By Ryan Fitzgerald & Tristan Davis – Co-Editor-in-Chief & Features Editor
Sitting calmly in the bay of Quincy is a naval ship with quite a history. In 1953, the “Sea Witch” doubled as a hospital and morgue for victims of the Ionian earthquake, carrying passengers from the rubble. Many did not survive. Though the passengers from the original ride are long gone, those that still work on the ship say their spirits have made it their permanent home. Today, the USS Salem leads a very different life.
Thanks to the hard work of Matt DiRoberto (founder of Ghost Ship Harbor), Jason Egan (owner of Fright Dome) and the rest of their team, the ship has transformed into one of the area’s scariest attractions. Named one of the 13 most haunted places in Massachusetts, the walk-through is two parts artificial and one part authentic.
“I’ve always loved Halloween, loved the fall, it is my favorite time of year,” said DiRoberto. “I started researching and this just became a goal of something I wanted to put together.”
The attraction didn’t happen overnight. The owner explained major planning went into the production.
“We’ve been planning this for four years,” said DiRoberto. “There’s so many millennials in Boston, I thought it was a good market opportunity. If you want to go to a haunted attraction, there’s a bunch in New England, but you have to drive an hour outside of Boston so that was the first reason to do this.”
Guests are first led to the ship’s deck, where one of three theme park options begins. We took the paranormal tour. “Jump junkies” will be disappointed to know that the actors are forbidden from making physical contact with the guests but make more than enough noise and seem to have all the ship’s darkest nooks and crannies occupied. After you’ve survived part one, the night takes on a more serious tone.
The group is then led into a dark room filled with chairs and a long table. Sitting at the end of the table (and in our case, just inches from the seats we were in) is a small wooden box with a pendulum. The host introduces us to the spirit of a little boy whose mother was lost in the wreckage. “Many people feel tugs at their pant legs or sweatshirts during the séance,” the host tells us. “It’s likely the boy looking for his mother on the ship.”
This is where Ghost Ship Harbor separates itself from other haunted theme parks; an extra dimension of realism that puts visitors in the mindset that there is genuinely something living in the ship’s quarters. We stopped worrying about the actors immediately and focused on every little bump and nudge that we felt throughout our walk. The best haunted theme parks don’t end when you’ve finished, they stay with you all October long.
“Ghost Ship Harbor is a haunted ship, it is one of the top 13 most haunted places in Massachusetts,” said DiRoberto. “We wanted to play around that.”
We then headed to another room on the ship filled with pictures and other historic artifacts. It was like a trip back in time to when the ship served a more serious purpose. We listened to a new host talk of his nights spent on the ship alone, hearing thuds, voices and other mysterious encounters that would be sure to run us off the premises in seconds.
A few thin and eerily dark staircases led us up to our next destination, a room on the upper deck where we experimented with different paranormal tracking devices. Meanwhile, we kept checking our sides, back and pants to see if anything was lurking or tugging at us.
Our journey concluded after walking through thick fog in a narrow tunnel while actors continued to pop out of nowhere with disturbed looks and noises. It was at this moment Tristan was thoroughly frightened after turning a corner to see a bloody doctor in his face. We rushed through to make it out alive and very satisfied.
After completing the attraction, two outdoor bars with TVs, Cornhole, Jenga and other games were offered while actors continue to walk around and spook anyone who gets too comfortable.
DiRoberto and the rest of the team kept us and our group entertained and on our heels the entire time. Ghost Ship Harbor is in its first season, running 19 nights from September 30 to October 31. DiRoberto is optimistic for the future.
“We have a five year deal here, and then we’ll see where it takes us,” said DiRoberto. “We’re just trying to figure out what works, we want to make sure people get through the experience and have a great time.”
Be sure to visit Ghost Ship Harbor when they open up in the fall of next year.