The RMS Queen Mary: A Thought on Paper to a Reality on Sea
The task of building the RMS Queen Mary represented a brave and elusive responsibility, especially in the early 1930s, as she was to be the biggest, quickest and most luxurious liner ever constructed. The early beginnings of the three funneled steel grand vessel started with the strong vision and belief in the future of steamships. Indeed, the Mary symbolized an unprecedented challenge of shipbuilding and expressed due faith in British ship design and engineering expertise.
Young merchant Samuel Cunard, premiered his idea to build large steamships back in 1831, when he watched a steamboat approach a port in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He believed that properly built steamships on the North Atlantic could be just as efficient as the usage of railroad trains. Therefore, in 1838, the young man influenced the British Government to catch onto his ideas; thus, he was granted a building contract. The new Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. would offer two monthly voyages for mail service between Liverpool, Halifax and Boston. The first liner built for this task was the Britannia, launched on February 5, 1840. In July of the same year, she sailed from Liverpool and made it to Boston in fourteen days, 8 hours at a regular speed of 8 knots. Young Samuel Cunard sailed on this first voyage and was received with welcoming arms. This was the inauguration of regular steamship service across the North Atlantic.
Fast forward many years, the RMS Queen Mary’s design concept began in 1926 and continued for two years. It came at a time when there was fierce competition between ship building companies in Britain, Germany, Italy and the United States. Cunard’s elderly trio of express liners, Mauritania, Aquitania and Berengaria, were eventually replaced by the Mary and her running mate, the RMS Queen Elizabeth. Cunard’s planning committee came up with the idea to have a fleet of two modernized ships in order to save on fuel and lessen operating costs. These two ships had to be the largest, fastest, strongly built with reliable boilers and machinery, and sail repair-free for eleven months. Like their predecessors, their North Atlantic roundtrip destinations were Southampton to New York, with an average speed of 28.5 knots.
On May 28, 1930, Cunard declared that the John Brown and Company, Ltd. shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland, would be responsible for building the 1,019.5 foot liner, initially labeled as Job 534. For its time period, John Brown & Company, Ltd. was probably the most established shipyard on the planet. Its origins began in Glascow in 1847. It carried a strong reputation for building reliable passenger vessels, many for the Cunard line, as well as battleships and large liners for other companies. In 1871, the renowned company moved to the Barns o’ Clyde (Clydebank) and in 1899, John Brown and Company, Ltd., a Sheffield steel maker, took over the previous shipyard and held the construction of the legendary RMS Queen Mary entirely in its hands.
In November of 1930, the Job 534 tiny model went through its final trial runs. The shipyard was pleased with the model and accepted its design. Therefore, John Brown and Company, Ltd., was given a $30-million contract for the construction of Job 534. Engineers spent countless hours simulating every single aspect of North Atlantic weather, absolutely necessary to make sure that the manufacturing of the vessel was entirely capable of handling the ocean’s tumultuous weather. More than 8,000 prototype experiments took place prior to the selection of the 17-foot, 800-pound, self-propelled model, which would eventually turn out to be the grand RMS Queen Mary. Eventually, her keel was laid on December 1, 1930.
The building of the actual Job 534 began in November of 1931 and its work continued to proceed ahead of schedule. Cunard announced that the liner would be ready for launch in May of 1932. However, on December 11, 1931, the work of Job 534 was halted and 3,000 plus ship workers became unemployed. The depression of the 1930s finally hit and directly affected Cunard’s ship building. Despite economic hardship, the company board chairman, Sir Percy Bates, insisted that the Mary’s work continue. He actually received daily mail contributions from those who sincerely wanted the massive ship to finish completion. Thus, the British government intervened and subsidized the finishing of Job 534. One catch to this financial support held that the corporation was forced to merge with the White-Star Line and the company became known as the Cunard-White-Star line. Ultimately, the liner was completed and weighed a total of 81,237 tons with a total of 12 decks.
