The other day I went to the RMS Queen Mary for birthday drinks for Lynn Garrett’s birthday. Lynn is the founder and head honcho at Hidden Los Angeles. As the name suggests, Hidden Los Angeles is a highly useful guide to Los Angeles for Angelenos and visitors who presumably have no interest in (or interests beyond) celebrity culture, “The Industry,” or the beaten path in general. It’s also the perfect riposte to Los Angeles’s haters’ complaints about our fair city. Lynn was staying on board the ship for three a three-day non-cruise and the visit to the ship was my first.
The RMS Queen Mary is an ocean liner that sailed the North Atlantic from 1936 (when it was known as the Cunard-White Star) and 1967 when it retired to Long Beach.
She was built in Clydebank, Scotland and held the Blue Riband (an accolade granted to ships with the fast average speed when crossing the Atlantic) from 1936 to 1937 and then from 1938 to 1952.
The primarily Art Deco interiors incorporate wood harvested from throughout the British Empire. There are art pieces throughout created by English painter and engraver Edward Wadsworth and Norwegian-Scottish artist A. Duncan Carse.
During World War II she was repainted gray and came to be known as “The Grey Ghost.” She also traversed the ocean with the help of military escort ships. On 2 October 1942, she accidentally sliced through one off the Irish coast, the light cruiser HMS Curacoa. As a result, 239 lives were lost from that ship’s 338 person crew.
Ultimately it wasn’t Nazis who ended the Queen Mary’s run, but the Jet Age. In 1958, the first transatlantic jet flight occurred. By 1965 the entire fleet was operating at a loss and the City of Long Beach purchased her for $3.45m/£1.2m. Her new owners gutted her of much of her machinery in the process of converting her into a tourist attraction/hotel with banquet rooms, restaurants, and a museum.
Following the Queen Mary’s permanent docking in San Pedro Bay, tales of paranormal activity began to circulate. There’s a crying baby in one of the old nurseries, a splashing noise can be heard in one of the drained pools. A young drowning victim named “Jackie Korin” haunts another pool. She’s joined by a ghost named “Sarah” who was murdered in a first-class changing room. A teenage engineer, John Pedder, was crushed to death by a door during a fire drill in 1966.
Cabin B340 is no longer open to hotel guests because it’s haunted by another young, murder victim. There’s a ghost singer, named Bruce. And finally, the hundreds killed in the Curacoa disaster haunt the front of the ship’s bow. The hauntings were a subject of a Halloween episode of Unsolved Mysteries in 1988 as well as “Episode 11” of Season 2 of Ghost Hunters, and an episode of Sightings.
Rather than frighten people off, the purported presence of poltergeists has been capitalized upon and they even offer a tour called Haunted Encounters.
For Lynn’s birthday, we convened in The Observation Bar lounge. Maureen and the Mercury 5 transported us back to the mid-1990s with their mix of jump, rockabilly, and swing-tinged pop. I didn’t see any ghosts but I had a great time with the living who were assembled as I consumed mass quantities of spirits.
The ship is a popular filming location. It’s been featured in Adventures of the Queen (1975), A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig story (1978), Anchorman: The legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), an episode of B.J. and the Bear, an episode of Baywatch, an episode of Blue Thunder, an episode of Cannon, an episode of CHiPs, an episode of Ferris Bueller, an episode of Harry O, an episode of MacGuyver, an episode of Police Woman, an episode of SeaQuest 2032, an episode of Switch, an episode of The Bionic Woman, an episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew mysteries (1977), an episode of The Young and the Restless, and an episode of Toma.
It’s also been featured in Barton Fink (1991), Batman forever (1995), Being John Malkovich (1999), Chain of command (2000), Chaplin (1992), Deadline auto theft (1983), Death cruise (1974), Dodsworth (1936), Dorm Daze 2 (2006), Farewell my lovely (1975), Goliath awaits (1981), Gone in 60 seconds (1974), Grace Kelly (1983), He’s Just Not That into You (2009), Intrepid (2000), L.A. Confidential (1997), Liberace: a Valentine Special (1979), Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story (1995), Mame (1974), Mark Twain: Beneath the Laughter (1979), Mary (2000), Meet Danny Wilson (1951), No Greater Love (1995), Out to Sea (1997), Pearl Harbor (2001), Sage (2009), Someone to Watch over Me (1987), and SOS Titanic (1979).
Additionally, it’s been featured in the Airwolf episode “Desperate Monday” (1986), The amazing race episode “Courteous? This is a race!” (2005), the Arrested development episode “Development Arrested” (2006), The Aviator (2004), the Beverly Hills, 90210 episode “You say it’s your birthday” (1996), The bold and the beautiful episode “#1.616“(1989), The cable guy (1996), the Charlie’s Angels episodes “Angels at sea” (1977) and “Angels ahoy” (1978), the episode of The Othersiders “Queen Mary” (2009), the episode of The search for the next Elvira “The odd-itions from Hell” (2007), The execution of Private Slovik (1974), The Gumball Rally (1976), the Kolchak episode “The Werewolf” (1974), the Love Boat episode “The New Love Boat – The Newlweds/The Exchange/Cleo’s first voyage” (1977), The memory of Eva Ryker (1980), the Moonlight episode “Click” (2008), the Murder, she wrote episode “The grand old lady” (1989), The Natural (1984), The parent trap (1998), The Poseidon adventure (1972), the Project UFO episode “Sighting 4026: The Atlantic Queen incident” (1979), the Quantum leap episode “Sea Bride – June 4, 1954” (1990), The Rookies episode “A deadly velocity” (1972), the Scarecrow and Mrs. King episode “Ship of spies” (1985), the Seconds from disaster episode “Titanic” (2006), The Stowaways (2012), The Thirteenth Floor (1999), The winds of war (1983), Tidal wave: no escape (1997), Titanic II (2010), Treacherous crossing (1992), Trippin’ (1999), Under the rainbow (1981), Voyager (1991), and WC Fields and me (1976).
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LA, Amoeblog, Boom: A Journal of California, diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft Contemporary, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, the book Sidewalking, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, CurbedLA, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Ameba, Duolingo, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Mubi, and Twitter.