Guarding the port of Long Beach, California, the retired British ocean liner – Queen Mary – floats silently like a ghost. For most of us, she is a nostalgic memento of a bygone era. But few of those who marvel at the beauty of Queen Mary ship know the history of this Los Angeles icon.
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The Birth of a Marvel
The construction and launch of the Queen Mary ship was nothing short of extraordinary and her history is very unique. Despite being built in the era of the Great Depression, the ship was destined from the start to stand out. She was supposed to be bigger, faster and even more powerful than the Titanic.
With a desire to replace the Mauretania, Cunard Line spared no expense. They managed to build the most luxurious and technologically advanced ocean liner at the time. Although Queen Mary’s construction started in 1930, it took a long time to complete because of the Depression. However, on May 27, 1936 the ocean liner was finally ready to take her maiden voyage.
How Did the Queen Mary Ship Get Its Name?
The legend has it that when the construction was finished, the board of directors at Cunard decided to name her the Queen Victoria, after one of England’s most beloved queens. The delegation went to ask King George V for his blessing on the proposed name. “We have decided to name our new ship after England’s greatest Queen.”
They were referring to Queen Victoria, the King George’s grandmother, of course. But the King quickly said: “My wife (Queen Mary) will be delighted that you are naming the ship after her.” And so, the ship was named Queen Mary instead of Queen Victoria.
Aboard the Luxurious Queen Mary
Because it was designed for transatlantic travel, the Queen Mary Ship was equipped with five dining rooms and lounges, two cocktail bars, swimming pools, a grand ballroom, a squash court and even a small hospital.
The ship was boasting elegance and grandeur. She was the grandest ocean liner in the world, hosting the world’s rich and famous across the Atlantic. Hollywood celebrities like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, or David Niven, royalty like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and dignitaries like Winston Churchill, are just a few of the big names that traveled aboard the Queen Mary.
From a Luxury Ocean Liner to a Troopship
But the ship’s days of glory weren’t meant to last long. As World II started, Queen Mary was transformed into a troopship and painted a grey color for camouflage and stripped off of all her luxurious amenities. The former opulent lounges were now filled with bunks up to the ceiling.
The ship even lost her name, as they nicknamed her “The Gray Ghost.” But because of the stealth and plain color, she was the largest and fastest troopship to sail. The ship was capable of transporting as many as 16,000 troops.
By the end of World War II, Queen Mary (a.k.a. The Gray Ghost) had carried more than 800,000 troops and traveled more than 600,000 miles. She had also survived a collision at sea, and participated in the D-Day invasion.
The Post-War History of the Queen Mary Ship
After the war, the Queen Mary ship underwent major retrofitting and was brought back to her original splendor. She resumed regular passenger service across the Atlantic for the next two decades.
But as the years passed and people started using air travel for their transatlantic voyages, the ship’s popularity decreased more and more. In 1965 Cunard decided to retire the legendary Queen Mary and sell her.
A Good Place for Retirement
In October 1967, Queen Mary departed on her final cruise arriving in California, where she has been floating ever since. The City of Long Beach bought the Queen Mary to serve as a tourist attraction, so the ship’s story didn’t quite end.
The Queen Mary ship is now a hotel and an event venue. She is also home to three world-class restaurants and a museum. You can tour the Queen Mary at your own pace with an audio tour daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Or you can join one of the various guided tours. And if you are ghost lover, there are several twilight tours (Paranormal Investigation, Paranormal Ship Walk, Dining with the Spirits).
On February 5, 2015, Cunard’s newest ocean liner – The Queen Elizabeth – made a stop in Long Beach to visit her old relative, Queen Mary. This ‘Royal Rendezvous‘ is the fourth time in over three decades that another Cunard ship has visited the legendary Queen Mary.
The Queen Mary is today one of the most beloved attractions in Los Angeles. At Christmas time, the ship hosts parties, performances and live entertainment. So if you are looking for some fun things to do in Los Angeles in December, don’t miss the Queen Mary party!
Queen Mary Ship is currently undergoing some critical repairs and is closed to the public. The 5 million dollars project which started in March, 2022 is scheduled to finish by the end of the year.