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The Ghost Face of the USS Arizona

On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor in an effort to destroy America’s Pacific Fleet before they could officially enter the war and interfere with their intent to dominate the Pacific. During that catastrophic assault scores of ships and planes were destroyed and even more tragically nearly 2,500 unsuspecting soldiers horrifically lost their lives.

It has often been suggested that the spirits of those who die under sudden or violent circumstances tend to linger at the scene of the tragedy rather than pass on. Now a family from Australia has come forward with what they believe might be photographic evidence that suggests that the souls of those lost on the USS Arizona that sorrowful day might be suffering just that fate.

In 1962, one of the darkest days in the history of the United States was commemorated when the USS Arizona Memorial was erected above the hull of the wreckage of the Pennsylvania-class battleship, which remains below the waves of Pearl Harbor. Since then the memorial has drawn thousands who wish to pay their respects to the heroes who fell on that fateful day.

On September 26th, 2011, an Australian woman by the name of Susan De Vanny and her family visited the memorial and, of course, snapped a plethora of pictures with their digital camera. De Vanny admitted to being a bit of a shutterbug and when she got the chance she decided to weed out some of the less desirable photographs. In her own words:

“I was flicking through the photos and seeing how many do I really need, and take some of the bad ones out and then I came across this particular photo.”

As she scrolled through the pictures removing images that were out of focus and the like, she made a discovery of a particularly haunting snapshot that stopped her dead in her tracks.

The image that she remembered snapping was of the sun reflecting off the oil ridden saltwater above the shipwreck, but what she saw on her camera was something beyond her comprehension.

Shimmering in the oil-slicked water was the ghost-like face of what she felt to be a young man who was evidently crying out in anguish.  De Vanny wasted no time in showing the photo to her husband, but she made it a point to not give him any indication of what she thought she saw there. De Vanny described the moment:

“I said just have a look at the photo, and he said, ‘oh my gosh, it’s a face,’ and then the kids saw it, and they go, ‘oh wow’.”

1,177 sailors died aboard the USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor attack and most of the bodies were never recovered. De Vanny believes that the liquid phantasm image may possibly be the soul of one of the young soldiers who were killed at the site over 60-years ago:

“It just looked really sad, really sad and young. The face, to me looked young, which I don’t know if it represents the men at that time who perished.”


It’s easy to leap to the conclusion that the site of such a terrible tragedy would carry with it its fair share of residual hauntings and that the poor souls of those who were trapped in the USS Arizona and her sister ships might be doomed to linger beneath the churning waters of the Pacific, but there are a couple of additional options to take a look at. The first is that we are dealing with a very real phenomenon known as…


Pareidolia is the term for a psychological experience, which makes otherwise indistinct and arbitrary stimulus seem to be noteworthy. Far and away the most common example of pareidolia is the human penchant for finding distinct shapes in ever changing clouds. Another prime example for all of us UFO buffs is the now notorious face on Mars, which, clearer photos would seem to indicate, was nothing more than an illusion of light and shadow.

Human beings are genetically inclined to recognize faces. According to some cognitive neuroscientists the phenomenon known as “face perception” is hugely significant in human interactions without most of us being aware of it. It helps up to ascertain health, origin, social status and compatibility with other individuals and is easily applied to inanimate objects resulting in visual pareidolia.

Is pareidolia what the De Vanny family — and millions of others who have since viewed the image — succumbed to? Does this controversial image represent nothing more than the proverbial “man on the moon,” except in this case it would be the “man beneath the sea?”

It’s a distinct possibility to be sure… and the logical mind yearns for it. Hell, that was my first instinct, but the fact remains is that there another option. Maybe what we’re dealing with is…


There are some paranormal experts who define a typical ghost as the residual memory of a person who has died. This entity — unlike, say, a poltergeist — does not interact with those in the environment, but replays a certain action over and over again like an old videotape caught in a loop.

They suggest that lingering memories of the departed become somehow embedded into the structure of the house or hotel or roadside or wherever they passed away like a home movie replays for eternity.

If one supposes that the above hypothesis is true, then one could make a compelling argument for this same effect occurring at the USS Arizona and other sites of great tragedies across the globe. I’ll be the first to admit that I prefer the idea that ghost, spirits and their ilk are energy memories rather than trapped souls, but one never knows.


It goes without saying that there can be no solid conclusions in this case. Those who are predisposed to believe in a lingering life after death will be inclined to find humanity in those oil stained waves, and those who are more prone to skepticism will likely see nothing more than the tumult of the ocean fueled by a vivid human imagination.

Whether this is an optical illusion or a genuine supernatural incident will probably remain forever shrouded in mystery, but we can only hope that if whatever it was that the De Vannys’ captured on their camera that day has the capacity to feel, that it’s somehow…somewhere… it’s at peace.

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  • It does look like a face in that picture. For the other ones, it could be real, or just a camera trick.

  • Underseer

    “Pareidolia is the term for a psychological experience, which makes
    otherwise indistinct and arbitrary stimulus seem to be noteworthy”

    Interesting that the concept of pareidolia itself is based on an assumption, based on a possibly outdated paradigm. The assumption is that some stimuli are arbitrary. But that is ideology not science. How do we know what IS arbitrary?

    For all we know, there is no such thing as arbitrary phenomena, maybe all phenomena are patterned in a way beyond our perception and understanding. Perhaps randomness is an illusion created by the enormous and staggering complexity of the universe.

    Take pointillist art – up close you see seemingly random – ‘arbitrary’ – clusters of coloured dots, but step back far enough and suddenly a picture of a Victorian riverside picnic emerges.

    To look at it another way, billionths of a nanosecond into the big bang, every piece of matter in the Universe was still almost infinitely compressed, ‘touching’ every other piece of matter.

