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Is California’s death ship really haunted?

It’s fitting that the RMS Queen Mary was once known as the Grey Ghost, for tales of the supernatural have been plaguing her ever since World War II.

Perhaps plaguing is not the best word, as the ship’s so-called haunted history is one of the only things keeping her afloat.

Since the late 1960s, the Queen Mary has been docked in Long Beach, California, with a second life as a hotel and restaurant. Ownership of the great ocean liner has passed through many hands, only to be put up for sale again and again in the face of financial difficulties.

This changed when the decision was made to market the ship as a haunted attraction, which was undertaken with all the fanfare of Disney, who just happens to have been one of its former owners. During the ship’s Ghosts and Legends tour, fog rises from the abandoned first-class pool where a little girl supposedly drowned. Light effects and a “ghost cam” complete the illusion.

Contrived scares aside, the Queen Mary certainly has enough blood on her bow to give people nightmares. Back in World War II, she accidentally rammed one of her escort ships, sending 239 people to their deaths. Then there is the chilling story of John Pedder, a crewman who was crushed underneath one of the liner’s watertight doors.

Almost 50 people died on the ship during its era as a luxury liner, and no one knows how many soldiers and POWs perished on it during World War II. Some areas of the ship are reportedly so haunted that the only way to visit them is as part of an official tour, with ticket prices running just shy of $40 for adults. Hmm…

Queen Mary ghost tour

I love a good ghost story as much as the next person, but this article introduced me to a different perspective. The author argues that focusing on the so-called “hauntings” is damaging the Queen Mary’s actual history while disrespecting the real people who lived and died on her.

In some ways, I agree with him. But I also think that these ghost stories–fictional or not, exaggerated or not–most likely saved the ship from that Great Scrapyard in the Sky. Isn’t a haunted Queen Mary better than none at all?

Since I began this blog, I’ve made a point of visiting some of the world’s most haunted attractions, from Romania’s haunted forest to Italy’s haunted island. I’m excited to add the Queen Mary to my list next spring, when I’ll be attending StokerCon and staying overnight. This will be the most time I’ve ever spent in a place that is reputedly haunted, so it’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, happens.

Have you ever visited the RMS Queen Mary? Would you be brave enough to spend the night? Do you think ghost tours are disrespectful or good business? Do you believe in ghosts?

PS: Turns out there’s a scientific reason some people see ghost ships!

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34 Comments

  1. I don’t know that I’d want to stay overnight on the Queen Mary, but it does sound like an interesting place to visit. Sad that the true history of the ship isn’t included more with the haunted aspect. But as you said, at least the haunting business keeps it afloat.

    Thoughts in Progress
    and MC Book Tours

    Reply
    • JH

      You can live vicariously through me, Mason! I’m so excited about going.

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      Reply
  2. We have a battleship on our coast that is marketed for its history, but if taking the ghost angle keeps the Queen Mary open, then that’s what they need to do. I imagine the old ship makes enough weird noises to keep the ghost stories going.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re right–Alex. Apparently the creaking and motion of the docked ship plays into people’s ideas that it’s haunted. I’ve read articles that describe it as having an otherworldly feel.

      Reply
  3. I visited the Queen Mary back in the mid-1970’s and don’t remember the guide talking about ghosts. But I’d likely spend the night. Can’t see any reason they would bother with little old me.

    Reply
    • JH

      You never know, Denise! 🙂 Perhaps they didn’t need to haul out the ghost angle back then. This ship has definitely weathered prosperous and not-so-prosperous periods in its long life.

      Reply
    • JH

      Of course not, but I’d love to hear your stories!

      I’ve had a few of my own unexplained experiences, so it’s easy for me to keep an open mind.

      Reply
  4. Most historic places have at least a little ghost tale in there somewhere. I don’t think it negates the historical interest of a place. It just adds a little story to draw in people who find “just the facts” dull. It bring in the imagination, whether you believe in the ghosts or not.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Samantha. I’ve been on some horrible, cheesy ghost tours in my time, but I love to explore allegedly haunted destinations. Which I’m sure you’ve guessed! 😀

      Reply
  5. Yes!! I’ve visited the RMS Queen Mary. She’s a beautiful ship, and I’m glad the ghost tour saved her, even if it is very Disney-esque. Of course, it was scary enough for my 14 year old daughter that she began to cry and had to exit early with my husband. I finished the tour with my 11 year old, who rolled her eyes at her sister’s departure and pointed out all the fake stuff to me.

