The Queen Mary and her Haunting History

RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA (Photo credit: Altair78, CC by 2.0)

The RMS Queen Mary is a retired, luxury ocean liner with a haunting history. This permanently docked ship in Long Beach, California, is so famous for her ghost crew and passengers that ghost tours are not just for Halloween, but for all year long. Her maritime history is stellar, ranging from the luxurious transatlantic crossings of rich and famous notables to her work during World War II of transporting troops overseas. Her ghostly history is a part of her maritime story.

Queen Mary was built by the Scottish shipbuilding company of John Brown & Co. Ltd. in Clydebank, Glasgow. The elegant interior had indoor swimming pools, ballroom, a dining room that was three stories tall, chandeliers, murals, and many other things influenced by the Art Deco style of the 1920s and ‘30s. The ship was the first ocean liner to have a Jewish prayer room. She was owned by the Cunard-White Star Line, made up of two shipbuilding companies, Cunard and the White Star Line, that merged in 1934. The White Star Line had owned the Titanic that sank on her maiden voyage in 1912.

She first departed Southampton for New York City on May 27, 1936, and was soon known as the fastest ocean liner in the world. Her speed earned her the Blue Riband trophy in 1936 for crossing the Atlantic while averaging 30 knots, and again in 1938 for averaging 31 knots. Her passenger list could boast such first-class clientele as Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Sir Winston Churchill, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. She was considered the civilized way to travel across the Atlantic.

RMS Queen Mary (the Gray Ghost) in New York Harbor, 1945.

When World War II began in 1939, her commercial crossings stopped and she was transformed to carry troops overseas. She was painted gray, and given the nickname of the “Gray Ghost” because of her new, all-gray color and her speed. Approximately 800,000 troops and 22,000 war brides and children had made the crossing between Europe and North America on this ship by the end of the war. Following the war, she was restored to her former ocean liner luxury and resumed her commercial voyages in 1947 until her retirement in 1967. She had made 1,000 North Atlantic crossings during her total 31 years of distinguished service.

Not everyone survived a voyage. During her active years, 49 people, passengers and crew, died while on board. The area near the First and Second Class swimming pools is said to be particularly active with ghosts. The First Class ghosts are female. The Second Class pool is haunted by a woman in her 60s or 70s, dressed in black and white, and a little girl, named Jackie, who supposedly drowned during a transatlantic crossing. Even though the ship has become a hotel, restaurant, and museum since her retirement, that hasn’t stopped the ghosts. Hotel workers insist that the little girl shows up in other areas of the ship besides the pool area. They have heard her giggle and splash around in the pool and have seen wet footprints the size of a child’s going from the pool to the dressing area.

Atlantic Map in RMS Queen Mary Dining Room. (Photo credit: Florian Boyd, CC by SA 2.0)

Some individual cabins also have paranormal activity but not necessarily any ghosts. For example, Winston Churchill’s stateroom is not haunted by ghosts but visitors say they can still smell cigar smoke there. Another cabin, B340, is not rented out due to one of the ship’s former pursers continuing to be in the room after he was murdered. The ghost’s anger is reflected in faucets randomly being turned on and off by themselves and bed sheets being tossed around the room. Other rooms that are said to have their own ghosts are the Queen’s Salon and the suites in First Class. Paranormal activity also take place below decks. The engine room is haunted by a crew member, John Pedder, who lost his life when he was trapped and crushed when a watertight door, Door No. 13, closed in Shaft Alley. The old kitchen was where the ship’s cook was murdered by World War II troops, and ghost hunters have experienced a lot of paranormal activity in the morgue.

The ghost tours are offered all year and include historical information. There are tours without the ghosts that go into detail about her construction, her service as a commercial liner and during the war, and her speed records. Whether visitors take the ghost stories seriously or in fun, a tour is a chance to step aboard an ocean liner from days gone by and experience the life and times of her passengers and crew. Queen Mary was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1993.

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The Queen Mary