September 26, 1934 marked the official day of the RMS Queen Mary’s launching. More than 200,000 eager people came to watch her meet the waters. Children even had a day off of school to witness this majestic event. No one knew the ship’s new title. Interestingly, there were 101 suggested titles for Job 534. People assumed the liner would be named Queen Victoria and keep up with the tradition of titles ending in “ia.” However, as H.M. Queen Mary cut the satin cord and crashed a bottle of Australian wine against the ship’s bow, she said, “I am happy to name this ship, Queen Mary.” She went on to say, “I wish success to her and to all who sail in her.” This was the first time that a reigning Queen of England authorized the naming of a merchant vessel. Crowds endlessly cheered as the vessel made its way to the water. Fifty-five seconds later, the British masterpiece stood tall and proud in her element, signaling the beginning of her unparalleled career.
In The Mary, by Neil Potter and Jack Frost, John Brown’s managing director, Sir Thomas Bell, said on the day of the launching: The pressing of the button releasing the launching triggers was succeeded by a hush of expectancy. For a few seconds, seconds that seemed like minutes to some of us, nothing happened, until at last, a welcoming creaking of timbers was heard, followed by a movement, just perceptible and no more. Then almost immediately afterwards we found ourselves watching the great structure, moving majestically down the launching ways, its towering ass gradually gaining speed and going faster and even faster. It was really awe-inspiring to see such an irresistible force in action and to know that it was utterly beyond all human control. The climax was reached when the stern plunged into the water, driving a great wave before it. Soon afterwards the bow was making its graceful curtsey to us all, telling that all was well.
The Poet Laureate, John Masefield, wrote a heartfelt poem, Number 534, for the Mary’s launch day.
For ages you were rock, far below light,
Crushed’ without shape, earth’s unregarded bone.
Then Man in all the marvel of his might
Quarried you out and burned you from stone.
Then, being pured to essence, you were nought
But weight and hardness, body without nerve;
Then Man in all the marvel of his thought,
Smithied you into form of leap and curve;
And took you, so, and bent you to his vast,
Intense great world of passionate design,
Curve after changing curving, braced and mast
To stand all tumult that can tumble brine,
And left you, this, a rampart of a ship,
Long as a street and lofty as a tower,
Ready to glide in thunder from the slip
And shear the sea with majesty of power.
I long to see you leaping to the urge
Of the great engines, rolling as you go,
Parting the seas in sunder in a surge,
Shredding a trackway like a mile of snow
With all the wester streaming from your hull
And all great twanging shrilly as you race,
And effortless above your stern a gull
Leaning upon the blast and keeping place.
May shipwreck and collision, fog and fire,
Rock, shoal and other evils of the sea,
Be kept from you; and may the heart’s desire
Of those who speed your launching come to be.
Completely built, the RMS Queen Mary was equipped with many public rooms and facilities to cater to each passenger. Her decks included the Sports, Sun, Promenade, Main and A-H Decks. She had 27 public rooms, 21 elevators, three restaurants, a ball room, gymnasium, hair and beauty salons, a Turkish bath and two pools, a garage, mailing processing areas, two cargo holds, three children’s playrooms, a chapel and synagogue, writing and drawing rooms, two libraries, three lounges, three smoking rooms, a shopping area, isolation wards and a completely functioning hospital. Furthermore, her machinery was nothing less than pure engineering excellence. The Mary had a forward and aft engine room, five boiler rooms, two turbo generation rooms and four propellers made out of manganese bronze. She also held 24 lifeboats, which could accommodate up to 145 people. Interestingly, she was built with 2,000 portholes and windows and 18 watertight bulkheads. To serve all of her passengers, she was equipped with beautiful cabins for all three classes, some of which included grand suites, surely a testament to Art Deco design.
On May 27, 1936, the Mary’s maiden voyage ceremony was nothing less than pure majesty. The Royal Marines played Rule Britannia as the untamed ship made its way to the open sea. A flotilla of guts, paddle steamers, yachts, and row boats followed the Mary as she sailed down Southampton Water. New York City received the Queen Mary with welcoming arms on June 1, 1936. She was escorted to Pier 90 by a circus of Navy, Coastguard, motor, sail and speed boats. This event symbolized the public’s adoration for a new kind of ship. After all, her design was a testament to British shipbuilding and her artistic ambience was nothing short of pure brilliance. While in New York’s waterfront, 6,000 visitors per day came to see the vessel. The cost to tour the liner was only one dollar for seamen’s charities.
