Tours of historical ship offer education and ghost stories

Royalty, celebrities, power brokers, heads of state and ghosts.

Lifeboats on the Queen Mary glow against the night sky. During World War II, the ship was painted gray, served as a troop transport, and at one time, carried nearly 16,000 men on one trip to Europe in preparation for D-Day. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

The Queen Mary has known them all, and some may still be hiding in the halls and walls of this venerable cruise ship, docked in Long Beach since the city bought her in 1967. The price tag: a paltry $3.45 million.

On a recent visit, a friend and I took three tours that highlight the ship’s history and reputed ghostly inhabitants. I don’t claim to be a believer, but the stories were fascinating, as well as the history that was woven throughout the narratives.

The Haunted Encounters tour is led by Laura Lopez, who says she’s been escorting guests through off-limits areas for some seven years. Has she ever actually seen a ghost?

“No,” Lopez admits, “but I’d like to.”

Nevertheless, we learn about the apparitions that others have reported. For instance, there have been multiple sightings in room B-226 (once three third-class rooms) where a passenger was found dead.

“He was one of 50 or 60 that have passed away on this ship,” Lopez says.

And if you want to increase your chances of a poltergeist encounter, B Deck is the place to be.

“It’s the most haunted,” Lopez explains.

There have been not only visions but voices.

Since the Queen Mary’s arrival in Long Beach, visitors claim to have heard children’s voices emanating from the first-class nursery (playroom), which still has the original furniture and toys. (Yes, there are second-class and third-class nurseries, but apparently the ghosts are discerning.)

Other stops on the tour are down, down, down in the dark cavernous rooms that once held the ship’s engines. We also see the pool in a windowless room that features a mother-of-pearl ceiling. A later tour, “Ghosts and Legends,” creates a spectral light-and-sound show that gives the illusion that there is still water in the pool. On this tour, however, we use our cell phones to illuminate our way into the changing rooms where ghosts are said to reside. With sounds echoing off the ceramic tile walls and not a ray of light, it is a bit creepy.

The pool was used by all classes on the ship but not simultaneously, Lopez explains.

“After second- and third-class passengers used the pool, it was drained completely and refilled before first-class passengers used it again.”

If any event in the ship’s history was likely to produce spirits, it’s the horrific accident that occurred in 1942 off the Irish coast. Loaded with troops, the Queen Mary sliced in half an escort ship, the HMS Curacoa. The loss of life totaled 239 — all on the Curacoa; 99 men survived.

Back in the present, we meet with tour guide extraordinaire and ship historian, Will Kayne. His spotless white uniform, complete with gloves and hat, transforms the former actor into a debonair ship’s captain who glides over decks and through salons as if he knows every nook and cranny, which he probably does. Kayne also is a treasure trove of facts; he rattles them off effortlessly as if they are a part of his being, which they probably are.

For instance, he knows that the Queen:

weighs 81,237 tons.

carried 2,000 passengers and 1,200 crew.

has 20 miles of Bakelite (an early plastic) railings in the halls.

contains 56 wood veneers in its décor; six are extinct.

ferried 80,000 troops across the Atlantic during World War II

was the object of a $250,000 bounty offered by Hitler for the above reason.

was the production site for many films and television shows, including “The Aviator,” “Pearl Harbor,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Arrested Development,” “Cold Case” and “Ghost Whisperer.”

“Joe and Rose Kennedy were on the maiden voyage with their kids,” Kayne says, “and years later, JFK came back on the ship on a stretcher (because of his back problems).”

Kayne has a story about every expansive and colorful mural on the Queen, which is why he also teaches classes on the age of Art Deco. It’s obvious he has a love affair with the Queen.

“I don’t have to go to work,” he says. “I get to.”

The ship has several restaurants, or hotel guests can take a free shuttle, which leaves every 15 minutes, to several areas of downtown Long Beach.

For information on hotel and tour reservations visit queenmary.com or call (562) 435-3511.

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