Thursday, August 2, 2018

THE QUEEN MARY AND ME

 RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach
the white dome in the background housed the Spruce Goose


In a recent blog post, Myra wrote about a childhood voyage that she and her family took on the Queen Mary. That immediately resurrected some of my own memories of the Queen Mary. I never sailed on the ship, but I had a few encounters with it.

The RMS Queen Mary and I crossed paths numerous times when I lived in Southern California. I saw it on dozens of occasions from a distance, where it rests in Long Beach Harbor. I've also had much closer encounters.

I am by no means a Queen Mary historian. What I'm writing is all off the top of my head (so to speak) - - and the top of my head is often fuzzy and muddled.

The Queen Mary sailed on the high seas from 1936 until 1967, when her final ocean journey brought her to Long Beach, California. The initial plan was to turn her into a tourist attraction.

The Queen's history in Long Beach turned out to be much more turbulent than her oceanic history. Her doors were first opened to tourists in 1971. From 1974 to 1980 she operated as the Queen Mary Hyatt House Hotel.

To condense a long story, the Queen lost a lot of money. The hotel-museum-tourist attraction had numerous owners and leasers and underwent many renovations. The engine room, boiler rooms, and turbo generator rooms were removed. The deteriorating funnels were replaced with replicas and the ship was finally deemed a building.

Millionaire Jack Wrather (husband of 1940's movie star Bonita Granville) leased the property until his death in 1984. Wrather Port Properties continued to maintain the ship until 1988 when the holdings were bought by the Walt Disney Company. The Disney plans eventually fell through. I have no clue who currently runs the ship-hotel, but from what I've heard there are still a lot of problems.
The Queen Mary was never as big a tourist attraction as everyone thought it would be. I personally think it's a dumb idea to turn a ship into a hotel.

For awhile (from 1980 - 1991) Howard Hughes' massive airplane the Spruce Goose was housed in a giant dome next to the Queen Mary, but it has since been moved to Oregon.

 My Mother took this photo of the Queen Mary.
The Goodyear "blimp" is flying overhead

So when am I finally gonna cut to the chase and get to my personal Queen Mary stories?

Now would be a good time. I hope you're still awake.

I was about 20 years old when I first saw the Queen Mary up close. I was with my "friend" Phil (who was on parole from prison). We were on the beach, very close to the Queen Mary, and we started smoking grass.

I don't recall how many joints we had but eventually we began throwing rocks at the ship - often with pretty good aim. 
What I remember most was the spectacular sunset behind the silhouette of the Queen Mary. The dramatic scene was surrealistic.



My most memorable encounter with the Queen Mary happened late on a foggy autumn night in the early 1980's.

My Aunt Terri and my cousins Jeff and Karyn were visiting us from New Jersey.
Jeff had to get back to New Jersey early, so we drove him to L.A. Airport to catch a late-night flight.
That night our entourage included me, my parents, Aunt Terri, and cousin Karyn.

After Jeff's flight took off, my father decided to drive to Long Beach past the Queen Mary. When we got there he parked the car and said we might as well get out and take a look at it.

My Mom thought it was a crazy idea, since it was nearly midnight, the place was closed, and it was very foggy and creepy. Also there were no lights anywhere on the outside of the ship.




Never one to be daunted, my father bravely persisted and went up an escalator that led to the ship. My Mom, Aunt Terri, Karyn, and I timidly followed.

To our complete astonishment, the entrance to the ship was open.....and we went inside! As unbelievable as it sounds, nobody was around - no guards, no employees, no people. We seemed to have the entire ship to ourselves.

After getting over the initial shock, we began to explore. The only place that was locked was the gift shop. We wandered up and down narrow halls and corridors and entered numerous rooms. We even went out on deck and walked around  in the fog. It was a fantastic experience.

 This is exactly how I remember the hallways, except they were much darker and dimly lit.

The one thing I recall most distinctly, however, was that the interior of the ship smelled very old, musty, and dank - especially in the hallways. There was  something creepy and foreboding about the place - and we all had a very uneasy feeling.

There are many rumors that the Queen Mary is haunted and I tend to believe it.

We spent well over half an hour exploring the ship before we decided to leave. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we never forgot. We still talked about it many years later.

I later discovered that, at that time, the ship was undergoing more renovations and was closed to the public. Perhaps someone merely forgot to lock the doors.

But why weren't there any guards or workers........or ghosts?

It was a strange and memorable night.


   

14 comments:

  1. Going boldly and acting like you belong, will take you many places.

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    1. But it doesn't work in a Lesbian bar.

      (I'm just trying to be funny - - it's all I could come up with)

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  2. Hi Jon. I too have a Queen Mary story! When I was first on the west coast in the early 1980s I was living in SAN Pedro so was often in Long Beach. Did some sales work with a company that eventually opened their coat of arms business onboard. It was located on the top “retail” deck......forget the name, in what used to be the tobacconist shop! Worked there for a few months. It must have been in the Queen Mary’s pre-Disney
    days. Hope your frenzied, traumatic days are getting sorted. Bestest, MaggieB

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    1. That's amazing, Maggie! I've had trouble keeping up with Queen Mary's varied history in Long Beach. It seems to have changed so many times. It's presently still a hotel - but I've heard that the hull is now badly corroded and the former engine room is prone to flooding.
      Anyway, thanks for sharing your QM story!

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  3. I think that would have been cool yo see. I wish I was there that night too.

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    1. That was indeed a rare incident. I don't think many people were ever able to wander around the ship entirely alone. The dense fog made it even more atmospheric.

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  4. Hi Jon, back from vacation. I really enjoyed this post. It's always interesting to read about something you know nothing about. Your late night exploration on the Queen Mary must have been absolutely mesmerizing. I would have loved poking around on such a ship. Glad you had the experience along with the memories that come with it.

    I can't believe how fast this summer is passing us by ... autumn is surely approaching. Take care !

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    1. Hi, Helga - I had a feeling that you were probably on a vacation. I hope it was enjoyable. My experience on the Queen Mary was really unusual and strange. It could certainly never happen again.

      Summer is passing much too quickly. I always look forward to autumn but I'm DREADING winter. Let's savor August while we can!

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  5. I hate to say it but inside it reminds me of the huge empty hotel in Stephen King's The Shining!

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    1. You're right, Rita - it had the same creepy atmosphere as the hotel in The Shining. And the interior of the ship was so BIG - you could really get lost in there.

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  6. Yes, those hallways I DO remember!
    How I'd have loved to accompanying your family during your late-night exploration. I've not heard stories of it being haunted, but I wouldn't disagree. It's highly unlikely I'll have an opportunity to sail again, but I still have a passion for ocean liners, particularly those of yesteryear.

    Awesome sunset image!

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    1. Those hallways are seemingly endless, like a maze. I can imagine how impressive they must be to a child. I'm sure you would have loved our midnight tour of the ship. It was so strange and unforgettable.

      During the past few years there were several TV shows which featured stories about hauntings on the Queen Mary. I've also heard that there are now "ghost tours" on the ship.
      The area where the indoor swimming pool used to be (I think it's gone now) is haunted. And so is one of the staterooms, where someone was supposedly murdered.

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  7. what a fascinating experience.

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    1. It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I still can't figure out why the ship was seemingly empty (perhaps there were people working there who simply didn't see us...??)

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