We all are accustomed to tales of supposed hauntings after private tragedies; the jilted bride appearing in her wedding dress even though she threw herself out of a window 100 years before; the victim trying to communicate their distress 30 years after their murder.
But what of events that affect hundreds, if not thousands, of people, including those who survived? Disasters that people all over the world often watch unfold? Here is a collection of paranormal occurrences that have been reported in connection to such terrible tragedies.
10“Ghost Passengers” of Japan . . .
In the years since the 2011 Tohoku tsunami that cost over 16,000 lives, taxi drivers in some of the worst-hit towns such as Ishinomaki, are reporting that they are picking up “ghost passengers.” Yuka Kudo, a student of sociology at the Tohuko Gakuin University, has interviewed more than 100 drivers as part of the research for her graduation thesis. All of the drivers interviewed believed they were picking up a real person. They started their meters, and some noted their experiences in log books.
One of the men interviewed claimed that a few months after the disaster he picked up a young woman who asked to be taken to the Minamihama district. He explained to her that there was nothing left there. The taxi driver went on to recount that the passenger then asked, “have I died?” and that when he turned to look at her, she was gone.
Another driver described how he had driven a young man in his twenties to a part of the city requested but that when he arrived found himself suddenly alone. Interestingly, all of the ghostly passengers were described as young, and Ms. Kudo believes that “young people feel strongly chagrined [at their deaths] when they cannot meet the people they love,” and, “as they want to convey their bitterness, they may have chosen taxis . . . as a medium to do so.”
None of the drivers reported feeling fear at these encounters. Yuka Kudo herself stated, “(Through the interviews) I learned that the death of each victim carries importance . . . I want to convey that.”
9 . . . and of Thailand
“Ghost passengers” are not just confined to Japan. After the tsunami caused by the Indian Ocean earthquake on Boxing Day 2004, the residents along the Andaman Coast, Thailand, started to report being haunted by some of the 230,000 victims who were swept to their deaths.
Nearly two weeks after the tragedy, Lek, a tuk-tuk minivan driver, described seven foreign tourists who climbed into his van and asked to be taken to Kata Beach for 200 baht. But after driving for a while, Lek said he felt his body become numb and, looking around, found himself alone in the vehicle. But unlike the Japanese taxi drivers who felt no fear at these apparitions, Lek states, “I can’t get over this. I am going to have to get another job. I have a daughter to support but I am too scared to go out driving at night.”
Other locals were similarly frightened by apparitions wandering around their community. A security guard who worked at a hotel that was the scene of many casualties left his post shortly after the disaster claiming to hear the screams of a woman believed to be a guest who was killed.
And in Khao Lak, a family said that their phone constantly rang but when the receiver was lifted all they could hear were the cries of their relatives begging to be rescued from the crematorium flames.
There have been many articles pointing out the seemingly eerie prediction of the fate of the Titanic in the form of novels which mirror many details of the ship and its journey. But perhaps not many people realize that the captain of the liner, Edward J Smith himself, also seemed to have a premonition that all would not go well on the maiden voyage across the Atlantic.
In a collection of his letters, which were sold in 2016, he laments the fact he was no longer taking command of the Cymric, another ship, and instead placed as captain of the Titanic. More ominous is a letter to his sister written just two days before the liner hit the iceberg in which he writes, “I still don’t like this ship. . . I have a queer feeling about it.”
Captain Smith was a highly experienced seaman who had recently been on the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, when she was involved in a collision, yet he had nothing but fond feelings for that particular vessel. Why then, did he feel so uneasy about a ship he had only just set foot on?
Whatever the reason, fascination has continued to surround the doomed captain ever since. Many tales have sprung up around him, including the story of Second Officer Leonard Bishop of the SS Winterhaven, who, in 1977, was conducting a tour of his ship to one of his passengers. This passenger was a quiet, attentive man with a British accent. At the time, Bishop felt there was something strange about the man but could not say exactly what it was. A few years later he came across a picture of a captain of a ship and exclaimed, “I know that man; I gave him a tour of my ship.” The man in the photograph was Captain Edward J Smith.
7Spirit of the Somme
By the end of the battle of the Somme, which lasted four and a half months, over one million men had been killed or wounded. Although you might expect this item to contain a haunting by one of these fallen, interestingly, it was someone who never set foot on the battleground who made a ghostly appearance.
On the morning of November 5, 1915, thirteen days before the second most fatal battle in history was over, the soldiers of the British 2nd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment witnessed something inexplicable. Already the German forces had begun to fire rounds onto their trenches, but this was not the remarkable thing that Captain W.E. Newcombe wrote about in the August 1919 edition of Pearson’s Magazine. He described how he personally witnessed a “brilliant white light” seem to rise up from the muddy strip between the two trenches known as “No Man’s Land.” He went on to describe how this light transformed into the figure of a man wearing a slightly outdated military uniform.
The man was quickly recognized as being Lord Kitchener, whose face had been made famous by the thousands of British recruitment posters in which he looked and pointed directly at the viewer and stated “your country needs YOU.” Except that Lord Kitchener had died in June of that year, a month before the battle of the Somme commenced.
