Haunting Tales: The RMS Queen Mary
The RMS Queen Mary is an interesting paranormal site to study. Listed as one of the top ten most haunted sites in the US, it is intriguing to see such a quintessentially British artifact inhabiting a site in California. But, of course, being a trans-Atlantic vessel, she has always been a daughter of two worlds and I suppose it is fitting that a ship born in the UK should end her days in the US.
For those who are not aware of the history, the Queen Mary was one of two cruise ships (the other being the RMS Queen Elizabeth) built by Cunard and launched in 1934 to make trans-Atlantic crossings. She did this with style and elegance for several years, with a brief spell painted gray for military service as a troop carrier in WWII (renamed the Grey Ghost), before finally being retired in 1967. Another ship (the QM II) took over the name in 2004 when that ship replaced the now retired QE II (launched in 1969) as flagship of the Cunard fleet.
After retirement, the Queen Mary was converted into a hotel and tourist attraction in Long Beach, California where it is still permanently moored and has played host to holidaymakers, museums, the Walt Disney Corporation (who owned it in the 80’s)* and even a Roller Derby team (Long Beach Derby Gals who used it as a venue but now seem to have moved elsewhere).
And, if the rumors are to be believed, ghosts…
It is actually not unexpected that a famous venue with such a history would attract ghost stories. The QM served for many years, including being involved in war, and 49 passengers and crew are said to have died on her (not to mention the unrecorded numbers of prisoners of war and soldiers who died on her during the war). The shock would be if there were not any ghost stories at all rather than it being listed as the 6th most haunted site in the USA (with 130 officially recorded ghosts). Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it cannot be denied that historic settings with a story behind them gain an atmosphere that is conducive to hauntings – atmospheres that inspire the imagination if nothing else. Which is why you can have the chance to tour the ship as a ghost hunter and why Paranormal Television programmes feature it.
So what are the hauntings associated with this retired cruise liner?
Well, the most famous is the ghost of John Pedder, a fireman (someone who stoked the boilers, not a fire fighter) who died on the ship in 1966 during a routine drill**. He was crushed by a watertight door (referred to as ‘Door 13’) and it is believed that the ghost wearing blue overalls, referred to as ‘Half Hatch Harry’ by the ghost tour, is John. Though some sources suggest it could be another crew member called John McKenzie who died in a similar way in 1942.
There are also a number of (mostly) female ghosts in the area of the two swimming pools, despite no one ever being recorded as drowning in either one. The most prominent of these is a girl called ‘Jackie’ who is seen in various locations over the ship (such as the Boiler room). In addition, there are reports of wet footprints appearing with no sign of the feet making them. The first class swimming pool (the only one of the two pools that remains) is currently monitored 24 hours a day by a camera that is specifically there to look for ghosts because so many sightings are reported there. In the show ‘Most Haunted USA’, psychic Derek Acorah assigns the name Kathryn Miller to one of these ghosts and adds dates of somewhere in the 1930s and 1960 though we have no way to confirm these details.
The changing area behind the swimming pool is also a location of supernatural activity with several psychics describing it as ‘a swirling vortex of negative energy, something like a dimensional gateway’. The story here is linked to a woman who was raped there – presumably the emotions underlying this rape being a trigger for this negative energy vortex. Though there are no other details of this incident or indeed any evidence it ever happened – every source seems to refer back to the same claim made by psychics. This suggests either an exceptional cover-up (and if the victim was wealthy or aristocratic I can see this being the case but even then if the incident itself was known about at all there would surely be some details such as the name of the victim) or it never happened. I’ve done some reasonable digging on this and so far have not found any mention of this rape other than what the psychics claim.
Another site of interest is Stateroom B340 which is believed to be haunted by a murdered Purser. However, yet again there are no details given about the name of this Pursur or when and how he died. In this room, there are reports of faucets turning themselves on and sheets flying across the room.
There are many other stories about the ship but these are the main ones. There is. inevitably, much debate over these sightings. Most prominently the article by John Champion which challenged the claims quite strongly. Champion claims that the venue profits significantly from the ghost tours it runs and that this is a good reason for them to make the most of the reputation of the ship. Examining the cases described above critically there is a lot to doubt there. For example, while some of the stories behind the sightings have verifiable details, such as names and dates (John Pedder/John McKenzie) which at least suggests that the incidents that led to the hauntings actually happened, there are a lot of vague details. For example, the alleged rape that has no date or name of victim or the alleged murder that equally has no date or name attached. Plus there is also the mismatch between the official records and the anecdotes – such as the official records listing no death by drowning in the pool but there being ghosts (such as ‘Jackie’) being attributed to drownings. In some cases these could be explained by a cover up by the company and/or the possibly inefficient way in which crimes at sea got reported (which depended on someone reporting to the police at the destination port). This is certainly possible with the sexual assault mentioned above, especially if the victim was from a wealthy or noble family. However, I feel it is as likely that these incidents never actually happened as even rumour will give some details.
Overall, the RMS Queen Mary is a site with a fascinating and ghoulish history. It is obviously an atmospheric place with a lot of gory anecdotes to feed the imaginations of those who visit and certainly an original place for a ghost tour (here in the UK, these are usually done in old churches or castles so a ship makes a difference). However, I feel there needs to be more evidence than presented here before we can say for definite that the ghost claims are true. Feel free to present your opinions and counter evidence in the comments.
*She was never really labeled as a Disney attraction before they let her go. I do wonder what sort of film they may have made if they had decided to use her as an inspiration in the same way they used the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
**Apparently, there was a game the crew would play that involved seeing how many times you could jump through a door during a fire drill before the automatic systems closed it. This tragedy only highlights the stupidity of such practices.
D.A Lascelles is the author of Lurking Miscellany, Transitions (Mundania Press), Gods of the Sea (Pulp Empires) and Gods of the Deep. He lives in Manchester UK. You can sometimes see him writing about Zombie porn on https://dalascelles.co.uk/ but he mostly blogs about books, vampires, science fiction and Terry Pratchett. He is inordinately proud of the fact that one of his Pratchett articles was referenced on the French version of the author’s Wikipedia page.