Queen Mary History
- RMS Queen Mary is an ocean liner that sailed the North Atlantic Ocean from 1936 to 1967 for Cunard Line (then Cunard White Star Line). Built by John Brown and Company, Clydebank, Scotland, she was designed to be the first of Cunard’s planned two-ship weekly express service from Southampton to Cherbourg to New York, in answer to the mainland European superliners of the late twenties and early thirties. Queen Mary and her slightly larger and younger running mate RMS Queen Elizabeth commenced this two-ship service after their release from World War II troop transport duties and continued it for two decades until Queen Mary’s retirement in 1967. The ship is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is permanently berthed in Long Beach, California serving as a museum ship and hotel. The Queen Mary celebrated the 70th anniversary of her launch in both Clydebank with Clydebank Restoration Trust and in Long Beach during 2004, and the 70th anniversary of her maiden voyage in 2006. //
Naming and construction
With Germany launching their Bremen and Europa into service, the British did not want to be left out in this ship building race. White Star Line started construction of their 60,000 ton Oceanic and Cunard decided to construct their 75,000 ton ship which was not yet named.
The ship was named after Queen Mary, the consort of King George V. Until her launch she was known simply as Cunard hull No. 534, since the name she was to be given was kept a closely guarded secret. Legend has it that Cunard intended to name the ship “Victoria”, in keeping with company tradition of giving its ships names ending in “ia”. However, when company representatives asked the King’s permission to name the ocean liner after Britain’s “greatest queen”, he said his wife, Queen Mary, would be delighted. And so, the legend goes, the delegation had of course no other choice but to report that No. 534 would be called RMS Queen Mary. However, this story was denied by company officials, and is probably apocryphal, since traditionally the names of sovereigns have only been used for capital ships of the Royal Navy. It is more likely that the name Queen Mary was decided on as a compromise between Cunard and the White Star Line, with which Cunard had recently merged, who had a tradition of using names ending in “ic”.
Construction began in December 1930 on the River Clyde by the John Brown & Company Shipbuilding and Engineering shipyard at Clydebank Scotland but was halted in December 1931 due to the Great Depression. Cunard applied to the British Government for a loan to complete 534. The loan was granted, with enough money to complete the Queen Mary as well as enough to build a running mate, hull No. 552 which became the Queen Elizabeth. One condition of the loan was that Cunard merge with the financially ailing White Star Line, which was Cunard’s chief British rival at the time. Both lines agreed and the merger was completed in April 1934. Work on the Queen Mary resumed immediately and she was launched on September 26, 1934. Because the ship was now partially a White Star liner, it incorporated features found on White Star ships such the foward well deck, and a raised white forecastle deck.
There was already a Clyde turbine steamer named Queen Mary, so Cunard White Star reached agreement with the owners that the existing steamer would be renamed TS Queen Mary II, and in 1934 the new liner was launched by Queen Mary as RMS Queen Mary.
The first incident in what was to be an eventful career occurred just after the naming ceremony. On her way down the slipway, the Queen Mary began to run out of control. She hit the water far too fast and nearly flew straight across the Clyde into the opposite bank. It appears that only pure luck allowed her drag chains to bring her to a stop before she ran aground.
When she sailed on her maiden voyage from Southampton England on May 27, 1936 the Queen Mary measured 80,774 gross tonnes. Her rival, Normandie, which originally grossed 79,280 tonnes had been modified the preceding winter to increase her size to 83,243 gross tonnes, and therefore kept the title of the largest ocean liner.
The Queen Mary’s design was criticized for being too traditional, especially when the Normadie’s hull was revolutionary with a clipper-shaped, streamlined bow. Except for her spoon-shaped cruiser stern, she seemed to be simply a bulkier version of her Cunard and White Star predecessors from the pre-World War I era, and a typical Clyde-built ship. Her interior design, while mostly Art Deco, still seemed restrained and conservative when compared to the ultramodern French liner. However, the Queen Mary proved to be a more popular vessel than its largest rival, in terms of passengers carried.
Queen Mary further proved to be the faster ship. In August 1936, she captured the Blue Riband in both directions from Normandie, with average speeds of 30.14 knots (55.82 km/h) westbound and 30.63 knots eastbound. Normandie reclaimed the honours in 1937, but in 1938 Queen Mary took back the Blue Riband in both directions with average speeds of 30.99 knots (57.39 km/h) westbound and 31.69 knots eastbound, records which stood until it was lost to the SS United States in 1952.
