The real haunting of RMS Queen Mary is a corporate one

Rumours of RMS Queen Mary being haunted have circulated for years, but not her entire lifespan. Does she really have ghosts aboard, or is some cunning marketing at play?

If the thought of visiting a grand-ol' liner from yesteryear literally ‘floats your boat’, you might be interested to know that, these days, RMS Queen Mary is better known for her haunted reputation than her old-school glamour.

As she sits in her protected Californian bay, the ex-Cunard flagship is perhaps not as innocent as a first glance might imply. The ship is reputed to be haunted by over 150 spirits, with regular reports from both staff and visitors of what could be paranormal activity. It goes beyond mere ghosts, too.

From lights that come on without warning, creaking doors and unexpected knocks, the sound of people talking who cannot be found, laughter and whistling that seems to have no origin point, drastic temperature changes, ghost sightings and the feeling of being touched, it seems RMS Queen Mary is a paranormal hotbed.

In 2008, Time Magazine voted Queen Mary one of the most haunted places in America. Additionally, in recent decades, Queen Mary and her spooky residents have featured on countless TV programmes that focus on ghost-hunting and the supernatural.

Chances are, as you read this, someone is either watching or making a YouTube video that discusses Queen Mary’s reputation as a vastly haunted ship.

Whether this eerie aspect of the ship’s persona interests you or not, should you venture near Queen Mary or go online to book a visitor’s ticket, it will quickly become apparent that it’s almost impossible to ignore the ghostly offerings.

On Queen Mary’s official website, there are currently no fewer than four different tours related to her haunted status, including The Grey Ghost Project, the Haunted Encounters tour, the Paranormal Ship Walk and the 57 Ghosts Séance.

Combined, these tours make up more than half of what is currently offered as entertainment on the Queen Mary, with only another three tours allowing you to simply enjoy the ship herself as well as her history.

However you look at it, there’s certainly a strong bias towards Queen Mary’s haunted credentials. This is particularly true at Halloween; when the Cunard icon enters her Dark Harbour event season.

There’s no getting away from the spirited rumours that accompany Queen Mary at Long Beach. Yet - there's something amiss when you start to delve into the archives. Is the ship really haunted, or is it simply a marketing ploy to populate the bank account?

Isn't it perhaps a bit odd that the ghost stories only started once Cunard had sold RMS Queen Mary? Credit: Shutterstock/RRM

Paranormal activity aboard RMS Queen Mary

Wherever you happen to roam aboard Queen Mary, if the rumours are to be believed, you’re sure to bump into a ghost.

There are certain areas within the ship that are reputed to be more haunted than others, including by watertight door 13 in the engine room, the swimming pools, the first-class salon (known as the Queen’s Room), alongside where the propellor shafts reside, room B-474 and - most infamously - stateroom B-340.

During a routine drill, watertight door 13 is said to have crushed 18-year-old crewman John Pedder in 1966. It is said that John’s ghost, with a bearded face and wearing blue overalls, now haunts the doorway where he met his demise.

He is rumoured to often whistle behind people, or ask a guest if they’ve seen his wrench, whereupon he has disappeared when the guest turns towards him.

More famously, the ship's first-class swimming pool - which boasts an illuminated fountain, a mother-of-pearl ceiling and elaborate mosaic tiles - is primarily haunted by the spirit of a young girl known as Jackie.

Jacqueline Torin is rumoured to have drowned in one of Queen Mary’s swimming pools. She is said to have a mischievous nature and likes to play peek-a-boo with visitors. She is usually seen or heard around the first-class pool but sometimes elsewhere on the ship, too.

In 1991, Jackie was said to have been recorded in conversation with psychic Peter James when he was visiting the ship with a film crew. First meeting in the Royal Theatre, Peter was instructed to meet Jackie ‘in the other pool’ upon which he went to the first-class swimming area.

RMS Queen Mary is supposedly North America's most haunted place - if you believe everything the media slaps down in front of you. Credit: Picryl/RRM

From there, a patchy conversation ensued for over 10 minutes between Peter and the spirit, footage of which has now become part of Jackie’s paranormal legend.