British flares were let off, but they did not dispel the figure that proceeded to walk parallel to the trenches in a manner that suggested he was inspecting his troops. He then turned his face to the German side, that had also seen the specter, and they ceased their fire in an attempt to make sense of what they were witnessing. However, seeing the flares, the British Artillery Units some distance off understood their assistance was needed and began to fire shells on the German troops, who once more began their barrage in defense. In the chaos, the figure returned to wherever it had come from.
The residents living near O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, have often reported receiving strange visitors at their houses. On hearing knocking on their doors, they have answered them to find someone standing on their doorstep explaining that they “have to make a connection” or “find their luggage.“ Before the homeowners can inquire further, the person vanishes.
On the highway nearby, strange lights have been witnessed by motorists along with unexplained figures wandering along the roadside. If you were to spend some time at the airport itself, you might feel a sudden drop in temperature accompanied by screams coming from an adjacent field.
These phenomena have been attributed to a devastating crash that took place in May 1979 when an American Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10, flight 191, crashed shortly after take-off due to one of its engines falling off. With its fuel tanks full, the plane was consumed in a fireball. All 271 people on board and two people on the ground were killed. The paranormal activity continues to this day, and if you are brave enough to seek first-hand experience of it, then a local company offers ghost tours where you can camp out next to the airport for a night.
5The Butterfly People of Joplin
The many stories of the Butterfly People of Joplin are quite similar. A parent or grandparent and child are caught out in the open when the EF5 tornado hits on May 22, 2011. They have no time to find a place to shelter. As the tornado bears down on them, lifting up cars and buildings and hurling these objects around them, the adults believe there is no way they will survive; they are going to die. Except then, miraculously, the storm passes, and they are left unscathed. The child then looks up at the adult and asks,
“Weren’t they pretty?”
“Weren’t what pretty?” the adult asks.
“Didn’t you see the Butterfly People?”
Soon, the story of these Butterfly People protecting residents from the tornado spread about the town. They were shared in the street, in church sermons, and children receiving counseling for the trauma they suffered began claiming that they too had seen these angelic beings that kept them safe and comforted them during the disaster. When a mural was unveiled in downtown Joplin to honor the town and what it had experienced, the artwork depicted large, colorful butterflies. Although the artistic director of the mural project, Dave Lowenstein, was keen to stress that butterflies have many symbolic meanings, others in the town felt strongly that there was a connection between the images and the supernatural experiences of the townsfolk. “Even on the mural,” said one resident. “There’s butterflies because they’ve heard of the Butterfly People.”
4Haunted from Below
When the London Underground was first proposed in the mid 19th century, there were very real fears among some people that cutting tunnels deep into the earth would disturb and anger the Devil. Additionally, many lines and stations were built through ancient burial grounds such as Aldgate Station where it is estimated 4000 people lost their lives to the Black Death.
In 2005, archaeological digs uncovered 238 burials around Aldgate Station believed to be due to the plague. Many of the bodies had been sliced through due to construction of the underground. Unexplained phenomena are so common at Aldgate underground station that many incidences have been recorded in workers’ log books.
The most famous story involves a station worker who slipped and fell onto the electrified tracks causing 20,000 volts to pass through his body. He somehow survived, but his colleagues report seeing a ghostly old woman kneel beside him and stroke his hair moments before he struck the live rail.
However, some purported Tube station hauntings are related to more recent tragedies. In 1943 the residents of Bethnal Green in east London heard air-raid sirens. In the ensuing panic to take cover in the underground station, 173 people, mostly women and children, were crushed to death. Worse still, the alarm turned out to be a test. Since that time, workers left alone at night have reported hearing the cries of women and children. One worker was so alarmed that he fled the station in an attempt to flee the ghostly sounds.
More recent still was the fire at King’s Cross station on November 18, 1987. The fire was started by a passenger who, after lighting his cigarette, discarded his lit match as he traveled up the escalator. The fire was then fuelled by the grease and wooden treads of the moving stairway, and within 15 minutes the flames reached the ticket hall and exploded in a fireball. Thirty-one people were killed. Since that time, many passengers have reported seeing a modern and smartly dressed young woman with brown hair who raises her arms and cries out. When she is approached and attempts are made to help her, she vanishes. Many have hypothesized that she is one of the victims of the King’s Cross fire.
3The Nurse of 9/11
Understandably, the scale of the atrocities carried out on 9/11 has resulted in many people coming forward claiming they experienced ghostly apparitions during and after the attack. Many survivors claim they were led to safety by invisible presences. One such witness stated that on coming to a wall of fire they were “prodded through” and subsequently guided down the stairs of the North Tower. Another survivor, having been trapped beneath concrete, describes being visited by a comforting apparition dressed as a monk.