The Blue Riband is a prestigious prize given to a passenger ship with the fastest crossing on the Atlantic Ocean. The Queen Mary attained this accolade twice during her luxury cruise years. In August of 1936, three months after the ship’s maiden voyage, the Queen Mary took the coveted Blue Riband prize from the Normandie, as she posted impressive quick times, both ways on the same transatlantic route. This particular west to east sailing was completed in three days, 23 hours and 57 minutes from Ambrose Light to Bishop Rock at a regular speed of 30.63 knots, the equivalent to 35 miles per hour. It wasn’t until 1937, that the Normandie re-captured the Blue Riband from the RMS Queen Mary. After a stint in dry dock to receive adjustments and brand new propellers and on her 48th round-trip voyage, the Queen Mary won back the admired prize in August of 1938. She completed the 2,907 mile westward journey in three days, 21 hours and 48 minutes, at an impressive rate of 30.99 knots The Mary held onto this accolade for the next fourteen years, until the S.S. United States achieved it in 1952.
Prior to the advent of jet travel, sailing by ship was the only feasible way to get from the New World to the Old. Passengers chose to travel on the Queen Mary for various reasons, whether for business or recreation. Taking a journey by sea allowed men, women and children the opportunity to meet new people and experience new cultures. Cunard employed some of the finest people in the world, with top hospitality at the forefront. The men and women who helped run the vessel, held some of the highest credentials and were meticulously selected to uphold Cunard’s time-honored tradition of superior service and accommodation. Sir Edgar Britten was the Mary’s first captain and one can imagine his extensive list of responsibilities. The ship’s deck compartment included 190 personnel with the ultimate goal of ensuring a safe and comfortable sailing experience. The catering department’s staff totaled 829 persons. Female staff included 73 women and the engine department consisted of 254 individuals. The stewards and waiters had the biggest impact on passengers.
The RMS Queen Mary received some of the finest interior appointments. The Mary’s artwork was Art-Deco inspired and the ship employed more than 30 artists, artisans and sculptors to design the various interior passenger areas. Several notable art pieces, from famous artists, were placed around the ship. Cunard commissioned many original artistic pieces to be placed in the rooms aboard the Mary. Additionally, the Mary contained the finest finishes of rare woods taken from all of Her Majesty’s colonies. In fact, 56 different varieties of woods from all over the world were utilized for the ship’s interior rooms. The Queen Mary’s utilization of this material was so ubiquitous, that she was given the name, “The Ship of Beautiful Woods.” The liner was constructed with new innovations in mind. For example, the Queen Mary was the first vessel to use Korkoleum for its flooring. Formica and silver bronze were also used throughout the liner. Indeed, the Queen Mary was and is known as a floating palace, where luxury was at its highest.
As for the Mary’s dining, she employed some of the best chefs in the entire world. In fact, these culinary masters were trained to develop a wide variety of dishes. Each class of passengers enjoyed great varieties of food. Luncheon and dinner menus were extensive, differing from day-to-day and offering about 80 dishes. Many of the world’s famous and opulent stars, such as Fred Astaire, Greta Garbo, Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable and Gloria Swanson, all dined in the vessel’s magnificent main dining room. The Captain’s Table housed the most prominent seats in the Queen Mary’s Dining Salon.
People chose to travel on the Mary for many different reasons. Obviously, passengers received the most hospitable and royal treatment the minute they stepped foot on the grand liner’s decks. She attracted different types of people, including movie stars, producers, bankers, industrialists and other types of business moguls. Furthermore, members of the Aristocracy, diplomats and wealthy Englishmen traveled on the ship, including those with noble and royal blood lines. Thus, the ship appealed to a wide array of people from various cultures and backgrounds. While sailing on the Queen Mary, passengers had the opportunities to exchange viewpoints, political beliefs and ideas, while further enjoying various amenities catering to a broad range of interests.
The Cabin, Tourist and Third classes all benefited from facilities and conveniences, which far exceeded those of other liners. The ship’s cabin class (1st class after World War II) consisted of movie stars, government officials, corporate moguls and members of the aristocracy. Tourist class (Cabin class after World War II), included those of the middle class and businessmen. Those of the 3rd class (Tourist class after World War II) consisted of students and those with limited finances. Even though class distinction was prevalent on the Queen Mary, each group was offered services and amenities, rivaling those of other liners.