In addition to Jackie’s antics, guests often spot wet footprints on the outer perimeter of the pool despite there no longer being any water contained within it.

Others report seeing children by the pool or upon the upper balconies above the space. From time-to-time, sounds of people having fun in the pool are reported to be heard but no-one is there.

Visiting psychics have suggested that the corridor of the swimming pool’s dressing rooms harbour a vortex that allows spirits to come and go to and from the ship.

Elsewhere, the Queen’s salon is known for periodic sightings of a woman dressed in white who has visited for over 50 years while room B-474 is reportedly haunted by a young woman called Dana, believed to have been shot in the room’s en-suite bathroom by her father.

Of all the haunted areas aboard Queen Mary, stateroom B340 is said to house the most frequent and intense paranormal activity. In 1948, third class passenger and British writer Walter J Adamson died within the room, which at the time was known as B226.

Meanwhile, in 1966 – not long before the Queen Mary retired – a woman said she was woken when her bedcovers were ripped off in the night. She said she’d seen a man standing at the end of the bed who subsequently disappeared.

Also in the 1960s, it is claimed that a man was locked in his third class room after he murdered two women aboard. He is said to have begun beating on the door, screaming that something was in the room with him. In the morning, when the door was finally opened, his dismembered body was found inside.

Stateroom B340 came into existence when three third class rooms were amalgamated after Queen Mary had arrived in Long Beach. Since then, hotel maids have reported finding the bathroom water running when no-one has stayed in the room and bedcovers being pulled off just after the bed has been made.

During the 1970s, stateroom B340 was temporarily closed off, only reopening as a haunted attraction in 2018.

Disney bought RMS Queen Mary in 1990, in a bid to create a new theme park. But that didn't quite happen. Credit: RRM/Shutterstock

Disney ramps up the hauntings

Since her retirement in 1967, neither ownership of the Queen Mary nor her ultimate purpose has been plain sailing. She has burned through many different budding owners and left the vast majority regretful and bankrupt.

This is despite Queen Mary’s lavish décor and proud lines, as well as what had seemed like a promising start when she first allowed visitors in Long Beach to step aboard and view her splendour.

Following a significant simplification of her interiors, the Queen Mary was opened for tours in May 1971. In that first year alone, some 1.5 million guests visited her. It looked like it was going to be a walk in the park and RMS Queen Mary quickly became an icon of Long Beach, appearing as if she could easily justify the annual US$3 million that would come out of the local residents tax contributions.

In November 1972, Pacific Southwest Airlines moved in to operate her hotel functions, starting with 150 bookable rooms and gradually expanding up to a 400-room capacity. Two years later, Hyatt Hotels took over and continued to operate the facilities until 1980.

Hyatt had bailed at this time as interest in the ship had begun to wane throughout the late 1970s. However, this did not put off others including the Wrather Corporation who were keen to save her. Her new owners had connections to the Disneyland Hotel and financial stability looked likely.

Unfortunately, one of the lead figures behind the efforts died, with ownership passing on again in 1988 to none other than the Walt Disney Company.

Walt Disney was not particularly interested in the Queen Mary as an entity, instead focusing on the business potential of the land around her.

Then, in July 1990, Disney announced exciting new plans for a 443 acre theme park that would be known as Port Disney, including five hotels, a monorail and a theme park. Forecast to take a decade to build at a cost of US$2 billion dollars, it was an ambitious scheme that would never be.

Interestingly, it was around this time that ghost stories started to circulate from the staff who had and were working on board the Queen Mary. Never one to miss a business opportunity, Disney offered the first ghost tours.

One such offering was a tour called Haunted Passages, capitalising on the many legends the ship possessed. This was advertised via a tour brochure that had an image of a small child being dragged down a hallway by a ghost.

Clearly, Disney wanted people to be scared and intrigued and, more importantly, be curious enough to buy a ticket.