    We had a lovely dinner in the restaurant after the 14 year old calmed down. :/

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, I love the description of your kids, Dianne. The 11-year-old sounds hilarious.

      I’m looking forward to visiting this ship myself. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

      Reply
  6. I agree that a haunted Queen Mary is better than no Queen Mary. I’ve never been on a ship before. Not one that’s haunted or even not haunted. lol I am looking forward to hearing about your experience. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Chrys! I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be back with a full report.

      Reply
  7. The stories intrigue me, and I would argue, give those who lost their lives on the ship a lingering remembrance. I’d like to say I’d spend the night in haunted places, but sometimes, when my mind gets going, I struggle to sleep in my own bed.

    Reply
    • JH

      I hear ya, Ryan. Nothing haunts me more than my own to-do list!

      Thanks for commenting, my friend. Hope you’re having a great summer.

      Reply
  8. Whatever saves the history, right?
    🙂

    Heather

    Reply
    • JH

      True. When I worked at a museum as a publicist, I was thrilled when I discovered people thought the place was haunted. It’s an easy sell for a lot of people.

      Reply
  9. Alex is right: as an older ship, she probably makes more than enough noise to convince the sleepy that ghosts are floating down the passageways! I would stay overnight … I say that with the lights on! 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Good for you, Roland! It’s great to find a fellow daredevil.

      And you’re right: apparently the natural noises the ship makes have a habit of freaking people out.

      Reply
  10. I would love to visit this ship and have heard about the ghost stories from Unsolved Mysteries plus I watched a documentary about the ship which I think is from that romantic era of the great liners. I would be tempted to sleep overnight on it. As I mentioned before, I have had strange things happen which I can’t explain but have not seen anything. I do believe there is more going on and we just have not figured it out quite yet. I would love to visit the Winchester home and that toy store which is considered one of the most haunted places in the states. When I had heard about it, it freaked me out.

    Reply
    • JH

      Mmm…I haven’t heard of the toy store, Birgit, but Winchester is on my bucket list too. Thanks for the tip about the store!

      I’ll have to check out the Unsolved Mysteries episode if I can find it.

      Reply
  11. If the contrived scares get people there and keep the ship afloat, that’s a good thing. People can always read up on the real history of the ship and learn more facts before visiting.

    You are one brave woman! 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s true. I believe they also have really good history tours, but the ghost one is more popular.

      Go figure.

      Reply
  12. I think one of the ghost hunting TV shows went on the Queen Mary.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yeah, the one that features that Zach (sp?) guy.

      Reply
  13. I’m a scaredy-cat, so definitely NO sleeping in haunted houses/on haunted ships for me! LOL
    You are brave! 🙂
    I think ghost tours are good business.
    Enjoy your overnight stay on the Queen Mary. It will undoubtedly be an enriching experience, one that you’ll be able to transfer to your fictional tales.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Michelle. As it turns out, I’m great at finding scary stuff here at home too, but the Queen Mary will take it to a whole new level!

      Congrats on your success with Camp NaNoWriMo.

      Reply
  14. I stayed on the Queen a few years ago, and try as I might, I couldn’t see anything ghostly. The room was small, but very sweet. The food excellent and the stroll around the haunted decks delightful. Wish I could report something grisly and ghastly to pique appetites. I do agree with you about the ghost stories saving her from the scrapyard. How fortunate. She’s a beauty and gives people a glimpse into another time.

    Reply
    • JH

      She sounds amazing, Lee. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

      I can hardly wait!

      Reply
  15. I like the preservation of historical buildings, ships, and landmarks, even if sometimes unconventional methods have to be employed to do so. When things like that are tore down or scrapped, you just can’t get it back. The history that is absorbed into the framework of it is lost forever. =) I’ve always been a bit more cynical while somehow remaining open-minded about things. I don’t like to get swept away like they often seem to do on ghost hunter shows, etc. but I also don’t like to be so cynical that I can’t see or sense things that might be trying to get my attention.

    Reply
  16. That’s freakin’ awesome! I can’t wait to read about your stay! I can’t imagine when I’ll get back to that side of the US, so I will live vicariously thru you!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lisa! I’ll do my best to scare up something worthwhile for you. 🙂

      Reply
  17. I can tell you Jh that the ship is most definitely haunted! If you want to read about the ship’s history and spirits you can pick up my book, “Ghosts of the Queen Mary.” It is the only non-self published book about her haunts available and quite a good read. Not biased…nope. Look for me at the Stoker Awards and I’ll show you some of her more active areas.

    Reply

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