World War II
In late August 1939, the Queen Mary was on a return run from New York to Southampton. However, the international situation led to her being shadowed by the battlecruiser HMS Hood. She arrived safely, and set out again for New York on September 1. By the time she arrived, the Second World War had started, and she was ordered to stay where she was, joining her great rival, Normandie. In 1940, the pair were also joined by Queen Mary’s running mate Queen Elizabeth. Rather than keeping them bottled up, it was decided to use them as troopships. So, the Queen Mary left New York for Sydney, where she, along with several other liners, was converted into a troopship to carry Australian and New Zealand soldiers to the United Kingdom. Eventually joined by the Queen Elizabeth, they were the largest and fastest troopships involved in the war, often carrying as many as 15,000 men in a single voyage, and often travelling out of convoy and without escort. During this period, because of their wartime grey camouflage livery and elusiveness, both Queens received the nickname “The Grey Ghost”. Because of their size and prestige their sinking was such a high priority for Germany that Adolf Hitler offered the equivalent of $250,000.00 and the Iron Cross to the U-boat commander who could sink them. However, their high speed meant that it was virtually impossible for U-Boats to catch them. Once, Germany was nearly successful; whilst the Queen Mary was in South American waters, a radio signal was intercepted which indicated that spies had reported her last refuelling stop and a U-Boat was waiting on her line of voyage. After being alerted, the Queen Mary changed course and escaped.
On October 2, 1942, Queen Mary accidentally sank one of her escorts, slicing through the light cruiser HMS Curacoa (D41), with the loss of 338 lives. Due to the constant danger of being attacked by U-Boats, the Queen Mary could not stop, or even slow down, to rescue survivors.
In December 1942, the Queen Mary was carrying exactly 16,082 American troops from New York to Great Britain. While 700 miles from Scotland during a gale, she was suddenly hit broadside by a rogue wave that may have reached a height of 28 metres (92 ft). In his book, The Age of Cunard, author Daniel Allen Butler mentions that the immense wall of water damaged lifeboats on the boat deck and broke windows on the bridge – 90 feet above the waterline. The huge wave caused a list that briefly reached an astounding 52 degrees before the ship slowly righted itself. He reported that investigations later estimated that three more degrees of list would have made the vessel capsize. He also said that seasoned hands on the ship felt it would indeed roll over. The occurrence was kept secret at the time. An account of this crossing can be found in Walter Ford Carter’s book, No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love. Carter’s father, Dr. Norval Carter, part of the 110th Station Hospital on board at the time, wrote that at one point the Queen Mary “damned near capsized… One moment the top deck was at its usual height and then, swoom! Down, over, and forward she would pitch.” The incident inspired Paul Gallico to write his story, The Poseidon Adventure, which was later made into a film by the same name, using the Queen Mary as a stand-in for the SS Poseidon.
After World War II
After the war, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth dominated the transatlantic passenger trade through the latter half of the 1940’s and well into the 1950’s. But in 1958, the first transatlantic flight by a jet began a completely new era of competition for the Cunard Queens. After many voyages, winters especially, Queen Mary sailed into harbor with more crew than passengers. By 1965, the entire Cunard fleet was leaving a trail of red ink. Hoping to continue financing their still under construction Queen Elizabeth 2, Cunard mortgaged Queen Mary and the rest of the fleet. Finally, under a combination of age, lack of public interest, inefficiency in a new market, and the damaging after-effects of the national seamen’s strike, Cunard announced that Queen Mary would be sold. Many offers were submitted, but it was Long Beach, California who beat the Japanese scrap merchants. And so, Queen Mary was retired from service in 1967, while her running mate Queen Elizabeth was withdrawn in 1968. The RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 took over the transatlantic route in 1969, and in turn was joined in 2004 by RMS Queen Mary 2.
The Queen Mary in Long Beach
After her retirement in 1967, she steamed to Long Beach, California on the west coast of the United States, where she is now permanently moored as a tourist attraction. From 1980 to 1993, the Queen Mary was accompanied by Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, which was located in a large dome nearby (the dome is used by Carnival Cruise Lines as a ship terminal as well as a soundstage).
Long Beach however did not buy the Queen Mary to preserve her as an ocean liner – they needed her for another reason. Since they started drilling for oil in Long Beach Harbor, some of the money raised from it had been set aside in a fund called the “Tidelands Oil Fund”. Some of this money was allocated in 1958 to buy a maritime museum for Long Beach at some time in the future. The Queen Mary was purchased to act as the iconic host for this museum. It was purchased as a conveniently sized building with a name attached to it.
