After headlines swept the globe to indicate the sinking of the Royal Merchant Ship (R.M.S.) Titanic— the world’s grandest ocean liner of its time that left over 1,500 passengers dead— hesitations ensued about the luxury of traveling by ship. Low and behold, the John Brown Shipyard in 1930 Scotland began the construction of a tremendous beauty, halted during the Great Depression yet resuming interest quickly thereafter.
In 1936 she was launched in what was considered “the greatest achievement shipbuilding had ever seen” … a craft bigger and faster than the Royal Merchant Ship (R.M.S.), Titanic. The ship endured a remarkable history, even appearing alongside Frank Sinatra in the 1966 film Assault on a Queen, in which a million-dollar gold bust denotes the ship a damsel in distress. Who would have thought that a vessel so luxurious, catering to only the post powerful patrons and upholding record speed and distance, would soon bear the name of the “Grey Ghost” before succumbing to a haunting floating fate. Here are 10 haunting facts about the R.M.S. Queen Mary.
10. The Mystery Behind the Name
During the initial construction the ship’s name was kept a closely guarded secret, and no one can be sure why.
One thing is certain however, that during its christening in September 26th, 1934, King George V and his wife, Queen Mary of Teck, appeared in Southampton, England, to pay respects to Britain’s proud achievement.
To thousands of cheering onlookers gathered on the docks, the King gave a heartwarming speech and associated the name with his Queen for the first time. Her highness then cut the ribbon and broke a bottle of wine to honor perhaps herself and her floating counterpart.
It wouldn’t be until two years later that the Queen Mary would make her first ever voyage from England to New York on May 27th, 1936.
9. A Relationship with Strings Attached
In the midst of the Great Depression when the economy was at an all-time low, a deal had been struck. The British government would grant the loan and funds to continue work on ship #534, only if Cunard and White Star agreed to merge. The British shipping company Cunard had fallen on hard times along with its counterpart White Star, the famous owner of the doomed Titanic. Thus, in 1934 the Cunard-White Star line was born, and a thirty-million-dollar price tag, equating 560 million today, was slapped on the grand vessel and construction continued. The goal—a sister ship by the name of Queen Elizabeth would be built and together her and The Mary would dominate transatlantic travel.
8. The Queen’s Receives a Makeover
After World War II, the Queen Mary underwent a lavish makeover to shed the remnants of her military duties while at sea. The upgrade required 10 months of renovation in order to restore the ship back to her grandeur reputation. To regain proper standards required for commercial passenger service, The Cunard-White Star line added extra berths in all level of classes, as well as standard air-conditioning. In July of 1947, the Queen Mary made her debut to the open sea once more, alongside her sister the Queen Elizabeth, and continued an elevated level of popularity for the next two decades.
7. Power, Size, and Reputation
In an era in which France, Britain, and Germany scrambled over one another to become the top provider of illustrious transatlantic transport, two British companies, the Cunard and White Star, rivaled one another in terms of size, speed and luxury. One British ship builder, commissioned by Cunard and well famous for the Lusitania (torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in 1915), became hard at work on what was then known only as Hull Number 534. Soon, the R.M.S. Queen Mary became one of the most powerful ships ever built. Even larger than its predecessor the Titanic, and just as elegant, the Queen Mary in its prime was called the finest ocean liner to cross the Atlantic. In fact, the vessel traversed this seventh sea approximately 1001 times during her transatlantic reign in the mid-20th century.
The ship’s sheer size alone was enough to create a sense of wonder among the general public. At 1018 feet long and weighing 81,000 tons, the Queen Mary was considered the largest ocean liner of her day. In fact, her rudder a lone weighed 150 tons and was deemed the largest ever built. To compare, the grand Titanic was only 883 feet long, and 46,000 tons. Aboard the Queen Mary was a massive 143-foot dining room that spanned the entire length of the ship; the room was large enough to host 800 first class passengers at one time. This social area was also considered the largest dining room on any ship of that time. Underneath, two dozen boilers and four sets of turbines generating 160,000 horsepower fueled four large propellers, which in turn moved at a whopping 200 revolutions per minute. This power alone ensured the ship upheld the fastest transatlantic speed record for 14 years.
6. Amenities fit for the Gods
Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Desi Arnez of I Love Lucy, Bob Hope, Queen Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill were among some of the rich and famous to experience the luxury of the Queen Mary. And it’s no wonder—with five dining rooms, two grand pools, an expansive ballroom—the dining and entertainment alone were enough to attract wealthy passengers to the ship’s first-class accommodations. A first-class menu boasted of pastries, broiled kipper herring and French onion soup gratinee. An art-deco mural in the main dining hall featured a crystal model of the ship itself and tracked the journey from England to New York. The guestlist boomed with royalty, Hollywood celebrities and elite business gurus and prominent political figures… but not all guests exuded glamor. In addition to first-class, the ship had a “tourist-class” or, first class followed by third class. In the latter, the most cramped quarters were reserved for workers, with some rooms squeezing in 10 crewmembers per tiny bunk.
