Haunting History — USS Turner Joy goes spooky with a Navy twist in its haunted ship event

The USS Turner Joy sits at the ready for a spooky waterfront weekend for this year
The USS Turner Joy sits at the ready for a spooky waterfront weekend for this year's haunted ship experience, The Bremerton Experiment.
— image credit: staff photo

It is a serene day on the Bremerton boardwalk, but inside the USS Turner Joy, there is an ominous air. The boat emits a low hum which echoes through the pipes and cables overhead.

Tight passageways lead to gaping hatches and dark steps below. The stairs lead to a berthing where mannequin torsos, severed limbs, fingers, and toes lay strewn about the metal bunks in a gruesome display.

In the galley, the Turner Joy staff is clanging about, constructing false walls with planks and cut outs where body parts will be embedded and actors in sailor uniform will hide to terrify unsuspecting visitors.

Though it seems like the usual Halloween fright fare, the theme of this year’s event has literary roots and cultural significance. It is based on the famous Philadelphia Experiment, a U.S. conspiracy theory involving the Navy’s World War II destroyer escort, the USS Eldridge.

As the conspiracy goes, in 1943, the U.S. Navy ran a series of experiments based on Albert Einstein’s Unified Field Theory that would allow the destroyer to become temporary invisible to the human eye by bending light waves around it. The experiment went wrong and exposure to strong magnetic fields caused damage to the crew.

In some versions, sailors became mentally ill, displaying violent and erratic behavior, some bodies became physically fused to the walls of the ship, and others disappeared completely.

Conspiracy theorists believe that the government tried to cover up the tragic events that took place aboard the USS Eldridge at all costs. This fact gave birth to Hollywood movies based on the Philadelphia Experiment.

The frightening tale comes to life for a new generation of fans aboard the USS Turner Joy, who has adopted the story as its own in the Bremerton Experiment.

“I have always been fascinated with the Philadelphia Experiment. I thought that it would make a great theme for a haunted ship,” said Amy Bodlorick, event coordinator.

“People that may have gone insane during the experiment, zombies, and maybe some mad scientists. I can’t tell too much as it might give it away,” she continued with excitement.

In years past, the USS Turner Joy has put on hauntings with jumbled themes--witches, clowns, aliens. But this year, they are aiming for a more sophisticated theme.

“We have to scare, that’s what they’re paying for,” said Steve Boerner, the director. “But we sat down and decided to come up with something scary that also had a Navy theme.”

Whether or not the younger generation is familiar with the Philadelphia Experiment, Boerner believes that the scare factor will speak for itself.

Bodlorick explained that old ships are inherently creepy.

Bodlorick and Boerner joined the USS Turner Joy in the same manner as many of the staff, as volunteers with a passion for history and desire to involve the community. The haunted ship is Bodlorick’s first major event with the Turner Joy.

“In the past we had an event planner that was really costing the ship a lot of money. I offered Steve Boerner to do it as a volunteer and the money we would have paid the event planner we could give back to the Bremerton YMCA Strong Kids Campaign,” Bodlorick said.

The USS Turner Joy haunted ship is also partnering with the Kitsap County Food Bank Coalition for the Halloween event, offering patrons who bring a can of food to the event a dollar off of admission price.

“We’re trying to find ways to give back. This event is mostly a volunteer thing, and we’ve put our own money into the materials. The volunteers are really the unsung heroes of this scene,” says Boerner.

Indeed, the same scary faces, security guards, ticket takers, and fog machine operators that patrons see on the nights of the haunting might well be the very individuals who repaint the ships and scrape the hull during the day.

“We’ll all be around in case a fuse blows or someone gets too scared,” says Anthony Moore, a staff member. He explains that it is good to have event staff who know the intricacies of the ship inside and out in case of mishaps.

Security on a boat, especially one which will be haunted at night, is crucial.  To guard against any accidents, the haunting will take place on the main decks of the USS Joy Turner only and be closely monitored by the actors and staff members.

When asked if there are ever problems with rowdy teens or mischief makers during the Halloween events, Moore answers, “it’s actually usually the adults that get a little too rowdy.” Halloween seems to bring out the child in even the most thoughtful history buff.

Parents are advised to only bring children eight and older. Though the USS Turner Joy is extremely family friendly, this particular event may be too frightening for younger children.

Boerner recalls, “My grandson came out [to a haunted ship event] when he was five.  It scared the living daylights out of him and now he’s eight but he won’t come aboard even when it’s not Halloween.”

Leslie Dukes, a visitor from San Diego says, “It sounds too scary for me, people jumping out and crawling around in a dark ship.”

However, her father, Mike Dukes of Auburn is game and assures that he will most definitely be returning to the Turner Joy to check out the fright.

The haunting runs through the 31st.

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