Boarding the Queen Mary

Do you have friends who treat Halloween like a month long celebration? Their costumes are over the top and they know every haunted house in your town and the next. Our Halloween aficionado friends are Steven and Christy, and when they suggested Dark Harbor, we listened. As they described the real horrors that occurred on the Queen Mary and how the mazes actually traveled through spookiest parts of the ship we were intrigued. When they said it was one of the best fear tours in Southern California we were sold. We had to experience this for ourselves.

The Grey Ghost

We arrived in Long Beach Harbor for a round of drinks with our friends. As we approached the ship,  we noticed was how big the Queen Mary was. She holds the record for the most passengers on a transatlantic crossing. HMS Queen Mary was intended to be a luxury liner but she was built right at the start of World War II. Instead of luxury passengers, her first duty was as a troopship. In December of 1942, she carried 16,082 American soldiers to Europe. During this time, she was painted grey to hide from German U-boats and affectionately called The Grey Ghost.

View From the First Class Lounge

As we walked up to their room, we were greeted with an expanse of dated opulence. In 1947, she finally began life as a luxury liner. However, her furnishings were already a decade out of date. During her conversion to a troopship, all of the luxury accouterments, including six miles of carpet and 220 cases of china, were kept in a New York warehouse. When she retired from service in the late sixties, she became a floating museum and tourist attraction in Long Beach Harbor. There is good reason why we felt like we were walking through living museum, frozen in time from the 1930’s.

Hallway to Hell (or the first class cabins)

The hotel rooms are the old first class cabins. Everything looked a little off and dated but not overtly creepy or evil. Then again, few calamities ever befell the elite. Soon, the rest of our party joined us in the room. We had Kathy, our designated screamer, and her husband. We also had Big Earl, a statuesque man, and his wife. The eight of us toasted the night’s adventures to the setting sun. From the porthole, we could see the ghosts and ghouls arriving for work. This was going to be fun.

Soulmate: Till Death Do Us Part

Our first maze was Soulmate: Till Death Do Us Part, where Graceful Gale and her minions were looking to gather and re-assemble suiters. It looked like a horrific reenactment of Silence of the Lambs. Dismembered body parts were hung and sorted. Patches of flesh were being sown into the perfect man. A suspended bridge took you over the sinister lair of Gale in her full horror and minions waited around every bend with implements of death and dismemberment. All of this was based on an actual haunting on board Queen Mary.

Soulmate resides deep in the bowels of the ship, well below the waterline. The air smelled dank and musty. Big Earl had to slump over to avoid hitting his head on the low ceilings. Exposed pipes and scaffolding made it clear that we were in a different world than the first class cabins we came from. A world that is very dark.

Our resident horror historian, Steven, told us more about the Grey Ghost times. After the troops were dropped in Europe, she would not return empty. Thousands of prisoners of war would be locked below deck for transportation to American detention camps. The rooms we were walking through served as a floating prison. The prisoners would cross the Atlantic in the dark holds. Their stomachs empty and their lungs filled with diesel fouled air. The lucky ones reached New York hungry and sea sick. The unlucky ones never saw daylight again. An untold number of POW’s died during these crossings.

B340: A Descent Into Insanity

The next maze was B340: A Descent Into Insanity. In real life, B340 on the Queen Mary is a room so haunted that it remains empty for all time. Guests refuse to sleep there and the staff refuses to clean it. This small room was used as a holding cell for anyone apprehended aboard the ship. There are a host of rumors about which psychopathic murder or rapist is responsible for the haunting. Dark Harbor created Samuel the Savage to personify the hauntings.

This maze kept us winding through the bowels of the ship. Murders and victims lurched through the dark hallways in a frightening macabre dance. We could hear Kathy’s screams as the characters would emerge from the darkness. Big Earl remained unmoved by the horror that was unfolding. I wouldn’t say I was afraid, but I wasn’t looking forward to my turn at leading the adventures.  Photo: The Real Room B340 credit 

Lullaby: Hush Hush Don’t Cry

The final shipboard maze was Lullaby: Hush Hush Don’t Cry. This maze was an amalgamation of several hauntings observed in the first and third class pools. Dark Harbor embodied these haunts in Scary Mary, a drowned 9-year-old girl trying to lure you to hell. Unsolved Mysteries interviewed Kathy Love who told a collaborated story about seeing wet footprints and hearing a laughing child. Others have reported seeing a child clutching a teddy bear. (The dismembered teddy bear is a motif that got repeated often in this maze). The following footage from a 2008 American Paranormal Research Association trip captured what they claim to be an apparition around the pools. Ghost or no ghost, this video shows just how creepy this place is, even without costumed actors and disemboweled teddy bears.