Arduous times lay ahead for the RMS Queen Mary. On August 30, 1939, the Queen Mary anxiously sailed from Southampton to New York, as war was nearly imminent. In September of 1939, war was officially declared between Britain and Germany, ultimately placing the Queen Mary in a precarious situation. Both the RMS Queen Mary and her sister liner, RMS Queen Elizabeth, were therefore requisitioned for service in World War II. In March of 1940, the British Government informed Cunard that the Queen Mary would be outfitted for troopship duties, lasting the length of combat. Once arriving in New York, the Mary and the Normandie remained in harbor for awhile, silently awaiting their wartime duties. City police made sure that the British masterpiece was secure during her six month idle at Pier 90. Due to being a constant target for Hitler’s army, every centimeter of the Mary was painted a camouflaging grey as an attempt to conceal her from enemy lines. Additionally, her furnishings and fittings were removed and stored in Cunard warehouses.
The RMS Queen Mary, alongside her sister ship, the RMS Queen Elizabeth, have contributed to the World War II allied forces in so many unimaginable ways. The eruption of World War II in September of 1939 would ultimately change the life of both ships. Both of the sister ships were better equipped to carry numerous passengers and travel a variety of routes smaller vessels could not manage. As for the Queen Mary, little did we know at the time, that she would be postmarked in history for helping to lessen the duration of one of the most brutal wars to span numerous nations. The Mary voyaged 600,000 miles, carried 500,000 American soldiers and 100,000 British soldiers to their destinations during the length of World War II. Looking back, one must realize that the Mary overcame numerous obstacles in order to bring peace to the nations. These impediments will be discussed in the next few paragraphs.
In 1940, the month of March was devoted to preparing the luxury cruise liner for war. Her giant revealing letters, spelling her royal name were entirely removed. Cunard-White-Star mandated that all of the Mary’s luxury items be removed and stored in New York warehouses. She also received the installation of an ASDIC underwater sound detection system. A single four-inch gun was also placed on her fan-tail, which would help protect her from smaller vessels. World War I Lewis and Vickers machine guns were positioned on the ship. Thirty-three guns, twelve rocket launchers, a range finder and a central gun control house were all situated on her decks. She was also outfitted with a degaussing girdle, responsible for deactivating magnetic mines. Her armament also consisted of five 40 mm cannons with two located on the bow, two on the stern and another on top of the bridge. Surprisingly, in her military history, she never fired a single shot nor was a shot fired directly at her.
In order to make room for the thousands of military troops, certain alterations and refitting were required prior to actual war service. When the Queen Mary joined the ranks as a GI troop shuttle, she carried an excess of 15,000 servicemen, holding as much as 16,683 persons. As time went on, she sailed into new ports and received upgrades to accommodate an increasing number of troops. Each soldier was assigned to a specific section on the ship, designated by the colors red, white and blue. Consequences ensued for any soldier who left his assigned area.
Once refitted for war service, the ship left its quiet berth at Pier 90 on March 21, 1940, as she slowly approached the vast sea. The sister liners traveled in and out of Sydney, Australia, delivering troops to European fronts; that is, until the Japanese bombed the Pacific in 1941. While in the Boston Navy Yard in 1942, the Queen Mary underwent further alterations to accommodate an increased number of troops. The ship became accustomed to her new adjustments and modifications and sailed to many ports, such as Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and Freemantle.
America entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Thus, the Mary’s trooping capacity dramatically increased. By the spring of 1942, European forces desperately needed reinforcement. The sister Queens were called upon to perform this task. Thus, the Queen Mary began her GI shuttle days, carrying an excess of 10,000 living American souls to Britain. May 11, 1942, was the first day in history for any ship to carry 10,000 people. In August, the Mary started carrying 15,000 plus troops per voyage. Statistically, the Queen Mary held an excess of 800,000 soldiers on 72 trips, totaling a whopping 569,000 miles. The liner broke her troop capacity record on July 25, 1943 as she carried 16,683 souls from New York to Gourock.
