Ghost Ship Harbor Spooks You on a Real Decommissioned Battleship (4.5 stars)
by Johnny Monsarrat
What if a World War II era battleship were turned into a Halloween attraction? That is Ghost Ship Harbor!
Now you can see it, and it's so close to Boston that you can get to it on the subway. It's only a mile's walk or bus ride from the Quincy stop on the MBTA. It's based on the USS Salem, a real decommissioned battleship (technically a "heavy cruiser", and it was actually built at the end of World War II) at harbor at a former dockyard. During the off-season, in the daytime, it is the United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum. But this Halloween as you approach it's a real treat to see the ship decked out with Halloween scenery and lighting. Then get permission to come aboard and your adventure begins.
Although the USS Salem has had celebrations and haunted houses for years, run by energetic volunteers, this is the first year that they've hired professional talent, Jason Egan, who created the Fright Dome in Las Vegas, ranked near the top as one of the scariest haunts in the United States. It is not really the only Halloween attraction in greater Boston, but it's one of only a very few within the Route 128 beltway, and certainly the largest.
The attraction has a completely new concept than previous years. A contagion of zombie has broken out and it's your job to navigate the haunted corridors watching the outbreak unfold and avoiding the monsters it creates. Actors jump out to scare you and you'll find eerie dioramas and a few animatronics as well.
The ship, of course, is all metal all the time, so watch your step and watch your head, especially going through doorways. Although most of the attraction takes place above deck, you can also go into the body of the ship (some parts require a VIP ticket). There you can see old time (and haunted?) portions of the ship left unused for 70 years. Then enter the completely dark bridge, the command center for the ship. Try the steering wheel and a historian hidden in the shadows will tell you the history of the USS Salem. The ship participated in many naval exercises during peacetime and Hollywood movies have been shot on board.
One of the VIP experiences you can buy is to visit a seance room and see "ghost hunting" equipment, exploring the paranormal. I'm all for hearing that my dead grandmother is speaking to me from beyond the grave, if it's just for fun, but two different staff in two different rooms got overly serious in pushing us to take ghost stories as true. Almost like religious proselytizers, they seemed offended if we didn't go along that ghosts are real. It's great that you guys have a strange hobby, no idea how science works, and the gullibility of a nine-year-old, but most of us adults are just here to have a good time, not have you desperately defend how paranormal investigation is a totally real occupation and that if we're not seeing ghosts in little flickers of light that we're the ones who are weird.
Because my friends and I came on opening night, not just for the year but the entire attraction, and it was raining, it's impossible to gauge the theatrics of Ghost Ship Harbor. We enjoyed the actors who had a story to tell, such as the spooky haunted mamas cradling their dead babies, and assume there will be a lot more of that on dry nights. But cloth strips and netting form much of the scenery, indicating that it may be rather basic theatrically, putting it on the same level as Spooky World and Canobie Lake Park, big and commercial but not very creative. Of course there could hardly be a better venue for it than a giant old heavy cruiser on the water. Only Hammond Castle in Gloucester is a spookier natural venue. There's no beating Ghost Ship Harbor's wonderful outdoor views of the night sky and harbor, and the inner views of the old time radio equipment and living quarters. What an amazing place to learn a bit about history while being spooked and exploring around. It's a stunning wonderland of military power folded into a zombie story that will make you shriek.
We had such a good time even on a rainy night with a completely new attraction that the sky's the limit for how Ghost Ship Harbor will unfold this year and in the future! I'm glad to give it 4.5 stars.
Find Ghost Ship Harbor at 739 Washington St, Quincy, MA, or at www.ghostshipharbor.com.