The First Class Pool

The maze took us right through the abandoned swimming pool. Between Kathy’s screams, Steven told us about how the pool was drained and servicemen slept inside the pool on bunk beds stacked four high on their passage to WWII. Just past the pool was the changing area. The maze was dark and unassuming in this section but Spencer recounted how this was a vortex to the underworld and perhaps the most haunted section of the boat. I was happy to have that pool behind us and happier still to breathe the fresh air upon our exit.

Under the Spruce Goose Dome

Howard Hughes built the largest airplane in history – The Spruce Goose – that used to be housed in a dome beside the Queen Mary. For Halloween, Dark Harbor transformed this dome into two more mazes. Intrepid and Circus: Big Top of Terror. Perhaps it was because we were finally free from the hold of the ship but I found Intrepid to be a bit contrived. The showmanship and set design were spot on but I didn’t get into the back story of John Brown, the original ship builder, being tied to the ship through a pact with hell. I also didn’t understand why he would be at odds with the Captain for the control of the ship. Surely, a ship builder would understand the basic tenants of his contract and not expect eternal dominion over his ship once it leaves the yard. Big Top, however, was fantastic.

Circus: Big Top of Terror

This maze has the least tie-in to the Queen Mary lore. Instead, the artists were given free reign to create something special. They succeeded. Zombie clowns are scary enough, but put them into a disorienting funhouse and watch out. As you are wading through a ball pit could an arm reach out and grab you? Winding through a mirror maze, you can come face first into a real freak show. Spinning optical illusion tunnels leave you feeling a bit off only to be rushed by undead circus freaks. Time and time again our group was separated into alternate paths through the maze. We didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t know the way out but we could always hear Kathy screaming.

Deadrise: The Depths of Darkness

Deadrise: The Depths of Darkness is the only open-air maze at Dark Harbor. It pays homage to the most deadly accident associated with the Queen Mary, the sinking of the HMS Curacoa. Perhaps it was the 29th infantry division on board the Queen Mary or maybe she was carrying a special passenger – Colonel Warden, AKA Winston Churchill. Perhaps it was the million dollar bounty Hitler had placed on QMII for the u-boat who sank her. Either way, the Allies were not taking chances with the Queen Mary. There was a cruiser escort and orders to not slow down for any reason. While making evasive maneuvers off the Irish Coast, she sliced the light cruiser Curacoa in half and sped on as the ship sank. 239 men died in the water that night. Shipwrecks are the theme for Deadrise.

Deadrise Was Fully Immersive

The maze designers took full advantage of the liberties that the open space offered. A flame cannon shot fire 30’ into the air. Water sprayed from simulated holes in the deck and flowed freely through the maze. Heavy smoke billowed into the air, making it hard to see the zombie sailors lurking around the dark corners. Strobe lights fired into the darkness intensifying the fog of war. We could barely make out the mock up of watertight door 13, which in real life crushed crew member John Peddler to death on July 10, 1966. Deadrise was a fully immersive horror maze experience.

Deadrise quenched our thirst for mazes, which was just as well since it had gotten quite crowded. We definitely realized that we had done it right arriving early and knocking out the three most popular mazes, the ones aboard the Queen Mary first. The longer the night wore on, the more people converged into Dark Harbor’s inner sanctum. 

See You Next Year

Steven and Christy, being the Halloween masters that they are, had booked their room early onboard the ship. Perhaps for the best, there were no last minute rooms available to us. Afterwards, as we drove to our hotel, we wondered what it would be like sleeping on the ship after our experience tonight. On one hand, it would be fantastically convenient to roll up into bed after playing late into the night. I have heard that the Sunday brunch on the boat is fabulous and the daylight historical tours are good as well. Perhaps, we would have taken a midnight paranormal tour to hear more about the actual hauntings. Maybe we would have just stayed awake all night listening to the old boat creak in the harbor. Next year, we would love to plan ahead and take the opportunity to explore everything the Queen Mary has to offer. However, this time, we were very happy to be returning to our safe, modern hotel room for a good night sleep.

Disclaimer: Although our experience was complimentary, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own.

 

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