It had been decided to clear almost every area of the ship below C deck (called R deck after 1950) to make way for the museum. This would take the new museum space to 400,000 square feet. It would mean the removal of all the ship’s boiler rooms, the forward engine room, both turbo-generator rooms, and the water softening plant. Only the aft-engine room and “shaft-alley”, right at the stern of the ship, would be spared from the cutter’s torch. Remaining space would be turned over to storage or office space. One of the first problems that arose during the conversion from ocean liner to tourist attraction was a dispute between land-based and maritime unions over who was going to convert the ship into a floating hotel. The United States Coast Guard had final say though, and deemed the Queen Mary a building, since most of her propellers had been removed and her machinery gutted.
With all of the lower decks nearly gutted from R-deck and down, it was up to Diner’s Club, the initial lessee of the ship, to turn the rest of the former ocean liner into a hotel. But Diner’s Club Queen Mary dissolved and vacated the ship in 1970 after their parent company, Diner’s Club International was sold and a change in corporate direction was mandated. This happened in the middle of the conversion process. Specialty Restaurants a local Los Angeles based company that focused on theme based restaurants would take over as master lessee the following year.
During this conversion, the plan was to convert most of her first and second-class cabins on A and B decks only into hotel rooms, and convert the main lounges and dining rooms into banquet spaces. On Promenade Deck, the starboard promenade deck would be enclosed to feature an upscale restaurant and cafe called Lord Nelson’s and Lady Hamilton’s themed like early 19th century sailing ships. The famed and elegant Observation Bar was redecorated as a western themed bar.
The smaller first-class public rooms such as the Drawing Room, Library, Lecture Room and the Music studio would be stripped of most of their fittings and converted over to retail space, heavily expanding the retail presence on the ship. Two more shopping malls were built on the Sun Deck in a.) space once used for first class cabins and in b.) the space used as engineer’s quarters.
A post-war feature of the ship, the first-class cinema, was removed for kitchen space for the new Promenade deck dining venues. The first-class lounge and smoking room were reconfigured and converted into banquet space, while the second-class smoking room would be subdivided into a wedding chapel and office space. On Sun Deck, the elegant Verandah Grill would be gutted and converted into a fast-food eatery, while a new upscale dining venue would be created directly above it on Sports Deck in space once used for crew quarters. The second-class lounges would be expanded to the sides of the ship and used for banqueting. On R-deck, the first-class restaurant was reconfigured and subdivided into two banquet venues, the Royal Salon and the Windsor Room. The second-class restaurant would be subdivided into kitchen storage and a crew mess hall, while the third-class dining room would initially be used as storage and crew space. Also on R-deck, the first-class Turkish bath complex, the 1930s equivalent to a spa, would also be removed. The second-class pool would be removed and its space initially used for office space, while the first-class swimming pool would be used for hotel guests. Combined with modern safety codes, and the structural soundness of the area directly below, the swimming pool is no longer in use.
There is not a single crew cabin left intact aboard the ship today. She now serves as a hotel, museum, tourist attraction, and for-rent site for events, but her financial results have been mixed.
The Queen Mary as a tourist attraction
On May 8, 1971, the Queen Mary finally opened its doors to tourists. Initially, only portions of the ship were open to the public as Specialty Restaurants had yet to open its dining venues or the hotel. As a result, the ship was only open on weekends. In December of that year, Jacques Cousteau’s Museum of the Sea opened, with only a quarter of the planned exhibits built. Within the decade, Cousteau’s museum closed due to low ticket sales. In November of the following year, the hotel opened its initial 150 guest rooms. Hyatt operated the hotel from 1974 to 1980, when the Wrather Corporation signed a 66-year lease with the city of Long Beach to operate the entire property. Wrather was taken over by the Walt Disney Company in 1988, Wrather owned the Disneyland Hotel, which Disney had been trying to buy for 30 years; the Queen Mary was thus an afterthought and was never marketed as a Disney property. Through the late eighties and early ninties, the Queen Mary continued to struggle financially. During the Disney years, Disney planned to develop a theme park on the remaining land. This theme park eventually opened a decade later in Japan as DisneySea, with a recreated oceanliner resembling the Queen Mary as its centerpiece. Hotel Queen Mary closed in 1992 when Disney gave up the lease on the ship to focus its attention on what would eventually become Disney’s California Adventure. The tourist attraction remained open for another two months, but by the end of 1992, the Queen Mary completely closed its doors to tourists and visitors.