5. A 15 Year World Record
The Queen Mary held many impressive accolades, but among her most prized award with the 1936 Blue riband, an archaic term for “ribbon.” In August of the same year the vessel clocked in at over 30 knots, deeming the highest average speed ever to cross the Atlantic, a record voyage that crossed a distance 3000 nautical miles in just over four days. Her biggest rival, the Normandie, seized this title momentarily in 1937, yet the victorious Mary nabbed back her title the following year and kept it well into the year 1952. It may be of no slight fluke the Blue Riband candy—a delectable chocolate covered wafer owned by Nestle, developed in the UK in the 1930’s.
4. Honorable Military Service
The Queen Mary had just completed a successful voyage to New York, when she received a strict order from the British government. The ship was to stay docked at port until further notice. It was soon determined by allied forces that all three ships currently docked in New York: the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and the Normandie, would undergo transformation and evolve into troopships sent to deliver servicemen to various battlefronts. The Queen Mary was painted a foreboding grey, earning her the ominous new name of Grey Ghost. To prepare the ocean liner for unwarranted contact, the ship was ornamented in a degaussing coil which altered the magnetic field in order to avoid enemy mimes. This form of protection deemed the ships as highly valuable troopships, especially with the Queen Mary’s capability of moving 15,000 soldiers at a time, earning her another honor of most people to ever board a vessel.
3. A Tragic Encounter
During World War II the Queen Mary was given an escort, the H.M.S. (Her Majesty Ship) Curacoa. Having survived the first World War, the Curacoa was sent to join the Queen Mary for a rendezvous mission off the coast of Ireland. On October 2nd, 1942, the pair departed: The former on a straight course and the Queen Mary on her usual zig-zagged route to ward off the pursuit of German enemy U-boats. The wayward nature of each other’s course sent the two ships headed right for one another. A British sailor by the name of Alfred Johnson recalled: “I said to my mate … ‘I’m sure we’re going to hit her.’ And sure enough, the Queen Mary sliced the cruiser in two like a piece of butter, straight through the six-inch armored plating.” Records determine that before crewmen could take necessary action, the powerful Queen Mary collided with the Curacoa, cutting it in half and sending the victim ship straight to the ocean floor. While 100 men were rescued, the tragedy took the lives of 337.
2. A Floating Fate
By the late 1960’s the famous Queen Mary had begun to exhaust her fame and fortune, as thirty years of popularity and travel signaled an end for the transatlantic ocean liner. The Queen Mary departed on her ultimate cruise on October 31st, 1967, after the Cunard line (reverting back to their pre-merger name), decided to sell the ship. In December 9th of the same year, the vessel docked in Long Beach, California, where she remains as a floating luxury hotel, museum, and novelty—with an impressionable 3.8 million nautical miles under her belt along with war stories and Hollywood accolades. With three restaurants, shopping and dining, the Queen Mary Heritage Foundation aims to develop an educational facility that will preserve the ship’s remarkable history. Today, the old Grey Ghost stands as a reminder of the past, and a beacon of life—or lack thereof, for all venture near.
1. Haunting Occurrences
The luminous floating vessel is known for ghostly wails and reports of frantic banging from the belly of the ship, where it once tragically struck the Curacoa, a sister ship sent to perform military missions with the Queen Mary. Some have reported to staff grave changes in temperature while in the boiler room; others have seen a faint floating light or experience the smell smoke for no apparent reason. Pipes can be heard banging about, and some report the engine room door to radiate extreme and sudden warmth, when all activity has been quiet for over fifty years. These moments have been accredited to several ghost sightings, including a visit from specter John Henry, a wartime sailor who died in an engine room fire at the young age of seventeen. A figure known as “Half Hatch Harry” is consistently reported lurking around the boiler room near the infamous “Door 13”, a site often visited by a large figure in blue overalls and carrying a wrench. During a routine drill aboard the vessel, a ship appointed fireman by the name of John Pedder, took his last breath while being crushed by the daunting door 13. There is speculation to this story however, over how a massive door requiring sixty seconds to close could cause a man to get trapped within its steely trap. Nonetheless curious Ghost hunters have reveled in the story, administering 24-hour surveillance cameras at said door to keep a constant watch on any unsuspected paranormal activity.
In other accounts, angry customers reported a cook aboard the ocean liner that served food so horrible, it caused his untimely murder by soldiers who pushed the chef into his own oven. Despite the unrealistic nature of this story, as there were always several chefs present and no written accounts from military personnel, passengers and tourists have reported deadly screams coming protruding from the oven. The story has proved so thrilling that it inspired a Queen Mary Halloween maze in which daring ticketholders pass through the kitchen in a weaving frenzy.
Another report is of a spirit given the name “Dana of the Dead,” and she is heard calling for her mother by the 2nd class pool. The child apparition has been seen playing in the archives and cargo area as well, calling to her mother when any intruder comes near. In another case, a young girl and her father were found dead in their bathroom suite of room B74; the pair were fatally shot, while the girl’s sister and mother were found strangled to death in their beds of the same room. The family’s tragic fate is figured to be a murderer suicide and separate of ghostly revelations yet add to the ship’s eerie evolution and fascinating history.