Hauntings, Height of Luxury and History: The Legacy of Long Beach’s Queen Mary
Ask anyone who doesn’t fall into the “millennial” generation age group about some of the most famous haunted places in America, and you’re likely to get a few common responses: the infamous Amityville Horror House in New York, the would-be “found footage” case surrounding the so-called “Blair Witch” phenomenon, the “Bell Witch” haunting of Tennessee (dramatized in the motion picture An American Haunting with Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek) and the Queen Mary of Long Beach, California. There’s very good reason for the Queen Mary’s inclusion on lists such as these – she boasts a notorious and almost foreboding legacy that tells of eerie footsteps in the night, appearing and vanishing apparitions, chilling yet unexplained sounds and a boatload (no pun intended) of other mysterious occurrences that draw general curious visitors and paranormal researchers alike ever since she’s been deemed a tourist attraction.
However, the famous and illustrious Queen Mary didn’t start out as the subject for a roaring camp fire and a gaggle of ghost stories; to the contrary, this ship’s creation and launch was nothing if not extraordinary what with her rich history, elegant design and overt sense of grandeur. While the mighty Titanic received its fair share of notoriety and global publicity, the Queen Mary was, from the onset, destined to stand in a class all her own. When construction began in 1930 in Clydebank, Scotland, “The Queen” suffered from some economic setbacks during the Great Depression, stalling work on the ship for several years, yet parent organization Cunard Line spared no expense on the magnificent floating palace and pushed forward with the project. Interestingly and unbeknownst to even many entrenched historians, the Queen Mary’s construction was referred to as “job #534” by those who worked on getting her prepared for launch.
Of course, a legendary ship of this stature would be little without its actual legend, and the Queen Mary wears the legend behind its name like a vivid banner of sheer pride. As it’s been passed down from generation to generation, it is believed that the board of directors at Cunard had originally wanted to name the ship the Queen Victoria, keeping with the tradition of Cunard-branded ships encompassing the “ia” suffix (as in Mauretania, Aquitania and Berengeria); history reports that as per Cunard protocol, the company’s directors asked King George himself for his blessing of the ship’s proposed title, explaining, “We have decided to name our new ship after England’s greatest Queen,” of course referring to Queen Victoria, the King’s grandmother. It is believed that the King replied with, “My wife, Queen Mary, will be delighted that you are naming the ship after her.”
The newly-christened Queen Mary made its maiden voyage on May 27, 1936 from Southampton, England, providing an elegant experience to all those who were fortunate enough to take part in her sailing – from five exquisite dining areas and lounges to two cocktail bars, a swimming pool (later to become a hotspot for reputed paranormal activity), a grand ballroom, a squash court and even a small hospital. Indeed, The Queen had set a new benchmark in transatlantic travel, which the rich and famous at the time considered the only “civilized way” to travel, quickly seizing the hearts and imaginations of the public on both sides of the Atlantic and representing the spirit of an era renowned for its opulence, class and style.
In the three years following her maiden voyage, the Queen Mary reigned on the seas as the grandest ocean liner in the world, going on to carry Hollywood notables like Bob Hope and Clark Gable, royalty such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and dignitaries like Winston Churchill. During this period, she even set a new speed record which she held proudly for some 14 years. However, when the mighty Queen docked in New York in September of 1939, it would be the last time she would carry civilian passengers for many years.
At the onset of World War II, the Queen Mary’s transformation into a conveyance for troops had begun; she was painted a camouflaged grey color and stripped of her luxurious amenities during this time, having been dubbed the “Grey Ghost” because of her stealth and stark appearance. She ended up being the largest and fastest “troopship” to sail, capable of transporting as many as 16,000 men at 30 knots, and by the end of the war, she began a 10-month retrofitting process to return her to her original glory. On July 21, 1947, the Queen Mary resumed regular passenger service across the Atlantic Ocean and continued to do so for nearly two more decades.
It was with an unfortunate – and yet fortunate – push-forward of technology that the increasing popularity of air travel signaled the end of an era for the Queen Mary. By 1965, the entire Cunard fleet was operating at a loss, and it was decided that the great Queen would be retired and sold; on October 31, 1967 (with perhaps a bit of foreshadowing concerning the ship’s future “haunting” notoriety) the Queen departed on her final cruise, arriving in Long Beach, California on December 9…and she has called Southern California her home ever since.
Today, tourists from all over the world visit the Queen Mary in the hopes of either catching a glimpse of that elusive ghost at the end of the hallway, or perhaps to take in the overwhelming ambiance that definitely hearkens back to a different place in history. Of all the “tall tales” surrounding this vessel, it’s the stories about specter sightings that garner the most attention; over the years the ship has been docked in Long Beach, many “psychic-sensitive” types have boarded the Queen Mary and reported feeling “something” that couldn’t really be explained. Additionally, many have reported experiencing what they would consider definitive paranormal activity, with certain parts of the ship apparently being more prone to this than others – specifically, the Queen’s visually ominous and long-empty swimming pool conjures up everything from “weird vibes” to literal sightings of supposed drowning victims, as reported by witnesses.
Regardless of whether you believe in such things or not, the sheer fever pitch created by “the Queen Mary is haunted!” rally cries over the years has resulted in tourist packages specifically catering to exploring this possibility; a Haunted Encounters attraction enables visitors to follow a tour guide through the massive vessel while ghastly and ghostly tales are told with a spooky vibe, while other available tours focus on more historical aspects of the Queen’s history (though with a sprinkle of the paranormal for good measure).
The Queen Mary remains a floating hotel, attraction and event/wedding venue that’s home to three world-class restaurants and much more…an icon of Southern California that continues to wow the public with copious gobs of intrigue and unbridled mystery.
And perhaps a ghost or two.
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