By Autumn Shelton, RealWV
OFF THE COAST OF NORMANDY, FRANCE (June 1944) – Nurse: “Sir, there are more patients than we can tend to. We are going to have to make quick decisions about who we can save and who we can’t.”
Doctor Mac: “I fear the tormented souls of those we can’t save will forever haunt us and these accursed barges on which their bodies met their gruesome end.”
OHIO RIVER, HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (Present Day) – The spirits aboard the floating barges “Haunted Majestic” have been imprisoned for decades, caught between the realms of the living and the dead.
By all accounts, from chilling paranormal investigations to creepy firsthand experiences, these spirits are in a state of unrest, having met their horrifying demise at the hands of the enemy during the infamous Allied Invasion of Europe in World War II.
Today, for those who dare to climb aboard, the Haunted Majestic serves as the Tri-State Area’s only floating haunted attraction, but its dark history is far more ghastly than guests could ever fathom.
According to Haunted Majestic Owner Dana Tomes, he unwittingly delved into the abyss when he rescued the former hospital barges from a junkyard scrap metal grave. But, now, he is all too aware that he has been chosen as a temporary caretaker for these vessels, which have been bound together for eternity.
In 2021, shortly after procuring the vessels, Tomes published the book “Open Wounds: The Horrors of a World War Aboard the Majestic Hospital Barges,” where he discusses the history of the Haunted Majestic barges, the harrowing D-Day invasion which began on June 6, 1944 to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation, and the dedication of one U.S. Navy surgeon, Dr. Samuel Francis McGuire (Dr. Mac), who made it his mission to save as many soldiers as possible.
Tomes explained that during the course of Operation Overlord, the codename for the Battle at Normandy, 3,310 injured service members had been named on the Majestic’s patient roster.
“A total of 352 got the undesired pleasure of visiting the vessel’s morgues as well,” he wrote.
The two barges, christened the “Douglas Lee” and the “Eugene Morris,” after West Virginia servicemen who had no connection to the vessels, had been “commandeered by the United States Navy for wartime services in 1943,” he continued, noting that the two barges were originally built in 1912 and used as sand dredge barges that provided service along the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers.
Once the barges entered military service, they were joined together, and a two-story hospital structure was built on top of their steel hulls. In the days leading up to D-Day, they were tugged to the European coastline, where they served as a triage unit for the injured.
Dr. Mac, the 24-year-old commander of the hospital barges, lost 45 patients during his first shift, Tomes continued, describing “more death in one day than most doctors may see in a career. And in much more detail than anyone would care to know.”
“It was a sight you don’t have the luxury of letting go of very easily,” Tomes added. “Sure, when you’re at war you learn to cope, you pack the sights away somewhere deep inside, but you can’t dispose of them even though you try. There are some things you experience which stay with you that you can’t just summon away.”
The tortured memories also linger with those who perished, yet remain on board.
While in service throughout the course of three foreign wars, the vessel had become known as “The Ship of Death.”
“The reported hauntings grew more common as time passed and after an official government inquiry into reports that the vessels were riddled with spirit activity, the Navy terminated the lease and returned the barges to the Majestic Steamship Line in 1978,” it states on the Haunted Majestic website.
In 2020, after Tomes had the former hospital barges tugged to their current location, a Huntington-based paranormal investigation team visited the vessel.
Joedy Riffe, the team’s lead, wrote, “Perhaps the most interesting thing about those aboard the Majestic is the fact that many do not realize they are deceased, and act as if they are still going about their daily activities. We have hosted tour groups where an entity has attempted to ‘run us out’ of a room due to us not having clearance to be there, or because it was interfering with the doctor’s concentration.”
“The crew of the Majestic are undoubtedly an intelligent haunting who refuse to acknowledge it is no longer their time,” Riffe concluded.
For those who dare enter the realm of these spirits, the Haunted Majestic will be open to guests for one final, blood-curdling weekend this year, on Friday, Oct. 27, and Sat. Oct. 28, from 7-11 p.m. each night.
Then, for those brave enough, the Paranormal Investigation Team will conduct a paranormal ghost hunt each night, following closure of the haunt. This haunted quest lasts for a grueling 90 minutes.
To face the darkness, and the spirits, tickets can be purchased at hauntedmajestic.com.
For a copy of Tomes’ book, it will be available for purchase in the gift shop, the historic Blennerhassett sternwheeler, each night of the haunt.