While the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 destroyed any hopes for the closure of World War II, it did bring about some positives. The United States was able to enter the war on the allied side. Great Britain and the United States were cohesive allies against Fascism. President Franklin D. Roosevelt silently collaborated with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on a mutual scheme to defeat Nazi tyranny and Japanese development. It was decided that the United States would supply the majority of servicemen and needed material to curtail Japanese advance. Britain was called upon to supply the gigantic vessels responsible for the carrying of troops and their equipment to Australia.
The Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, along with the Aquitania, Mauretania and Ile de France, were all known as the “the Monsters.” Their combined role was to help increase the strength of American troops in Britain for Operation Bolero. During the war, approximately 340,000 American and Canadian men were brought to the United Kingdom.
According to Winston Churchill, the Queen Mary had a huge impact on lessening the duration of World War II. Devastating losses to both the Allied troops and American people would have ensued if the Mary or her sister ship would have been lost during the war. In fact, Churchill imparted the following words, “Built for the arts of peace and to link the old world with the new, the Queens challenged the fury of Hitlerism in the battle of the Atlantic. Without their aid, the day of final victory must have unquestionably been postponed.”
However, it must be mentioned that the ship almost met her end of days during the war. She endured several near fatal disasters during this time period and would always triumph like a Phoenix rising up from the flames. While located off the British Isles in 1943, a puzzling explosion sent geysers of water upward without denting the massive liners.
“Perhaps it was a spent torpedo at the end of the run,” affirmed Commodore Bisset.
Furthermore, the staunch Adolf Hitler offered a prize of $250,000 to any submarine skipper who could sink the Mary. The skipper to tragically accomplish this daunting task would also be rewarded the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. The Queen Mary would continually prove to outsmart enemy lines as no adversarial submarine ever came close to sinking the ship. British intelligence diligently worked around the clock to ensure the Queen Mary’s safety, which also protected national security as well.
The Mary once again evaded disaster when she sailed into Trinidad to refuel. A German submarine sailed into Trinidad and actually sunk two idling vessels. If the Mary had not received an urgent coded message to leave port and alter her route, she, too, would have met her demise at the bottom of the ocean.
In 1941, both sister liners traveled through the hot climates of the Indian Ocean and Red Sea without air-conditioning. The lower decks would reach a stifling triple digit temperature. Therefore, numerous men suffered physical ailments brought on by the oppressive heat. Arguments and gang warfare consistently transpired. Salt water showers were implemented to prevent troop insubordination; however, tragically, several men succumbed due to heat exhaustion and stroke, while others came close to death.
The Mary, once again, encountered two more near catastrophic events. German and Italian spies uncovered the Mary’s whereabouts and transmitted this information to U-boats situated off the Brazilian coast. Once again, with luck on her side, allied forces intercepted the message and changed the ship’s route. An oil tanker was obliterated as it departed the port at the exact time the Queen Mary was scheduled to leave the port. Averting tragedy, the ship commenced her 3,300-mile venture to Cape Town in March of 1942.
Then, as the Queen Mary rapidly pushed onto South Africa, a life-threatening fire erupted on B Deck, just underneath the liner’s bridge. This two-hour flame fest was ignited by faulty electrical insulation. As the smoke and flames reached the bridge, every crewman performed his duties perfectly. Thus, no one was mandated to abandon ship. Once again, the Queen Mary prevailed.
The only major damage the Mary sustained during the length of World War II occurred on October 2, 1942. When the tragedy ensued, the ship was on a zigzag course with her World War I British Light Cruiser Escort, the HMS Curacoa. The Queen Mary hit and sliced in half the cruiser, commanded by Captain John Wilfred Boutwood. It carried a total of 450 men. Unfortunately, due to strict Navy orders, the Queen Mary could not stop to rescue the surviving men. All she could do was throw out life preservers for men to use as a floatation device. The Curacao met the bottom of the ocean within five minutes. Tragically, over 300 British sailors passed away as a result of the accident.
