I’ve been on a few old warships and submarines and, I have to tell ya, they all look pretty much the same on the inside. Gray, small rooms, lots of stuff to bump into, and the pervasive smell of oil. So when we planned a guys road trip to Bay City, Michigan to tour the USS Edson, it was more of an excuse for me to take a weekend off and get out with my friends for a few hours. The day was fun; catching up with friends, a good breakfast and lunch, and still home by evening. While not expecting much of our USS Edson tour, I came away impressed and will likely venture back in warmer weather for another look.
The US Navy destroyer USS Edson, DD-946, was commissioned in 1958 and retired in 1988. She served in the Pacific for most of her life before moving to the East Coast as a training ship. During the late 1960s and early 70s the Edson was stationed off the coast of Vietnam and was active in shore bombardments using her three 5 inch long guns. Early in the war, the Edson sustained damage from the North Vietnamese and left for repairs, though the enemy though they had sunk her. The Edson returned for duty weeks later and earned the nickname Gray Ghost for her return from the dead.
The USS Edson was part of the Intrepid museum collection in New York in 1989 and sat alongside the old carrier until 2004. During this time she was designated a US Historical Landmark and also served as a command post during 9/11 recovery operations. The Edson arrived in Bay City in 2012 and opened as the centerpiece of the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum in 2013.
USS Edson Hauntings: Twilight Zone and the Ghost of Paul
The USS Edson was used for many scenes in the 1963 Twilight Zone episode “Thirty Fathom Grave.” In the show, the ship discovers an old WWII submarine wreck. When a diver is sent down he bangs on the hull and seems to receive the same in response. Another crew member, who has been suffering hallucinations, eventually goes mad and hurls himself off the ship. Though there were no actual combat fatalities on the USS Edson, there does appear to be a resident ghost.
Paul Spampanato, son of the Intrepid Museum Director, served as caretaker for the USS Edson among other duties. He spent much of his time maintaining the ship and even lived aboard. He died of a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day 1999. There have been many ghost sightings, which are often attributed to Paul still looking after his beloved ship. His dedication to keeping the Edson in prime condition is evident while touring the ship today.
Our Tour of the USS Edson
It was cold; too damn cold for mid-November. The dirt parking lot was slick as puddles were freezing over. There’s a trailer that acts as the office and visitor center for the museum. We went in, paid for our tickets, and spent some time talking to the staff about the ship and its history. Walking out to the ship we decided to brave the cold first and tour the more comfortable interior after. It was the first time I’ve seen a smaller warship by itself and the 400-plus foot size really stood out.
Surprisingly, the deck was pretty dry, though we still had to watch for the occasional ice patch while navigating tight passages and steep ladders. The deck is completely open, so visitors can wander all around. With the river on on side and not a whole lot on land nearby, you get a sense of what the view would be like on the open ocean.
The inside of the ship was what impressed me. Other ships I’ve been on, including an aircraft carrier, typically have limited areas to explore. The USS Edson is almost completely open on the inside and visitors are free to wander. Being able to go inside the various officer cabins, enlisted quarters, and mess hall gave a better understanding of what daily life was like.
Inside you’ll also find a large diorama depicting a scene from Guadalcanal where Major General Merritt Edson, the ship’s namesake, led Marines in repulsing Japanese forces in 1942. Nearby is the engine room. Visitors can squeeze through narrow passages and climb through multiple decks to get a sense of just how complicated the machinery is; and how cramped and hot the workspace was for the sailors.
Having access to specialty areas, such as the radio room and bridge, was a nice change of pace than trying to peer in from behind Plexiglas. Compared to other old warship museums, the USS Edson stands out for its preservation and freedom of access. If you want to get a firsthand glimpse into the life of Navy sailors, take a tour of this amazing warship museum.
USS Edson Visitor Info
The Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum aka USS Edson is open daily March through December, but may close during inclement weather. The ship opens at 9:00am with last entry at 4:00pm, must be off by 5:00pm.
Tickets are $10 adult, $8 ages 3-17, and free for 2 and under.
Active military tickets are $5 or free if you are in uniform.
Group tours are available.
USS Edson Visitor Tips
Being a warship, visitors need to be in decent physical shape to get around. There are steep ladders and tight passageways everywhere.
I would not recommend this tour for younger children as there are open hatches and plenty of sharp corners. It is also easy to get lost inside the ship.
Take the weather into consideration. The ship is not heated in winter, though it is air conditioned.
Wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be climbing/descending steep ladders.
The visitor center has a decent selection of souvenirs including shirts, hats, and small collectibles.
A separate building with bathroom facilities is located next to the visitor center.
Depending on you interest level in the ship, plan a minimum of an hour to tour and up to three hours to really explore.