levels and that type of thing so that we can compare and know what’s truly a spike.”

  In this way, the team was able to rule out things that were normally occurring as far as energy levels. shou 

 “The galley area was where most of our activity focused,” Annette says, “mostly because we were sitting in there and could look down in either direction to see and experience things without having to move. We didn’t want to interrupt the flow, so we just stayed put.”

  The tabletops in the dining area are imprinted with checker and backgammon game designs and provided the submarine crew with a place to relax when not on duty. “A couple of us saw a shadow figure that looked like someone that was playing checkers at the table nearest the room with the bunks. He kind of had his head on his hand, looking down at the checkerboard,” she remembers.

  One of the investigators was sitting on top of that table at the time of the sighting, but had her back turned and missed the opportunity to witness anything. “At that same table we got some hits on some of our meters. That paired with what we saw gives a little bit more credibility to it being possibly paranormal. It doesn’t prove it,” explains Annette.  

 “When just two of us were standing in the galley area we were actually seeing heat signatures on a thermal camera that looked like a person crouching down at the end of the walkway.” At yet another point during the same investigation, Luevano spotted what appeared to be a shadow rising up out of one of the bunks and walking away from the team sitting in the galley.

  “We had a video camera running, but it didn’t catch enough of the doorway to really be able to see anything. We were kind of disappointed about that, but to have such a good combination of things happen all in one night was exciting.”

  When asked if she had heard the tale about the dingo, Luevano replied “Ironically someone on the team had said they thought they heard barking of some sort, but I personally didn’t hear it. Unless we catch it on audio (recordings) I take everything with a grain of salt. Especially now that we’ve been there multiple times, we know more of the stories surrounding the Cavalla than we did the first time.”

  She believes that sometimes expecting to witness something in particular may lead to the false impression that of actually experiencing it.

  The investigator leans toward saying that the Cavalla is haunted, but the “yes” is still not definite. “I haven’t been able to detect the pattern of a true response from an entity there,” Annette says. “I think what we see is just good luck and timing, but it’s very hit or miss.”

  Her hope is to work toward organizing more trips based on hauntings through her travel agency. “It’s still in the infant stages, but definitely a goal.”

  Keep up with Texas Ghostly Gatherings, including upcoming excursions to Haunted Hollywood, Salem and Key West, through their Facebook and Meetup pages.

  To witness firsthand the fascinating history of the USS Cavalla and Stewart, or to explore the reported paranormal activity up close, visit the Galveston Naval Museum at Seawolf Park, open daily from 9am-5pm. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children (4-12), veterans, and seniors (65+), $3 with a group of 15 or more, and free for Active Military (with valid ID). For more information visit www.GalvestonNavalMuseum.com.