By Jeryl Brunner
When he was a boy in Southampton, England, Dave Wooders was enchanted by the grand ocean liners that he saw pull in and out of port. After he left school he jumped at the chance to work as a bellboy aboard the famed RMS Queen Mary. It was 1957, he had just turned 16 and suddenly in the midst of Victor Mature, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, and other stars. Although he says, “my time on the Queen Mary was absolutely fantastic,” little did he realize that the ship was haunted by the spirits of those who had died on the ship. Even now that she is permanently docked in Long Beach and now a floating Hotel, Wooders hears chilling accounts of how the vessel continues to have spirits aboard. Just in time for Halloween, Wooders who wrote Adventures on the Queen Mary with James Radford, recounts some of the scarier moments aboard the legendary cruise liner.
“In the changing rooms by the pool, were removable slats on the floor. We would take them out, throw them into the pool, brush them off with scrubbing brushes, then put them back in. Once, when we were outside the changing room, one of the workers came running out of it towards us screaming ‘I hear a man crying saying ‘I can’t get out!’ I hear him crying loud, but I don’t see anyone. I’m the only one in there.’ This young lad was in a hell of a state. His was pale white and terrified. I thought, there’s no way anybody could put that on. He obviously heard something. So I ran to the swimming pool attendant. But the attendant said ‘the guy crying was a first-class passenger. And a couple of years ago now he died in there. Tell your lads not to worry about it.’ But obviously, we did. It was quite traumatic. That story stays with me. It really did it for me to convince me that the ship was haunted. From then on I was a bit nervous going in there. It was ‘you go in tonight. I’ll do it tomorrow night’ type of thing.”
Boots and the mystery of the lady who vanished
“Onboard was a guy we’d call Boots because at night he went to the first class passengers’ alleyways to clean the shoes outside the cabins. He was cleaning shoes and a lady walked along and was wearing old world-y clothes, which seemed strange. He said, ‘goodnight ma’am’ and she looked at him and he went on cleaning the shoes. Within a second or so, he looked up to find that the lady had vanished. She just disappeared. They were in an area with no cabin doors. It was just plain bulkheads. So, there wasn’t anywhere for her to turn and go into a cabin.
Once Boots was outside a cabin and heard some kids crying inside. He went to the night officer and got him to come down and check it out. The security guy had a key and he could open any cabin. So he opened the door and the cabin was empty. In fact, the cabin wasn’t even used on that trip. But Boots could hear these two kids crying.”
“Late at night when everybody had left the kitchen — apart from the guys that cleaned during the night — all of a sudden, plates flew straight across the galley and smashed on the floor. But the ship wasn’t rolling. The ship was still.”
The tale of the ship’s cook
“The ship’s cook who cooked for the greasers (aka the engine room staff) was a bit of a character onboard. Unfortunately, he liked his beer and drank six or eight pints a day. He was well-known onboard and never a problem. During one trip a new officer came onboard and saw the cook with a pint of beer — at two o’clock in the afternoon. The officer said, ‘you shouldn’t be drinking on duty,’ and the cook said, ‘I’ve always done it.’ The officer said, well you’ll stop now. That evening he went up to what we used to call the Pig ‘n’ Whistle forward bar, and put his pint pot on there and said, ‘fill it up,’ but the barman said ‘sorry, we’ve been told by one of the officers we can’t serve you.’ So he went to the Pig ’n’ Whistle and they said exactly the same thing. The cook replied, ‘if you won’t serve me I’ll go ashore and get a pint.’ He jumped over the side. Around 18 months later, people said that they saw him walking down the working alleyway in his aprons holding his pint pot. Then he would disappear.”
“Certainly, lots of people have heard voices over the years. A young lad who was training to be a butcher had to into the cold storage area to get milk every day. He heard a child crying, but never saw the child, which of course scared him. Waiters would sense something strange, a presence, and would drop trays.”
“There’s a story about a female passenger who saw a woman coming up the stairs towards her in one of the alleyways. She looked up thinking that this person was going to pass her. But the woman disappeared. She went straight to the purser’s office and told them what happened. They said, ‘oh don’t worry. They won’t hurt you.’ There are lots of stories like that about the Queen Mary.
People who visit the Queen Mary now feel that there’s just something lurking in certain areas.
Years ago, when she was afloat, a young engineer lad was messing about, jumping in and out of the watertight doors, showing off to his mates. When the ship started to go, the bell was pressed, the red light came on and the door slid from one side to the other. But this man who was jumping in out of the doors, just messing about, showing off to his mates, tripped.
The doors went into him and killed him outright. The door was watertight door number 13. Now when people visit the Queen Mary, they’re shown that watertight door. People have said there’s something cold that goes over them where this guy had been killed.”