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The Ghosts of the Liner Queen Mary

Chuck Lyons lives in upstate New York with his wife Brenda and a golden retriever named Jack who chases ghosts and barks at shadows.


In their 2014 book Ghosts of the Queen Mary, paranormal investigators Brian Clune and Bob Davis claim the ship, which is today a tourist attraction and hotel docked in Long Beach , California, claim that as many as “six hundred spirits .. roam her halls and passageways.”

More than 200 of those spirits can be found at the extreme front end of the retired British liner Queen Mary, where visitors have reported the sounds of men screaming and of metal crushing against metal. The sounds, some say, are the shades of the 236 men who died on Oct. 2, 1942 when the Queen Mary, which had been converted to a World War II troop carrier and was loaded with troops of the American 29th Division, collided with the HMS Curacoa, striking the anti-aircraft cruiser amidships.

And cutting her in half.

The Accident

“The Queen Mary sliced the cruiser…like a piece of butter,” Alfred Johnson, a crewman on the Queen later said.

On Oct. 2, the big ship was off the north coast of Ireland, filled with GI’s, as she and her escort, which included the ani-aircraft cruiser HMS Curacoa, were sailing zigzag courses due to the possibility of U-boat or air attacks, Suddenly the Queen Mary, sailing at a speed of twenty-eight knots, cut across the path of the Curacoa. Seaman Ernest Watson on the Curacoa was watching the Queen and noticed the liner’s bow swinging toward the cruiser and then the gap between the two ships growing narrower and narrower.

“She’s going to ram us,” he shouted, and within seconds, the Queen Mary, some twenty times larger than the Curacoa, struck the smaller ship, slicing through her 10 cm (four inch) armor plating and cutting the Curacao in two, her fore and aft section quickly divided by a 100 m (328 foot) strip of ocean. Sailors on the upper deck of the cruiser—including Watson—were tossed “like falling autumn leaves,” as another witness put it, into the cold North Atlantic where they saw the Curacoa’s stern half quickly sink, taking many of her crew members trapped inside to their deaths. The fore section of the ship soon followed.


Those in the water, as they struggled to stay afloat amid the dead and wounded bodies of their fellows, the cold, and the wreckage of the cruiser, expected the Queen Mary to stop for them. She didn’t. Because of the fear of U-boats, the Queen’s captain, Cyril Illingworth, a World War I veteran, was under orders that under no circumstances was he to stop until the Queen Mary had safely delivered the troops of the 29th., There had not been time between the collision and the sinking for the Curacoa to launch her boats or life rafts, and there are conflicting stories as to how long it was before the ship’s survivors were picked up. In some cases, it was reported, survivors were in the freezing water for up to four hours. (One man who had been near a barrel of oil when the ship’s collided was drenched head-to-foot with the oil and catapulted into the water. He later claimed the oil insulated him from the cold and aided in his survival.)

Ninety-nine members of the Curacoa’s crew—including seaman Watson—were eventually rescued, but the collision and the rescues were kept secret until after the war.

At that time, the Royal Navy pressed charges against the Queen Mary's owners, Cunard White Star Line. The British High Court of Justice eventually ruled that two-thirds of the blame for the accident lay with the Curacoa and one third with Cunard White Star, a ruling that proved significant in the flurry of lawsuits that followed.

Queen Mary docked in Long Beach, California

Queen Mary docked in Long Beach, California

Long Beach

The Queen Mary continued to serve as a troop carrier throughout the war.

A luxury liner, the Queen Mary had been launched originally in September 1934 and had set a speed record for an Atlantic crossing in 1936. When the war broke out, six miles of carpet, 220 cases of china, crystal, and silver service, tapestries and paintings were taken out of the ship and stored. Woodwork was covered with leather, and her swimming pool was drained. She was fitted with tiered bunks and painted gray. Troops aboard her slept in shifts.

After the war she was restored to her pre-war state and continued making Atlantic crossings, completing her 1000th crossing on Sept. 27, 1967, She was then sailed around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America and north to Long Beach where she has been ever since, a tourist attraction and hotel, empty but for tourists and guests of the hotel.

And, perhaps, the ghosts.

As well as the ghosts of the seamen killed in 1942 the hip’s “choice decks remain the floating home of a few regulars, including the oft-glimpsed White Lady, as well as Little Jackie, John Henry and, of course, Grumpy.”

Ghosts of the Queen Mary is available from Amazon.

Queen Mary Today

Queen Mary Today

© 2020 chuck lyons

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