Tour the Queen Mary

The Queen Mary

*Editor’s note: Following is part two of a three part series on ship museums in the Southern California region.

The Royal Mail Ship “The Queen Mary” was built in Clydebank , Scotland, under the ownership of the Cunard White Star Line and was designed/equipped to be a transatlantic super ocean liner (a passenger ship).

In 1936, she sailed across the ocean from England to New York City.
Backing up to hear more about her construction we read:

Construction on the Queen Mary began Jan. 31, 1931, by the John Brown and Company Shipyard, but she didn’t yet have a name and was known at that time simply as Job #534, with a launch date of May of 1932. However, the Great Depression delayed the ship’s completion while the Cunard Ship Line worked toward getting government assistance, which took until 1934.

The Queen Mary ended up becoming one of the most-famous ships in history, and finally launched Sept. 26, 1934. During the next two years, she was fitted with three classes of accommodations, two swimming pools, three nurseries, elevators fore, aft and amidships, along with entertainment and salons for all three classes.

After 20-months of sea trials, the Queen Mary set sail May 27, 1936, on her maiden voyage. Some people in the shipping industry thought that Queen Mary might capture the coveted, “Blue Riband” (an award for the fastest ship crossing the Atlantic); however, thick fog prevented that from happening.

The Queen Mary did go on to win the prize twice from her arch rival, the French ship, “Normandie,” then the SS United States claimed the title in 1952.

When war broke out in Europe, The Queen Mary was safely docked in the New York harbor, where she sat idle for the next year while London decided what role the ship would play in the war.

Later, it was decided that she would be most effective as a troop transporter. The Queen Mary and The Queen Elizabeth, which was also in New York, both underwent war time conversions. They were equipped with anti-aircraft guns, their furnishings removed and replaced with bunks and hammocks, while medical stations were installed and the dining rooms were converted to mess halls and hospital areas.

The Queen Mary’s sleek black paint was replaced with a dull flat gray to help camouflage her from U-boats (German naval submarines used in WWI and WWII), along with patrolling aircraft.

It turned out that her speed was her greatest defense.

The Queen Mary traveled from Australia and Singapore, to India and South Africa, carrying troops from the commonwealth until after America entered the war, then she began transporting U.S. service personnel around the world as well.
The Queen Mary holds the record of carrying the most people in a single crossing, with 16,000 people aboard.

The Queen Mary ferried allied troops during the war but she also carried German and Italian prisoners of war to the U.S. and Canadian prison camps. Prisoners were mainly transported in the cargo hold and lower sections of the ship until late in the war when they were allowed to be on deck.

During an eastbound trip, one of the worst tragedies of her career happened.
The ships used a zig zag pattern to throw-off the aim of U-boats following them; however, during one of the turns, the HMS Curacoa inadvertently turned into the path of The Queen Mary and was cut in half by the massive ship.

More-than 300 of that crew were killed and The Queen Mary, under orders not to stop for any reason, continued on to port without even slowing down. She was given a temporary fix and sent back to New York for dry docking and permanent repairs.

Her speed was so great and her capacity so large that it’s said that Adolf Hitler placed a $250,000 bounty on her, which helped solidify her nickname as the “Gray Ghost.”

From 1940 to 1945 she transported 800,000 people while traveling 600,000 nautical miles. In 1946, she carried 22,000 war brides and their children from Europe to North America.
On September 27, 1947, The Queen Mary was transferred back to Cunard and underwent refitting to transform her back to her, “Grand luxurious state.”

In 1958, The Queen Mary, even though her future was beginning to look dim, was upgraded with stabilizers. She was only making cruises to the Canary Islands and periodically to the Bahamas because she didn’t have central air conditioning nor outdoor swimming pools.

And at the same time, air travel was becoming a more economical, safe and faster way to travel, which contributed to the decline in ship-liner travel.

In May of 1965, an employee-strike cost Cunard millions of dollars and doomed the great ship’s career. Bids were opened for the sale of The Queen Mary to the City of Long Beach, and so on Sept. 16, 1967 the grandest ship to sail the oceans made her last crossing of the ocean.

The Queen Mary arrived in Long Beach on Dec. 9, 1967, with the City of Long Beach planning to turn her into a floating hotel, museum and tourist attraction.

The transformation began in 1969 with the lower sections of the ship below “R” deck being gutted, along with all of the boilers, forward engine room and stabilizers being removed.
The hotel rooms were located on decks “M” thru “B” and sections of the promenade deck were turned into restaurants and her passenger lounges became retail space.

In May of 1971, the ship opened in her new capacity with Jacques Cousteau’s Museum of the Sea as her main attraction. Initial sales were sufficient but fell short after a few months, which caused the exhibit to close after a few years.

The decline worried the city, so they turned to the Hyatt Corporation to reenergize sales, which they did from 1974 to 1980, then the Jack Wrather Corporation signed on to manage the ship.

In 1988, the city thought it had found the answer when Disney bought out Wrather and assumed the lease, but that didn’t end up working out either. Even though Disney was said to have plans to develop a theme park adjacent to The Queen Mary, Disney later decided to build “Disney Sea” in Japan. The center piece for the new Asian theme park was a replica of the Queen Mary. Disney then seemed to abandon the ship in Long Beach until 1992 when they relinquished the lease. The ship closed its doors two months later and everyone thought that was the end for the ship with its great history.

The ship had been closed for a year when the RMS Foundation stepped up and signed a five-year lease with the city and reopened the tourist areas and in 1995 the hotel reopened, but currently the beautiful and majestic ship is sadly closed and not open to the public.

Some more history: As the Queen Mary sailed the ocean, she was host to Hollywood stars, royalty and political figures and was part of history, as Winston Churchill signing the D-Day Invasion Orders while traveling aboard her.

Tour the Queen Mary