The American War Bride Experience

GI Brides of World War II

The RMS Queen Mary:

The Most Haunted Place in America
By Tracy Morris

Ship has led a long a storied life.. Ship has led a long a storied life.

She's a war hero and a celebrity. She's been the subject of books and the star of both TV and movies. Some people say that she's a haunted lady. She's also a boat.

The Queen Mary, which is now a floating hotel in Long Beach, California, is considered the most haunted structure in America. But how did she get that way?

In 1930, The Cunard shipping company began construction on the RMS Queen Mary as part of a ship building race with Germany's Norddeutsche Loyd line. However, construction was halted due to the Great Depression.

Cunard applied for a loan from the British government to finish the ship. They were granted one that would not only finance building the Queen Mary, but also her sister ship the RMS Queen Elizabeth. The condition for the loan was that Cunard would merge with the White Star Line, the company famous for building the RMS Titanic. Once the two companies merged, they completed work on the ship, and it was launched in 1934.

In 1936 the Queen Mary beat out a rival ship, the Normandie, to hold the record for speed in Transatlantic crossing. It briefly lost the record back to Normandie in 1937, but reclaimed it and held it from 1938 to 1952.

In the pre-World War II era, when air travel had yet to establish dominance, speedy travel by large, elegant steam ships was the most practical way to cross from Europe to the Americas. Passengers who could afford to travel in luxury would pay for the comforts that the finest ships could offer. In this distinction, The Queen Mary did not disappoint. First Class passengers could enjoy an indoor swimming pool, salon, ship's library, children's nursery, first class dining.

The ship's grandeur attracted noted passengers, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo and Clark Gable.

All of this changed during World War II. During this time, Allied commanders pressed the ship into service as a troop transport ship. The ship's speed would allow her to outrace German submarines. She was given a coat of grey paint to better camouflage her. This, along with her elusiveness during wartime, caused her to earn the nickname The Grey Ghost.

In addition to the paint, she was refitted inside to carry significantly more troops. The pools were drained and standee bunks were installed. Troops slept in shifts.

Her use as a troop transport was so integral to the Allied war effort, that Hitler offered a $250,000 reward and Germany's highest military honor to any captain who could sink the vessel. During this time, two notable incidents occurred. On October 2, 1942, the ship accidentally sank one of its escort cruisers, the HMS Curacoa.

While traveling, the ships traveled in zig zag patterns for safety. The Curacoa passed in front of the Queen Mary and was struck mid-ship. The Queen Mary cut the Curacoa in two. Due to orders, the transport ship couldn't even stop to lend assistance. Other ships in the convoy were able to rescue survivors, but the accident resulted in 338 casualties.

The Queen Mary's bow was crumpled from the incident.

The second incident occurred in December of the same year. The ship was transporting 16,082 American GI's from New York to Great Britain when it was struck broadside by a rogue wave. The ship tilted dangerously, and nearly capsized. The incident inspired the book and movie The Poseidon Adventure. The ship also served as the backdrop for the movie.

After World War II, the ship was briefly used to transport European war brides and their children to their GI husbands in North America. Then it was refitted, and once again became a Transatlantic passenger vessel. It served the Cunard line from 1947 to 1967, when Cunard sold her to the city of Long Beach to finance the construction of the Queen Elizabeth 2.

Once the city of Long Beach began to convert the ship into a hotel and floating museum, reports began to circulate of ghostly inhabitants.

In the past 60 years, the ship has had at least 49 reported deaths on board. Official statistics vary, but the Queen Mary is said to be haunted by at least 130 known spirits. These include the ghosts of passengers, crew, and soldiers.

Some of the more famous haunted areas include the first and second class swimming pools, where sightings of ghostly women in 1930's era bathing costumes, splashes, and wet footprints have been reported.

In the second class poolroom in particular, the ghost of a child named Jackie, who is said to have drowned during a transatlantic crossing, has been spotted.

The changing rooms off the first class swimming pool is another haunted area. There seems to be a vortex of negative energy, or so several psychics have claimed. .

Other children have been spotted in the third class playroom, where it is said that if you listen closely, you can hear the sounds of disembodied crying.

One particularly haunted area is the ship's engine room. There, Door Number 13 is the site of an unlucky accident, where a crewman was crushed to death during a routine drill. Since then, many have reported seeing the ghost of a workman in coveralls walk toward Door 13, and then vanish. Additionally, the cargo hold is said to be haunted in the vicinity of the area that was damaged when the ship struck the Curacoa.

The ship's officials have capitalized on the ship's notorious haunting by offering ghost tours of every stripe. While some are straightforward, others offer dramatizations of the hauntings to make the tours seem more eerie to patrons. In addition, a haunted maze is hosted on the ship. During Halloween, the attraction is greatly expanded.

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© 2005 M. Thomas