Phillip Levin of New York was a sergeant major aboard the Mary at the time of the collision. The following words are his individual account of what happened when the tragedy struck:
I can recount that at 2:07 p.m. in the afternoon the lookout raised alarm that a suspected U-boat was spotted on the port bow ahead. In response, the Mary wheeled to starboard. In the meanwhile, the Curacao was answering the submarine alert and sped to port. She cut in front of the liner’s bow and because of a split-second miscalculation, was trampled by the larger vessel. I was in the office on the Main Deck at the time and felt only the slightest rattle and vibration. Actually, it seemed quite normal. But word of the collision spread quickly, like wildfire throughout the ship. I raced to the open, upper decks and looked aft to see the two halves of the Curacao drifting in our wake and then rather quickly sinking. I could see the drowning sailors and also the pick-up of the survivors by the other escort ships.
On January 21, 1947, Mr. Justice Pilcher handed down his judgment on the collision: the accident was caused by the negligence of the Curacoa. The cruiser’s responsibility was to keep out of the way of the Mary. Nonetheless, this was a maritime tragedy that should have never happened. As with any other earthbound energies inhabiting the Mary, it is my sincere hope that all of the Curacoan sailors find peace and solitude.
The Queen Mary may have also met her end when this tragedy occurred. You see, the Curacoa carried depth charges on her aft end. If the Mary had hit the smaller vessel at that exact angle, the explosions would have been so powerful, that they would have sunk the bigger ship.
1943 marked the busiest year for the Queen Mary during World War II. From June of 1943 to April of 1945, the Mary continued sailing as a GI shuttle warship. During this time, the vessel traveled an excess of 180,000 miles and carried approximately 340,000 American and Canadian men to the United Kingdom. In total, the sister Queens carried a combined 1,243,538 soldiers during World War II. An interesting fact holds that in summer of 1943, Churchill first reviewed the D-Day invasion plans aboard the Queen Mary.
The Queen Mary also had the auxiliary roles of carrying prisoners-of-war, notably those with Italian and German nationalities, to rear area detention facilities in South Africa, Australia and the United States. In 1944, she also functioned as a hospital ship, treating injured soldiers and transferring them to United Kingdom medical facilities. On May 7, 1945, Nazi Germany finally surrendered and in the following September, the Queen Mary returned to Southampton, signaling the end of her war duties. From 1945 – 1946, the Mary’s primary role was repatriating servicemen. Additionally, she also carried thousands of war brides and children from Britain to the United States.
“I’d go as far as to say the Mary’s machinery is as good as the day she first left the Clyde and is a credit to the builders,” imparted Joseph Parry, the Mary’s well-respected and honorable chief engineer. On July 31, 1947, the Queen Mary resumed her luxury ocean liner days and sailed on her post-war maiden voyage. After being refitted back to a peacetime liner, she continued on with what she was originally intended to do: gloriously sailing the North Atlantic route. Commanded by John Treasure Jones, the ship’s final 1,001st commemorative voyage commenced in Southampton and ended in Long Beach, California, at noon on December 9, 1967. The city of Long Beach certainly made history by welcoming the RMS Queen Mary. As the stately liner slowly made its way up to her new home, she was surrounded by a flotilla of boats and welcoming crowds. In fact, 5,000 vessels awaited the Mary as she regally sailed into Long Beach, California’s serene harbor.
“No finer ship ever sailed this ocean. They will never build another like her. I don’t want this to be a nostalgic crossing. We will go out in a blaze of glory and then onto Long Beach. California’s climate will be good to her,” relayed Captain John Treasure Jones.
After her hospitable arrival in Long Beach, the Queen Mary patiently waited at Pier E to undergo conversions while in dry dock. In April of 1968, the liner went into Navy dry dock, where she commenced her conversion and renovation process. While at Pier E and in order to make way for the planned museum, the Queen Mary’s C Deck and lower decks were completely gutted. Her two turbo generator rooms, forward engine room and five boiler rooms were completely stripped of their machinery. Only the steering gear and aft engine room’s equipment remained. On February 27, 1971, the ship was relocated from Pier E to its everlasting home at Pier J.