While Long Beach remained keen for the creation of jobs and for business to take place upon their shore, both officials and residents were reluctant to allow an infrastructure of this magnitude to exist on their coastline.

In addition, the Californian Coastal Commission asked Disney for a US$75 million donation to offset Port Disney’s footprint. When Disney would only commit to US$50 million, the Californian Coastal Commission refused to approve the project.

RMS Queen Mary has long been an icon, but is she really a haunted chasm of the paranormal? Credit: Picryl

Simultaneously, a report stated that the Queen Mary required renovations totalling to $20 million and, with that, Disney bailed and the ship was temporarily closed.

Over the next two decades, the Queen Mary passed through many hands including RMS Foundation Inc., Save The Queen, Garrison and Urban Commons. All had different ideas and all tried to make the ship a business success.

Instead, owner after owner either tried to keep pace with or avoid her maintenance before most failed, finally admitting defeat and declaring bankruptcy. Even good intentions could not compete with the financial strain of owning the ageing ocean liner.

Most owners, whether convinced of paranormal activity or not, leaned heavily into the Queen Mary’s haunted reputation. If nothing else, it helped stem the catastrophic flow of cash out of each business.

Of everyone, the real estate company Urban Commons had what could be considered the grandest plans for RMS Queen Mary.

This comprised of a US$250 million revitalisation to the area, which would be named Queen Mary Island and would contain retail and event spaces, a hotel, a board walk, a marina and even a pool that would wrap around the bow of the ship.

However, reality hit home in the form of a $300 million quote to restore the Queen Mary. The associated engineer said: “Without an immediate and very significant infusion of manpower and money, the condition of the ship will likely soon be unsalvageable.”

No-one fully knew what was going to happen, particularly when Covid-19 forced another temporary shutdown of the Queen Mary in March 2020. This didn’t help any business model and cut off essential maintenance funds in the process.

A year later, in March 2021, Urban Commons filed for bankruptcy. They were over $500 million in debt. This was despite a prior cash injection of $23 million from Long Beach to go towards the repair of the Queen Mary.

Control of the ship was returned to Long Beach and the city’s harbour department. Funds have been allocated to the most critical repairs while public visiting has once again resumed.

How many visitors have experienced an element of the paranormal? Credit: RRM/Shutterstock

Haunted RMS Queen Mary: A marketing ploy?

So, is Queen Mary really haunted? Naturally, it’s hard to say and this entirely depends on your definition of what constitutes the paranormal.

Sailors famously say that every ship is haunted but when you consider the desperate need for funds that has stalked every owner of the Queen Mary since she docked in Long Beach, an element of scepticism is inevitable.

Interestingly, on the day that RMS Queen Mary launched, a well-known psychic from England – Lady Mable Fortiscue-Harrison - predicted: “The Queen Mary will know her greatest fame and popularity when she never sails another mile or carries another fare-paying passenger.”

Was it to Queen Mary’s haunted status that Lady Fortiscue-Harrison was referring? One can’t help but wonder.

As the discussion and YouTube videos relating to the Queen Mary pile up – the Queen Mary became a YouTube trend in 2018 and 2019 – it is debated as to why the ghosts may only have ‘kicked off’ in recent years.

After all, it is primarily the years where Queen Mary has resided in Long Beach that her paranormal rating has skyrocketed. Why so?

For firm believers in spirits, theories are abound on how the ghosts on board are unhappy that sailing has discontinued, and that quick fixes and cut corners have led to the woeful condition of the ship.

While I myself am more than open to the idea of spirits among us, I have to admit I’ve never had a ghost criticise my choice in décor or the fact that I haven’t got around to painting that particular spot just yet.

As a long term resident of Long Beach, California, RMS Queen Mary has brought millions to the economy. Credit: Shutterstock

If we consider the fact that the majority of Queen Mary’s ghostly activity began around 1989, this points the finger at Disney, a creative organisation known for weaving intriguing tales and capturing people’s imagination.

Is Disney therefore responsible? It certainly looks likely when you consider the genesis point of the present-day spooky tales.

