Judith Whipple begins her ghost story with a disclaimer. "I don't believe in ghosts," says the historian of the U.S.S. Lexington. But Whipple, a petite, bespectacled woman, finds herself in the odd position of documenting not only history but also inexplicable "weird things" aboard the World War II aircraft carrier turned museum that now rests in Corpus Christi Bay. Former and current crew members and some of its 310,000 annual visitors have reported apparitions, strange noises, lights, mists, and other X-Files-type happenings. Whipple is skeptical, of course. "However, when you start collecting stories, and one told four or five years ago pops up again—now that's spooky," she says. As Whipple leads the way down steep ladders into the bowels of the immense ship to show me where the alleged sightings occurred, it's hard not to get the chills. During World War II, 265 men died here, and Tokyo Rose nicknamed the vessel the Blue Ghost because every time she reported that the blue-gray ship had been sunk, it reappeared to fight. (Part of the movie Pearl Harbor was shot on the Lexington; ironically, it is used as both an American and a Japanese carrier.)
In the engine room Whipple stops and points to some huge gears. Here, she says, is where a married couple claimed to have spotted a dark-haired man dressed in dungarees and a denim work shirt. When he jumped to the deck below, they ran down to make sure he wasn't hurt. "But nobody was there," Whipple says—and no one like that was supposed to be onboard. Another couple reported having seen an officer dressed in khakis by the galley who yelled at the man to remove his baseball cap. "Then he disappears—only there's no place for him to go," Whipple points out. She's had some creepy experiences herself: footsteps behind her, a deafening crash where nothing had fallen, a red flash in her office.
These stories have drawn the curious to the Lexington as well as those who claim to be clairvoyants or ghostbusters. Could someone be deliberately trying to scare people for kicks or publicity? "No, because the incidents are so scattered," Whipple says, "and different people are reporting them."
Last September the Corpus Christi Caller-Times even installed a "ghostcam" in the Lexington's aft engine room to transmit live pictures to a link on its Web site. Though some visitors claim to have seen a ghost's image online, modern technology hasn't solved the mystery either. "We take this as fun, but some people do take it seriously," says Harold Ong, the Caller-Times' new-media director.
Though a fire broke out on the Lexington in April, Whipple hasn't heard new reports of anything strange. "If we do have visitors of the other kind, I believe they are still on duty," she says. "It's not comfortable to think they will never rest."