Probably one of Southern California’s most famous haunted locations, the Queen Mary sits permanently docked in Long Beach and caters to tourists and conventioneers. Walking its historic decks, one tries to imagine its former lives as both a luxury oceanliner (it’s larger than the doomed Titantic) and a World War II military troop transport nicknamed the Grey Ghost.Before the sun went down, we explored the public decks on our own, leisurely strolling from stern to bow. The ship and its hotel feels rundown and is in need of a renovation. However, we still marveled at the former splendor of art deco lobbies and ornate staircases.
For tourists, there is a “Ghosts & Legends” theme-park style show that visits the most well-known haunts, including the first class swimming pool. Avoid this show at all costs unless you delight in fog effects and loud scares. We had come for a special after hours tour with a small group of paranormal enthusiasts that was to begin at 9:00pm. So we had dinner at one of the Queen’s restaurants — it was decent — and waited for the appointed hour to arrive.
We met our group and an official guide who had the keys to the below deck kingdom. There were eight of us total. We proceeded into the engine room, where massive steam turbines once powered the old girl. Impressive. Our first stop was the infamous Door 13 where a 18-year-old crew member was crushed to death by the watertight hydraulic door’s 900 pounds of pressure. John’s ghost has been sighted in this area since his death in the 60s. He’s said to be a prankster and likes to pull tricks on the unsuspecting. They are stories of guests taking a self-guided tour through the area and hearing someone run up behind them, only to turn and find no one there.
Despite trying to contact him for over 30 minutes, no one had any success and we moved on into the bowels of the ship. Next stop was an cavernous hold that once housed the enormous steam boilers. When the ship was docked and turned into a hotel, one provision was that these boilers had to be removed so the Queen might never sail again. What was left was rusting metal, ladders and catwalks and an unmistakable feeling of foreboding.
As soon as we entered this area, we began to hear what sounded like many people walking overhead. Our guide was puzzled by this, and we questioned him about activity on the decks above since we had noticed that a dance was taking place on the ship that evening. He said that there was no way this event’s activity was contaminating our present location. Ignore the voice (it’s one of the people in the group) and listen to the loud footsteps from way above us:
It was very odd, but since we could neither prove nor disprove his explanation at the moment, we moved on into the hold. A wooden platform had been constructed above the rusting floor and we followed this to the far side. Here we could look both into an adjacent hold which was inaccessible and down the length of the boiler area. The group did some EVP work in here, but we didn’t find anything on our audio of note.
Exiting back the way we came, we walked through a set of doors into what is the ship’s convention space. It was a really odd transition, but allowed for a needed restroom break. Next we climbed several shut down escalators and stepped through another set of locked doors that led us onto one of the catwalks above the vast hold. It was a long way down! But it was very interesting to note that the sound of footsteps could not be heard from up here, which only made us more curious as to their source.
We next entered another locked area that housed the Queen Mary’s archives. Here remnants of the ship’s past lay haphazardly strewn about: chairs mixing with fixtures, dusty boxes of documents and art. We descended several narrow flights of stairs until we were below the waterline and in the bow of the ship. This immediate area was the site of a terrible WWII tragedy.
While serving as a troop transport ship in Word War II, the Grey Ghost — so called because her Cunard colors were covered by layers of flat grey paint that rendered her invisible on the water –was famed for her remarkable speed. No military escort could keep up with her unless she moved in a zig-zag pattern, in effect allowing the other ships to catch up to her. But it was this very tactic that resulted in the deaths of 338 men aboard the HMS Curacoa. Believing a German u-boat to be near, the Curacoa cut too sharply across the Queen Mary’s bow and was split in two. The Queen’s bow was heavily damaged, but the captain steamed full speed in to port in order to protect the 15,000 troops on board.
And we were now sitting in the very area where all these men lost their lives. Below us, in a cramped hold once chilled by the North Atlantic’s icy water, was the area where German prisoners of war were held. We sat down in a circle and turned off all our lights. It was pitch black and one’s eyes struggled to find any source of light, but there was none beside the glowing LED’s on the audio recorders we placed in the middle of the room. We tried to reach out to the spirits of the Curacoa sailors, asking them to please give us a sign of their presence. At one point, there was a sharp metallic sound like something had hit the wall. However, Carol later told me that she felt that one of group members was less than legit as she had seen him earlier pick up and hide a nail or bolt in his palm. One person’s “fun” can ruin it for everyone.
Our last stop was the famous first class swimming area where the spirit of a little girl has often been reported. There are also reports of “vortexes” in the adjacent dressing rooms and this is where we began our investigation. We each stepped into one of the door-less dressing stalls that lined the narrow room. I have to admit the vibe in this area was creepy, but there was no evidence of the ghost cat that likes to brush up against ankles or shadows passing across the room.
The art deco swimming pool area itself is lit with low light and you can see the rigging for the special effects show. The ceiling of this room contains quartz, which is known to enhance paranormal activity. However, of all the areas we had visited, this one felt the least likely to be haunted despite the claims. Our group spread out and settled down. Carol, who is great with children, tried to contact the little girl. I eventually wandered back into the dressing room to see if anything would happen while I was alone. Once again, nothing happened.
Perhaps it was the size of our group, or perhaps it was just not an auspicious night, but we left with no tangible proof of the Queen Mary’s spirits. However our walk through maritime history was quite enjoyable.