    And at the quantum level, as speculated by some physicists, it seems that time is non-linear: at this level, it can flow in both directions. In this sense, all events are happening all at once – past and future effectively coexist, contrary to our limited perceptions.

    We are – by this definition – quantum entangled with all matter, throughout all time, in some hidden way. You and I and everything are connected to each other, no matter how far apart in time or space, or however seemingly unrelated.

    So the idea that all matter interacts in unknown and sometimes bizarre ways that seems ‘paranormal’ or ‘miraculous’  is not as ridiculous as it first seems.

    Take the dying thought patterns of a WW2 sailor, link them across non-linear quantum time (and the medium of the water drowning him) to interact with the brain of Susan De Vanny somehow. Perhaps sometimes the hidden quantum links cause Fortean patterning of ‘random’ phenomena – such as oil and water intermixing to inexplicably form his agonised face.

    From Charles Fort to Carl Jung, many great minds have seen the hidden hand of a patterning force at work, throwing doubt on the idea of randomness, and by implication, on pareidolia.

    There are, perhaps, no coincidences?

  • Anonymous

    I’m in support of the pareidolia explanation; it’s straightforward and easily demonstrated in foundation psychology books. If I hadn’t seen the image with the promise of a ‘face’ it wouldn’t even be good pareidolia.

    Underseer has written an enjoyable reply and yet doesn’t appear to have read beyond a dictionary definition of what amounts to in-built pattern recognition. It isn’t a ‘paradigm’ any more than salivating at the scent of a favourite food is. It isn’t ideology or science that makes people see shapes in clouds and faces in objects.

    We can bend space and time and wrap it around some notion of quantum entanglement to suggest this oil on the water is a dead man’s face appearing to a woman (not at the time) through a photo. We could then attribute it to some ‘patterning hand’ sending a message that hasn’t been understood in any context other than ‘lost souls’ and ‘ghosts.’

    …or we can cut back all the speculation and complexity to it being an image of an oil-slick that sort of look likes a face. I wonder how many photos of oily waves it would take to find another face? 10? 20? More?    

  • Damarcus

    I’m probably going to get my comment deleted or ignored for not “believing” but this seems like a textbook case of pareidolia.

    If it is ghosts, why did it take them almost 50 years to be seen on someone’s camera? Were they busy somewhere else that entire time?

    The simplest explanation is not always the correct one, but in this case it probably is. She took a picture of an oil slick that sort of looks like a face. I think it would be a lot less obvious if we were to look at an uncropped version of that photo.

  • Anonymous

    This is a complex perceptual issue most experienced by those who are sensitive to pattern recognition. I have just painted a Christmas tree for a graphic in my apartment in China.I used tools used in Chinese ink painting and a new brush technique. I have sat in the living room and counted over 200 images of faces that emerge from the ink painting. Hopefully I will publish it shortly. I am working on another using several artists techniques producing
    art like Pollock and others. We will “see”.

  • Anonymous

    Pareidolia is the answer. The graphic I just produced reveals hundreds of images and it is all based on the pattern recognition and neurological issues that support pariedolia.

  • Faxoned

    I appreciate that your podcast contains a healthy dose of skepticism. It is needed in the arena in which you perform. Thank you for not merely accepting every crackpot thing that comes down the pike, unlike a certain late night radio host.

  • guest

    thats crazy i want to go visit the uss arizona so bad<3

  • [email protected]

    rest in peace soilders

  • Denise50fritz

    I visited the USS Arizona Memorial yesterday and it was a very moving experience.  My uncle died on the ship.  He is buried as UNKNOWN at the Punchbowl Cemetary on the island of Oahu.  My main reason for the cruise to Hawaii was to visit the memorial.

  • Ronandraveche

    Rest in peace heroes

  • guest

    i will pray for those who believe and those who dont! my mom said that some people have selective seeing, seeing what u want to see or not to see. same with beliefs i believe things are seen for a reason. there are times where things shouldnt be explained. the woman saw it for a reason. whoever u, are with your doubting self, sometimes its best to keep things to yourself. especially if it is negitive or doubting let the lady believe what she wants.

  • godohh

    a ghost face

    the face is Captain Lee

  • disqus_MWVgWUuUTY

    As a farmer sailor. My God be with you all. You served well with courage God bless you all shipmates

  • Matt

    Not sure how many soldiers died that day, but i doubt 2500 of them weren’t on a Navy base at the time. More than likely they were Sailors or Marines.

  • lucid55

    I visited the USS Arizona memorial last June. I was watching the balls of oil float up and watched as they spread across the water’s surface; as in the picture in the article.

    Next to me was a little girl, perhaps four or five years old, babbling away. I wasn’t listening to her, but as I stood up, the girl’s mother took her by the hand and asked ‘Who are you talking to?’ The little girl pointed to the water where I had been watching and said “Him. . .the man down there.” The mother was puzzled and looked to the water. The mother apparently decided that she wasn’t going to pursue this weirdness and led her away. The little girl tugged against her mom’s pull and was whining that she wanted to talk to the man in the water.

    I looked back at the yawning gun turret under the clear green water and not seeing what the little girl was talking about, I suppressed a tear.

    So probably pareidolia with the oil slick face from the article, but from the mouths of babes. . .

  • leewacker

    Guest and Ja18788, you both realize you might be haunted for calling SAILORS “Soldiers?” By committing such a mistake in real life usually resulted in a fight!

  • leewacker

    I, too, am an artist, and have noticed the phenomenon more than once! I look forward to your book. Hope you can get it published soon.

  • BW

    Yeah, seeing that oil rise from the old ship after so long is something that was a very sad sight. Almost like the ship itself is still slowly bleeding to death.