Stranger still, are the phenomena that are observed by more than one person. One such sighting was witnessed by NYPD police officer Sgt. Frank Marra who helped sift through the debris in the days after the attack. He reports seeing a woman dressed in a WWII Red Cross uniform carrying a tray of sandwiches. He claims he believed her to be a first responder and didn’t see her just the once; he saw her a few times where she stood about 50 yards away, but there was no doubt in his mind that she appeared to be a real person. This is creepy enough if it wasn’t for an encounter Sgt. Marra had a year later with a retired crime scene detective. By this time Marra had put the experience of the strange woman to the back of his mind until the detective happened to ask him whether he had heard the stories about the “old Red Cross worker trying to serve sandwiches and coffee out by the sifters.” It was then that Marra realized he hadn’t been the only one to spot this mysterious figure. And since no one has come forward claiming to be her, or to know her, she remains a mystery.
2Loft and Repo
At approximately 11.42pm on December 29, 1972, Eastern Airlines Flight 401 crashed into the Florida Everglades. It seemed that shortly before the crash the flight crew noticed that a landing gear indicator light had ceased to work and while they were concerned with this, failed to notice that the autopilot had switched modes. Without being aware until it was too late, the aircraft began to slowly lose altitude until it crashed. Seventy-five people survived while 101 died.
Included among the dead were Captain Bob Loft and flight engineer Don Repo. It was these two men who soon began making appearances on other Eastern Tri-Stars, in particular, those fitted with parts salvaged from the wreckage of their crashed plane. Many of the sightings were made by more than one witness at once including the time that a flight captain and two flight attendants saw and spoke to the late Captain Loft before witnessing him vanish. They were so shaken that they canceled the flight. Even the vice-president of Eastern Airlines reported having a conversation with a man he assumed was the Captain of the flight before realizing it was the recently deceased Loft.
As for flight engineer Repo, it seems his apparition took considerable care after his death in making sure the planes were adequately maintained. One flight engineer halfway through pre-flight checks claims Repo appeared and said, “you don’t need to worry about the pre-flight, I’ve already done it.” A flight attendant described seeing Repo fixing a galley oven, while a separate flight attendant saw Repo’s face appear in the oven of Tri-star 318. When she fetched two colleagues all three heard Repo say, “watch out for fire on this plane.” Intriguingly, the plane later went on to experience engine problems, and the last leg of its journey was canceled. Repo also appeared to a captain on another flight and told him “there will never be another crash. We will not let it happen,” leading some to question whether it was guilt at their deadly error that led to their repeated manifestations.
When Sorpong Peou was seventeen he witnessed his father Nam, a government official, being forced into a blue truck and taken away in his native Cambodia. This occurred in the dark years between 1975 and 1979 during which it is estimated that 1.7 million people were murdered by the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot. Since that time 309 mass grave sites with an estimated 19,000 grave pits have been unearthed. So it is understandable that when Nam did not return, Sorpong could only assume his father was one of the victims.
Sorpong and his family were some of the lucky ones. After making it to a refugee camp in Thailand, Sorpong, his mother, and six siblings all relocated to Canada in 1982 where Sorpong would go on to have a distinguished academic career. Fast forward to January 2010 and Sorpong is in Tokyo where he has a vivid dream in which he walks and chats with his father. Although moved by the dream he thought it no more than a sign of how much he still missed his father. He was unaware that one of his brothers was planning to visit a psychic in Ottawa wishing for advice regarding his business. During the reading, the psychic enquired where his father was, asking, “do you see him?” The brother explained that he had seen his father taken away when he was five and that he had been murdered. But the psychic informed him that this was not the case; Nam was still alive.
Doubting the psychic’s information, but intrigued, Sorpong’s brother informed the rest of the family. This led to their sister, who was skeptical, deciding to consult the psychic without revealing who she was. The psychic also informed her that her father was alive. When the siblings’ mother met with her, the psychic disclosed the same information. So there followed two trips by one of Sorpong’s brother to Cambodia to see if he could track down the man they believed had been massacred almost thirty years before. He distributed hundreds of posters of Nam as he had looked four decades earlier. He scoured Thai border towns and the sites of former refugee camps until he was finally directed to a man who said he had looked like the photograph on the flyers when he was younger. But all the same, he refused to believe that the Canadian could be one of his sons. There was doubt on his son’s side too, but slowly, as Nam Peou began to recount stories and relay information about the family that only he could have known it seemed father and son had been reunited.
But how had Nam escaped? He had indeed been taken away in the truck and was thrown into a ditch and bodies were piled on top of him. Somehow he survived only to be recaptured and tortured before escaping into the jungle and to the Thai-Cambodia border where he assumed his family had not been as fortunate as he and had been massacred. Since that time he had remarried and had six more children, but on hearing that her now 85-year-old husband was alive, his first wife, Sorpong’s mother, moved back to Cambodia to be with him and his new family. She was followed shortly by one of their sons who opened a seafood restaurant and now cares for them all. Finally, Sorpong himself returned to the country and was reunited with the father he had last seen 36 years before.
Chloe Findlater lives in England and likes all things strange and unexplained (unless it has to do with where she left her keys). She will endeavor to provide you with examples of weirdness whenever she can.