At the time the Queen Mary was put up for sale, the city of Long Beach had plans to improve its economy and waterfront. Thus, proposals were underway to build a marina and retail facility, with the hopes of attracting tourists. City officials felt that the idyllic attraction would be a museum devoted to the sea, with the Queen Mary being its top-notch setting, serving as a hotel, banquet and convention site. The Diner’s Club Credit Card Company invested $4.5 million in the construction of a luxury hotel, nightclub, restaurant and first class shopping facility. However, in summer of 1970, after spending $5.6 million, the company decided to back out of the project. Then, on April 1, 1971, Specialty Restaurants Corporation became the leaseholder for all areas of the ship, except its hotel. PSA Hotels, Inc. became the operator of the liner’s lodge, with the notion of spending $4 million to change existing cabins into a 400-room hotel. The first 150 rooms were made available to the public in November of 1972. The remainder of the cabins were planned to open in the subsequent year. Then, in February of 1974, the Hyatt Corporation commenced its responsibility for running the ship’s hotel. The Queen Mary’s tour opened up on weekends in May of 1971. The tour was then opened up daily in June and almost a million people came aboard the grand lady’s decks by the following December.
Intriguingly, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the noted oceanographer, was made chief designer and planner for the ship’s proposed Museum of the Sea. However, he hired his son to develop new design models. Both father and son then established the Living Sea Corporation, with museum goals to educate the public about marine life and ecology. On December 11, the Living Sea Museum opened up to welcoming arms. It was reported that 4,000 individuals walked through the attraction on its opening day and was further noted as having the world’s biggest collection of marine exhibits.
Economic hardship during 1973 and 1974 directly hindered the Queen Mary’s monetary profits; however, the ship proved its Long Beach success in the years to come. On October 1, 1976, Queen Mary Tours, Inc. was developed to take over operations of the Living Sea Museum and historical displays. Thus, original plans were devised to invigorate public attendance with a strategic marketing plan, brand new exhibits and live entertainment. Then, on September 1, 1980, the Wrather Corporation assumed responsibility for operating the Queen Mary. It came up with a $10 million renovation initiative to upgrade and restore many areas of the ship, with the intentions of highlighting its 1930s splendor. The corporation closed the sea museum and exhibits to make way for a 50,000 square-foot Exhibition Hall, specifically for convention and trade show usage. Additionally, Howard Hughes’ noted flying boat, the Spruce Goose, was to be relocated adjacent to the Queen Mary as another tourist attraction. Thus, the building of the 140,000 square-foot dome started in October of 1981, entirely responsible for housing Hughes’ wooden plane. In its new home in Long Beach, the Spruce Goose was eventually opened to the public on May 14, 1983.
In September of 1987, the Wrather Corporation sold its stock to the Walt Disney Company. Thus, the company then became the leaseholder and operator of the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose venues. In 1992, both the Queen Mary’s hotel and attractions were closed as the search for a new operator went underway. Then, on February 5, 1993, the Long Beach City Council awarded a five-year lease to the brand new RMS Foundation, Inc. under the auspices of Joseph Prevratil. Therefore, the Queen Mary reopened its doors to the public in late February, 1993. This was a great year for the ship as she proudly became listed in the National Register of Historic Places, an honorable distinction for her unprecedented years on the seas.
The RMS Foundation works closely with the Queen’s Seaport Development, Inc., which has a 66-year lease from the City of Long Beach to continue operations of the Queen Mary’s hotel, attractions, entertainment and banquet facilities and 45-acre development adjacent to the legendary liner. Today, the Mary sees an approximate 1,000,000 people a year. In addition, she is outfitted with spectacular views, award-winning restaurants, shops and seasonal attractions, including paranormal tours. Indeed, the Queen Mary attracts people from all walks of life. She offers various venues catering to a variety of interests.
One can argue that the RMS Queen Mary has a history on the seas rivaling that of any other vessel. Indeed, she is a ship that was designed for peace. Her war service was a direct influence on Europe’s rebirth. The last of her kind, she helped bridge the old world with the new, helping numerous people by creating a long-lasting bond between Britain and America. A constant stream of strength, humility, joy, happiness and gratification from her crew and passengers, infiltrated all areas of the Mary for many years. Perhaps, these emotions still remain deep within her hull, possibly providing a foundation for her spiritual activity. With her historical significance, good times and bad, it is no wonder why the Mary is known as one of the top ten haunted places on the planet. Come and stay the night on this Eighth Wonder of the World to learn about its unprecedented history on the seas. You never know, you may even run into one of its resident spirits.Socials and Contact