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Jim Heffernan column: Irked Irvin denies haunting vessel

A small group of paranormal investigators sought and got permission to have their seance in the captain’s quarters of the William A. Irvin (the boat) itself.

William A. Irvin
The William A. Irvin is moved to its new home in Duluth's Minnesota Slip on Oct. 13, 1986.
Charles Curtis / File / Duluth News Tribune
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So, the SS William A. Irvin is haunted, huh? Well, shiver me timbers, matey!

Nice timing, though, for devotees of paranormal phenomena to be making a bid to determine if the old ore carrier, one of Duluth’s main tourist attractions, is host to ghosts, who reportedly make quite a bit of noise on board. Spooky noises. Unexplained bumps in the night.

Jim Heffernan
Jim Heffernan

That nice timing, of course, is the close proximity to Halloween 2022, which experts predict will be very similar to Halloween 2021 and back through the years. (Exception: COVID caused a decline in trick-or-treating starting in 2020, police say.)

You wonder what William A. Irvin himself would think about all this. He’s sort of lost in the shuffle in the shadow of the big boat (never call an ore boat a "ship" nor Lake Superior’s shore a "coast" or you will be branded as an outsider).

Well, a few folks dedicated to the supernatural decided to find out recently by asking Mr. Irvin himself. (I get to call him “Mr.” in print because he is doornail dead.)

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Haunted scene from Haunted Ship tour
A vertigo inducing walkway is a part of the Haunted Ship attraction on the William A. Irvin museum ship seen Sept. 28.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

You wonder how in blazes that could work since the boat’s namesake died in 1952? A seance, of course. How else?

So, a small group of paranormal investigators sought and got permission to have their seance in the captain’s quarters of the William A. Irvin (the boat) itself. A half-dozen gathered around a map table headed by what is called a “medium.” This is the person who has special powers to contact — brace yourself here — the dead! Most mediums are women, as was ours.

Over the past three decades, Halloween has become a starring season for the William A. Irvin. Last year's Haunted Ship returned from hiatus to hordes of fright seekers, and it's been almost completely transformed for what may be the attraction's scariest year yet.

Mediums are very mysterious people who operate in darkened rooms with people seeking to contact their dead loved ones in the beyond. They sit around a table, their hands extended with their fingertips touching one another. As I understand it, from countless movies that recreate that scene, the medium calls out to the person in the beyond and invites them to answer questions their loved-ones around the table might have.

I have never participated in anything like this. I prefer medium-rare.

Meanwhile, back in the captain’s quarters of the good boat (can’t say "ship") William A. Irvin, the paranormal investigators eagerly awaited responses from William himself as the medium called forth into the dark and mysterious beyond.

"You have to be a skeptic before you believe because that’s how you rule everything out," said guide Kimberly Christine, a two-time guest on the Travel Channel's "Ghost Adventures."

They knew this would take some doing, Mr. Irvin having been gone for 70 years. But lo and behold, the medium got a response.

“Who’s calling?” said a gravelly voice from the long beyond. It was William A. himself. The medium filled him in and asked him if he was haunting the ore boat bearing his name, or knew who was. “The clanging of chains folks hear on board was not the ghost of Jacob Marley, that’s for sure,” said the medium.

“Ghosts? Paranormal activities on my ship?” responded Irvin.

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“Not 'ship' — 'boat,” the medium corrected.

“Oh, sorry. I’m obviously an outsider,” apologized Irvin, who never resided in Morgan Park, where he ran a steel plant as the president of United States Steel Corp. during much of the Great Depression. “I was born in Pennsylvania and died in New York.”

Haunted scene from Haunted Ship tour
A skeleton glows with red light during the Haunted Ship attraction on the William A. Irvin museum ship Sept. 28.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

“But what about the paranormal activities on the boat named for you?” the medium went on.

“Well, I’m not haunting it,” Irvin said bluntly. “Do you think a successful businessman like me, who rose to the presidency of one of the largest corporations in America, would want to be known as a ghost? Not on your life,”

“Oops, sorry,” said the medium. “No insult intended.”

From haunted houses to scary movies to family-friendly frights, there are dozens of ways to get into the spirit of the season.

The group of paranormal investigators with their fingertips touching around the table were becoming greatly disappointed. The medium tried to make amends.

“Of course, you’re almost as well-known around Duluth as the namesake of an annual 5K,“ she pointed out.

“What in heaven’s name is a 5K?” Mr. Irvin asked, his voice fading away as his listeners stared blankly at one another. He was gone.

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Undaunted, the group left the captain’s quarters and repaired to the poop deck, viewing the nearby Aerial Lift Bridge where one of their number had heard a report of an unidentified flying object shaped like a saucer swooping through the bridge one dark night.

A mystery for another day.

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at jimheffernan.org and can be reached by email at jimheffernan@jimheffernan.org .

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Related Topics: DULUTHWILLIAM A. IRVIN
Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at jimheffernan.org and can be reached by email at jimheffernan@jimheffernan.org.
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