The Queen Mary spent more than 30 years on the high seas, and has logged another 20 years as a tourist attraction docked in Long Beach. In that time, stories of unexplained noises, eerie laughter, faucets turning off and on, images appearing in porthole windows and other phenomena have made the rounds, passed on from officers and crew members who purportedly witnessed the strange occurrences.
Add to that the ship's history, which includes being used for transport during World War II, its part in a deadly accident during that time and a reputation for being a favorite among Hollywood stars, politicians and royalty, and the formula for an intriguing new attraction is set.
The "Ghosts, Myths & Legends of the Queen Mary" tour was developed, according to Keith Kambak, vice president of the Queen Mary, after the staff realized that scores of visitors spent much of their time asking questions about reported ghost sightings and legends connected with the ship. Although he can't claim any sightings himself, Kambak said many of the crew members swear they have had strange experiences on board.
On the tours, visitors get a look at the dark insides of the ship, including one of five boiler rooms, the former crew's quarters and other areas that were never before open to the public. Many of these areas, which had been painted and repaired over the years, had to be "de-polished"--stripped, leaving rougher edges exposed--to give a more authentic feel to the dark hallways and hidden rooms.
"When you get into the really strange areas of the ship, we said, 'Let's leave it the way it is and let people into the bowels of the ship,' " Kambak said. "Lots of times, we have to go down and add a lot to make it look authentic, but not here."
Hundreds of photographs were brought out from the archives to be used in an introductory film, "Dark Secrets of the Queen Mary" and to be hung on the walls along the tour. The film gives a historical look at the ship's past as a luxury liner and then as the "Grey Ghost" when it was painted the military color for six years of transport duty. It perpetuates the legends that have been told for years by its crew and staff.
A cook tells of plates mysteriously flying away one by one and of utensils disappearing in seconds. A maid talks about a room which appeared messed up moments after she remembers cleaning it. Other crew members say they have seen the likeness of the ship's first captain, who died five months after its maiden voyage in 1936.
"You'll find more people who work on this ship who have had an experience like that than someone who has not," said a tour guide walking a group through the third-class area of the hotel.
Throughout the tour, the guide tells more stories: of a poker game that got out of hand, leaving one of its players stabbed and a bloodstain that neither scrubbing nor new carpeting can erase; of a ship's officer who was poisoned with tetrachloride in his gin and lime juice and who roams the ship looking for his killer.
As the tour group winds through dark hallways and down steep stairwells, it encounters hanging lights swinging from long-empty offices, a wooden horse rocking on its base and doors that mysteriously slam shut and lock. A child's eerie laughter and a music box are heard near the nursery and later the humming of a bedtime song. Although the tour guide won't admit it, the sounds and otherworldly effects were installed to add to the trip's eeriness.
The manufactured effects do help, but even without them the tour--scheduled to run indefinitely--can hold the attention of even the most skeptical of visitors. Be advised, though, that the excursion is a somewhat vigorous undertaking.
The tour takes visitors up and down steep stairs and includes a moderate amount of walking through long hallways, so it is not recommended for people in wheelchairs and those not physically able to undertake it. Also, the operators recommend that children under 11 not take the tour. The ship, however, is wheelchair accessible and all ages are welcome to walk the deck and visit the museum there.
What: "Ghosts, Myths and Legends of the Queen Mary."
When: Daily, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Pier J, Port of Long Beach.
Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway north to the Long Beach (710) Freeway and go south to the southernmost part of the freeway. Follow signs for the Queen Mary.
Wherewithal: $17.50 for adults, $14 for seniors, $9.50 for children. Special rates for handicapped adults and children and groups of 20 or more.
Where to call: (213) 435-3511.