In February of 1993, under the direction of President and C.E.O. Joseph F. Prevratil, RMS Foundation, Inc began a five-year lease with the city of Long Beach to act as the operators of the property. Later that month, the tourist attraction reopened completely, while the hotel reopened in March. In 1995, RMS’s lease was extended to twenty years while the extent of the lease was reduced to simply operation of the ship itself. A new company, Queen’s Seaport Development, Inc. (QSDI)came into existence in 1995 controlling the real estate adjacent to the vessel. In 1998, the City of Long Beach extended the QSDI lease to 66 years. In 2005, QSDI sought Chapter 11 protection due to a rent credit dispute with the City. In 2006, the bankruptcy court requested bids from parties interesting in taking over the lease from QSDI. The minimum required opening bid was $41M. The operation of the ship,by RMS, remained independent of the bankruptcy. O&S Holdings of Santa Monica Ca was the only group to qualify as of July 2007.(update)At the auction for the ships lease and development rights, A group called Save the Queen, won the lease and plans to refurbish the ship, and develop a Universal Citywalk type Theme resort, shared with Carnival Cruise Lines, and the ships previous operators, The RMS Fondation, which will include, a marina, hotels, retail, and restaurants.
Meeting of the Queens
On February 23, 2006, the RMS Queen Mary 2 saluted its predecessor as it made its port of call in Los Angeles Harbor, while on a cruise to Mexico. The event was covered heavily by local media, although much international media was there also. This brought much needed attention to the first Queen Mary, which, in the past several years, has faced financial difficulty.
The salute itself was carried out with the Queen Mary blowing her one working air horn in response to the Queen Mary 2 blowing her combination of two brand new horns pointing forward and an original 1932 Queen Mary horn (donated by the City of Long Beach) aimed aft. The Queen Mary originally had three whistles tuned to 55 Hz, a frequency chosen because it was low enough that the extremely loud sound of it would not be painful to human ears. Modern IMO regulations specify ships’ horn frequencies to be in the range 70-200 Hz for vessels that are over 200 meters in length. Traditionally, the lower the frequency, the larger the ship. The Queen Mary 2, being 345 meters long, was given the lowest possible frequency (70 Hz) for her regulation whistles, in addition to the refurbished 55 Hz whistle on permanent loan. 55 Hz is the lower bass “A” note found an octave up from the lowest note of a piano keyboard. The air-driven Tyfon whistle can be heard at least ten miles away.
The Queen Mary’s original, professionally manned wireless radio room was destroyed once the ship arrived in Long Beach. In its place an amateur radio room was created one deck above the original radio reception room with some of the discarded original radio equipment used for display purposes only. The amateur radio station with the call sign W6RO (“Whiskey Six Romeo Oscar”) relies on volunteers from a local amateur radio club. They are there most of the time when the ship is open to the public, and the radios can also be used by other licensed amateur radio operators.
Ghosts have been reported on board only after she reached California. Many areas are rumored to be haunted. Reports of hearing little children crying in the nursery room, actually used as the third-class playroom, and a mysterious splash noise in the drained first-class swimming pool are cited. In 1966, 18-year-old fireman John Pedder was crushed by a watertight door in the engine room during a drill, and his ghost is said to haunt the ship. and a ghostly dog howling at the death of its owner. This aspect of the Queen Mary has been carefully used as part of marketing the ship in recent years, much to the dismay of her maritime history supporters.
The Queen Mary operates daily tours with theatrics applied for dramatic effect. Guests may also pay for private paranormal investigations, and are encouraged to document their paranormal experiences, if any. The ship also maintains a haunted maze and expands to multiple mazes during Halloween called Queen Mary’s Shipwreck.
The Queen Mary has been the subject of numerous professional paranormal investigations by printed publications like Beyond Investigation Magazine, nationally televised shows like Ghost Hunters and radio’s Coast to Coast AM. The UK paranormal television program, Most Haunted, investigated the ship in a special two-part episode.
Notably, paranormal-themed show The X-Files filmed a 1998 episode on the Queen Mary. The episode concerned a time warp in the Bermuda Triangle, and the ship stood in for a WWII-era boat.