Staff working aboard Haunted Ship Tours on the William A. Irvin has packed away the Halloween costumes and decorations for the year. However, being rated the number one most haunted place in Duluth-Superior, some think the haunting aspect of the Irvin is more than just a seasonal event. “I have heard seven distinct footsteps on two different occasions when no one else was on the ship,” said Dan Patterson, a year-round maintenance worker on the Irvin, has had more than one encounter with the unknown. "(It) kind of freaks me out, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to work there.”
After hearing the footsteps more than once, Patterson did some of his own research on the Irvin. He discovered the death that happened aboard the ship and began trying to communicate with a possible spirit. Almost every morning when he shined brass and opened the ship, he said things like, “Good morning sir, the ship looks great today.” Patterson never got any responses, but he also never heard the footsteps again.
According to articles archived in the Duluth Seaway Port Authority(DPA), the Irvin was one of four vessels created by the Pittsburgh Steamship in 1937 for approximately $1.3 million. The ship was named after a 30-year-old veteran of the industry, William A. Irvin, and featured Delaval cross-compound steam turbine engines, something that set it and her sisters apart from anything else afloat in 1938. The vessel also contained tunnels inside the hull, allowing sailors to go back and forth from the stern to the forecastle, no matter what the weather. This design element was incorporated in every vessel built after 1938.
The ship launched down the ways of Lorain, Ohio on Nov. 21, 1937. Measuring at 611 feet, it was one of the largest vessels on the Great Lakes. The ship carried 14,000 tons of iron ore per trip from Lake Superior to Lake Erie under the supervision of nine officers and 32 crew members. The Irvin set a record in August of 1940 by unloading 13,856 tons of iron ore in less than three hours by Hulett unloaders. The vessel sailed the Great Lakes for 40 years, but had to be retired in 1978 due to not having a self-unloading system aboard. Since 1986, the Irvin has been docked in Canal Park and is a floating museum and popular tourist attraction year round.
To this day, only one known death has happened aboard the Irvin. In 1964, a boiler tube burst while the vessel was in Whitefish Bay, Wis., killing one seaman from International Falls, Minn., and injuring two others. Due to the fact that this accident was entirely preventable, the chief engineer of the Irvin was suspended for negligence.
Three paranormal investigation groups have visited the Irvin between 2009 and 2013 to investigate claims made by the ship’s employees, and some findings have many thinking the deceased seaman never left the vessel. Other claims of seeing a lady in white period clothes walking the deck of the ship have been reported. Also, the captain of the ship is said to still do his patrols.
The most recent investigation of the Irvin was conducted by the Duluth Paranormal Society (DPS) on Oct. 3 and 4, 2013. The team is made up of 10 members, but only nine were present during the investigation. The group took a pre-investigation tour of the ship on the night of Oct. 3 to see its interior and what the ship contains.
“Unfortunately, we need to keep member numbers low when doing an investigation,” said Andy Paszak, lead investigator for the DPS. “Having too many people present in a room can ruin the evidence.”
The team set up nine video cameras and more than a dozen audio recorders throughout the ship and deployed two teams out at a time to do electric voice phenomenon (EVP) sessions and other forms of investigating. The ship was broken up into two sections to reduce any interference from the other teams. The planning of the investigation and who was going where was done prior to the team’s arrival.
The group’s findings of positive paranormal activity were not much of a surprise, seeing as there have been various rumors of the Irvin being haunted. Multiple team members reported seeing shadows, however, none of them were visually recorded.
“We are still reviewing our results, but we do have some positive voice recordings that confirm there is paranormal activity on the ship,” Paszak said.
All of the team’s findings on the Irvin can be found on their website. The DPS plans to do more investigating of the ship in the future.
Tour guide, Bill Sandwick, also had some personal experiences aboard the ship. One includes hearing children laughing near the engineering room when he was alone on the ship when all of the entrances were closed.
“My first thought was, ‘who left the door open?’” Sandwick said. “Once I realized that all the doors were closed and locked, I ran so quickly up the stairs that my feet hardly touched the steps.”