In retort to my last point, Disney would probably state that many of the stories that made up their tours were based on pre-existing tales and that they had merely added a hint of embellishment. However, this is where some of the credibility falls.

Cunard have a habit of keeping detailed records of what goes on aboard their ships. When it comes to little Jackie by the swimming pools, there is no note of anyone drowning in either Queen Mary’s first or second class pool.

Additionally, there is no record of a dismembered body found within stateroom B340 or any of the three third class rooms that combined to constitute its present form. This includes within newspaper archives from back in the day.

When you have exact names and dates, normally you would expect to find relevant details in real life that at least partially back up the ghost stories rumoured to be true. For many of Queen Mary’s roaming ghosts, there appears to be no trace of them from when they would have been alive.

Additionally, when it comes to room B-474, said to be haunted by Dana, researchers have subsequently found out that the murders of three women, including Dana, did not take place on board the ship but instead in Roanoke, Virginia in 1964.

Granted, many visitors report strange experiences and sensations aboard Queen Mary but I’m inclined to feel that the vast majority of the Queen Mary’s ghost stories are simply fictitious and most likely a cunning marketing ploy.

Does such a 'haunted' status bring fortune or failure? Credit: Shutterstock

The haunted reputation – help or hinderance?

Whichever conclusion you come to on the Queen Mary and her haunted reputation, it is more important to establish whether her status as a ghost-filled venue helps or hinders her, particularly when it comes to the less exciting financials in the overall equation.

Simply being an older ocean liner that is docked and serving another purpose does not necessarily equate to near immediate bankruptcy.

Other historical ships such as the Rotterdam and the QE2 (which suffered a bomb scare in the 1970s) have both been converted into hotels and are operating successfully. So why is the Queen Mary proving a notably problematic child?

Given that the Queen Mary has been able to attract some 50 million visitors since docking in Long Beach, she clearly has the capacity to draw a crowd, in turn suggesting that another element of her portfolio is not working in her favour.

While people love a scare within a controlled environment (as explained by Sir Christopher Lee), how many people would genuinely wish to stay in a hotel rumoured to be punctuated by ghostly disturbance and the macabre?

While the Rotterdam and the Queen Elizabeth II have been marketed as high-end opportunities to experience the old glamour of ocean travel, the Queen Mary has become a confusing cocktail of a luxurious period setting that also offers a thrill from a multitude of spooky spooks.

The ship has become like a freelancer working multiple strings, a sort of Jack-of-all-trades by complete accident.

Perhaps the scares might feel like a cheap thrill, thanks to ghost stories that seem to have little basis in historical fact, but maybe it doesn’t matter if it keeps the cents coming in and the maintenance bill is at least partly paid.

What Queen Mary truly needs, beyond YouTubers running around making their own equivalent of ‘Most Haunted, is a significant investment that can harness the full allure of Queen Mary in conjunction with a symbiotic use of the land that surrounds her.

Ending several decades of companies turning a quick buck and avoiding yet more maintenance would be the ideal goal but during a cost-of-living crisis and with restoration costs currently bordering the $200 million dollar mark, that is far easier said than done.

While the supposed ghosts of the Queen Mary might put off a proportion of potential hotel and dining guests, they are at least keeping the ship in the spotlight. It probably got you to read this article.

I sincerely hope that RMS Queen Mary soon becomes acquainted with the solution that she so dearly requires. In the meantime, I could always say to the Queen Mary (ala Dusty Springfield): "Finances are kinda crazy with a spooky ship like you."

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About Gillian Carmoodie

Gillian has been a part of the heritage world for longer than she would care to admit. From piloting pre-war racers across Montlhéry and traversing the Cumbrian mountains with an Edwardian automobile, to flying a WWI Tiger Moth and obsessing over all things shipping, Gillian lives for history.

When not buried in a book or lost to the archives, you'll usually find her under the bonnet of her classic Rover or exploring the old shipyards of the North East. When partaking in work for RNLI, Land Rover or RRM, Gillian mostly runs on high-octane Earl Grey.