It’s impossible to look at the Queen Mary, the retired cruise ship that’s now a permanently-docked floating hotel in Long Beach, and not think of the Titanic. Both are Cunard White Star Line ships and were built about 20 years apart, so they have a lot of visual similarities, especially the dramatic black and red smokestacks towering above them. But they also have something else in common: they’re full of dead people.
That’s the thing about the Queen Mary — it’s haunted. Very haunted. There are so many ghosts on the ship that it offers paranormal activity tours. And there are so many ghosts on the ship that a whole convention of ghost hunters came here on a Strange Escapes vacation in early March, lead by Amy Bruni, the owner of Strange Escapes and a famed paranormal investigator who currently stars on The Travel Channel’s Kindred Spirits with her investigating partner Adam Berry.
Even when you aren’t looking for them, it feels like there are ghosts around every corner of the ship. There are preserved historic spaces throughout that still look like they did in 1936 when she made her maiden voyage from England to New York. There are Art Deco installations in the Observation Bar, which now overlooks Shoreline Aquatic Park and the Aquarium of the Pacific. There’s a room full of maps from when the world looked a lot different and was a lot smaller. A music room has a grand piano just waiting for a tuxedoed player to sit at its keys. There are defunct swimming pools, and a sealed-off hospital wing I’m not sad to have missed. And there’s the first-class playroom, which looks like it did nearly a century ago, filled with porcelain dolls with the kind of vacant glass eyes that haunt my dreams.
But when you are looking for ghosts, you want to look in Room B340, which was sealed for 30 years and only recently reopened. That’s where I found myself, in the middle of the night, sitting in the dark and trying to make contact with an otherworldly entity. I wasn’t alone, though. There were a dozen or so of us there, lead by three paranormal experts: Dana Newkirk pulled tarot cards to read the energy of the room; her husband Greg Newkirk attempted to hear voices through a spirit box; and John E.L. Tenney held an Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) session, where he asked questions into the silence and hoped to hear answers on a digital voice recorder. There were also, as we learned through that session, seven ghosts in the room with us.
I mean, we think. You can’t necessarily trust what a ghost is saying to you on a handheld recorder. What I definitely did hear, though, was Greg Newkirk have this exchange in an EVP session with something I couldn’t see:
Newkirk: I would love to know your name. You haven’t given one. What’s your name?
Thing: Don’t have one.
And as a follow up:
Newkirk: If you don’t have a name, why don’t you give yourself one?
I went into this ghost hunting weekend as neither a believer nor a skeptic but as an observer. I just wanted to see what would happen. I would love to think that those answers were a fluke of the recorder or some technological parlor trick. It’s hard to believe that, though, when I recorded it on my own phone, too, and I heard things later that I didn’t hear that night. The next day, John Tenney related a story about a brush with the paranormal. “Since that day,” he said, “when I look at a crowd of you, I wonder which one isn’t here.”
Creepy? Yes. Creepier? I had to sleep in that room.
Or, at least, I tried to.
It turns out that the rumors about B340 started with Disney, which tried to create a cruise ship version of The Haunted Mansion, with faces behind the mirrors, false floorboards and faucets wired to go on when no one was in the room. When the experiment didn’t make enough money, Disney locked the proprietary technology inside the room, and legends grew of the notoriously haunted room that was so scary it had to be sealed off. The theory Greg Newkirk has is that now, people go to the room looking for ghosts, and that’s attracting all of the paranormal activity in the ship. Maybe there wasn’t a murder in that room, specifically (though there are rumors that a staff member was killed there), but there were murders and a lot of other gnarly deaths aboard the Queen Mary — a reported 49 of them, including a man who lost his mind on a transatlantic voyage and killed his daughter.
The next day, on an investigation of the room with Amy Bruni and Adam Berry, they did another spirit box session. This time, we heard from a woman who watched people die, and who was troubled by the fact that she couldn’t help them. “He was shot,” Amy said while wearing noise-canceling headphones so she couldn’t hear our questions. “I’m broken… I did what I could. I saw them.”
Later that night, I found myself 45 feet below sea level, in the boiler rooms, where Ghost Hunters’ Grant Wilson was explaining that there’s a lot of activity in that area of the ship that’s aggressive towards women. He theorized that it’s because the area was so dangerous when the ship was sailing. I’m not going to lie: it was terrifying down there. I’m also completely positive that I saw something moving when no living person was there.
I didn’t go back to find out what it was.