In the middle of World War II at Fort Leavenworth, Kans., a prisoner uprising led to a major crackdown: 14 prisoners were hanged, with one dying each hour. There wasn’t enough room at the gallows, however, so the authorities turned to using an elevator shaft in an administration building — and to this day, it is haunted.
That’s one of the tales that is passed around the U.S. military, especially around Halloween. The ghost stories are shared not only around the smoke pit and camp fire, but in some military publications.
The uprising story received attention two years ago in Soldiers, the U.S. Army’s official magazine. The base’s Old Disciplinary Barracks, mostly torn down in 2004, are also the home of a supposedly haunted guard tower from which random phone calls are still being made, long after it has stopped being used.
The base is far from the only home to ghost stories. Take the USS Hornet. The aircraft carrier was commissioned in 1943 during World War II, and saw major combat in the Pacific in the following years. It was decommissioned in 1970, according to the Naval Historical Center, and is now billed as the most haunted U.S. ship in history. More than 300 people are said to have died while it was in use, with the cause of deaths ranging from industrial accidents to suicides.
Now a floating museum that is docked in Alameda, Calif., its caretakers say that ghosts have been sensed in its brig, sick bay, mess deck and missile assembly room, among other locations. A “Monster’s Ball” event was held there this week, and billed as an event on board “the haunted aircraft carrier.”
Another ship dogged by ghost stories is the USS Arizona, which was bombed during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and mostly submerged in water within minutes. The remains of more than 1,100 officers and crewmen are still entombed inside, nearly half of all those killed in the devastating aerial bombardment by Japanese forces.
The military is careful in representing the Arizona, a national landmark. It was featured on the Syfy TV show “Ghost Hunters” in 2011 as part of a broader episode about Pearl Harbor’s past.
In another ghost story in Washington, D.C., the military has perpetuated a story about the F-105 jet inside the Arnold gate at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling being haunted by an angry spirit. An article that first appeared in the base newspaper in 1997 reported that a skeletal phantom of some kind was seen on Halloween in 1980, terrifying a lone security policeman drawn to the plane.
“As he stepped from the blue and white patrol car, for a reason he could not understand, he thought he felt the icy touch of a skeletal finger lightly scratch the back of his neck,” the report said. “He turned, expecting to see a person, but noticed only the unnatural red-white glow cast by the revolving light of his patrol car on the grassy island just beyond the aircraft.”
At the Navy’s base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a building known as the Bayview Complex is well known because of the spirits that live there. Built in 1943 as a club for officers, it has seen “four notorious hauntings,” according to a 2007 news release by U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the base. The most famous is known as the woman in white, and who used to live in an apartment in the club until she was found dead in a bathtub.
“The woman in white is said to be an elderly woman with white hair and a long white dress,” the report said. “She is often seen seated in one of the club’s front, second-floor windows, looking out over what is now the parking lot.”
Even war zones get in on the action. In 2009, Marines in Afghanistan’s Helmand province reported they had encountered a number unnerving episodes at a small base, Observation Point Rock. A story originally published by The Times of London said they had found graves there, and were told by nearby villagers that the place was considered cursed. One Marine said he was approached in the middle of the night, and heard a voice speaking to him in Russian.
Russian soldiers are said to have been executed there by Afghan militants during the Kremlin’s long occupation of the country.