Of the famously haunted locations in the United States, the RMS Queen Mary is the most iconic and instantly recognizable. From its maiden voyage in 1936 to its retirement in 1967, this stately embodiment of elegant travel has seen life and death come and go with the tides.
When she first got her sea legs, the Queen Mary, flagship of the Cunard Line, was the fastest, most luxurious (and just short of the largest) ship to sail the Atlantic. The first class accommodations may have been named for a queen but they were fit for a king , and celebrities such as Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, and Winston Churchill were but a few of her A-list clientele. Though it was still the Depression, there was no lack of excess and opulence at the top, and luxury cruises were the only civilized way to travel between and Old and New Worlds.
But those days came to a screeching halt with the outbreak of WWII in 1939. The Queen Mary⎯along with sister ship the Queen Elizabeth⎯was called into service, and she answered. She was converted into a transport ship for Allied troops. Six miles of carpet, 220 cases of china, crystal and silver service, tapestries and paintings were removed and stored in warehouses for the duration of the war. She doubled her capacity from 2,410 to 5,500 (and eventually much more), and received a new, stealthy paint job that earned her the nickname “The Grey Ghost.”
During the course of the War she ferried over 800,000 troops to Europe. She set the record for most people aboard a floating vessel, 16,683, which still stands to this day. The Queen Mary’s contribution to the war was unmistakable but not without its share of tragedy.
In October of 1942 the Queen Mary was carrying 10,000 troops across the Atlantic. It was procedure for the large vessel to travel in a zigzag pattern, an evasive maneuver that lessened the likelihood of detection by German U boats. Her escort was the HMS Curacoa, a much smaller, less powerful ship that provided anti-aircraft cover for the Grey Ghost. The Curacoa’s engines strained to keep up with the Queen Mary and her captain made a fateful error, running straight instead of zigzagging.
The Queen Mary, humming along at a speed of 28 knots, sped toward the Curacoa, which had no chance of avoiding the impending collision. The Curacoa was literally cut in two. Due to the threat of U boat attack, strict orders prevented the Queen Mary from stopping or attempting any sort of rescue mission. The screams of the dying rang across the water as the Ghost continued on her journey. The Curacoa sank in less than six minutes, taking all but 99 of the 338 crew with her. The Queen Mary suffered minor damages compared to the complete devastation of her escort.
After the War, the Grey Ghost returned to her role as luxury ship, but the age of the airplane had arrived. Air travel gained popularity and affordability and by the ’60s the Queen Mary was operating at a loss. After 1,000 trips carrying over 2.1 million passengers, she was retired in 1967.
The grand dame was given new life as a hotel, museum, and tourist attraction after being permanently docked in Long Beach, California, and it was then that staff and visitors began to report unusual sounds and ghostly apparitions in nearly every part of her. With at least 49 reported deaths aboard the Queen Mary, it’s no wonder she plays host to so many spirits.
Agonized screams and the sound of tearing metal have been reported in the boiler room. Many believe these to be from the spirits of the doomed men of the Curacoa. Another more frightening apparition nicknamed “Half Hatch Harry” has been spotted near watertight door #13 where an 18 year-old sailor was crushed and literally severed in two by the thick heavy door in which he was trapped. Was it a routine drill or an ill-fated game of chicken that took this young man’s life?
Another of the ship’s prominent spirits is that of a young girl who plays an endless game of hide and seek around the empty first class pool. Her tiny wet footprints have been reported coming out of the pool dressing room, thought to be some kind of spiritual vortex.
Paranormal investigators flock to Long Beach hoping to catch a glimpse of one of these resident ghosts. Ghost Hunters' Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson brought their team to the ship for an episode of their show. Although they uncovered an obvious hoax attempt, they couldn’t deny the energy and activity that surrounded them during their stay.
Fact or Faked star Bill Murphy brought his squad to the Queen Mary as well, and agreed that there is something otherworldly going on in the dark recesses of the ship. Murphy produced a documentary about the hauntings on board that examines many different facets of this remarkable national treasure.
THIS EXCERPT FROM America’s Most Haunted: The Secrets of Famous Paranormal Places WAS PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION.
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