A review by Joey Madia
As much as I enjoy writing book reviews, some are more special than others. Not only is this my two-hundredth; it’s on a subject near and dear to my heart—the art and craft of paranormal investigation. Factor in the additional aspect of it celebrating one of the most haunted places in the world—meticulously and dare I say lovingly documented by a true professional in our field—and this review is very special indeed.
Keeping in mind that this is book one of a trilogy that Strickland has written over the past decade about the Queen Mary, and that she is a frequent walker among Mary’s hallowed and haunted passageways and decks, it’s hard to do the length and breadth of Strickland’s work justice in a two-page review, so I’ve decided to highlight the methodology of the book, which overlaps with best practice for any long-term investigation of a haunted place, such as the two-year exploration of the Webb Memorial Library my wife Tonya and I undertook from 2016 to 2018, which also culminated in a book.
As Strickland often reminds us, hauntings are tied to place—be it land, a building, or a luxury liner. With this truism in mind, the author treats the reader to the history of the ship, from her builder, Cunard, to her sister ships; to her careful design and construction; to her impressive history in times of war and peace. This is essential reading to have proper context for the stories behind the hauntings she reports later in the book—experiences that are both her own and others’ (an essential mix when looking for parallels and patterns and evaluating anecdotal evidence). The scholarship’s impressive and the details rich (the final part of the book provides lists of famous passengers, ship captains, number and roles of the crew, room lists, and other details for the reader wanting to go deeper). Strickland has an energetic narrative style that keeps the pages turning as she unfolds the history of this mammoth of the sea in the prewar and war years of the 1930s and 1940s. If you love films, TV shows, and documentaries about the fabled Titanic, this book will open up for you a whole new window into the luxury liner industry.
Particularly impressive are the descriptions of the woods, fabrics, and other materials that contributed to the art deco design and Queen Mary’s reputation as the world’s premiere luxury liner. Strickland identifies and describes 36 different types of wood the shipbuilders and decorators used. Needless minutiae? Not at all. Equal care and detail are applied to dining options and guest accommodations.
World War II buffs will love Part III, where Strickland details the conscription of the Queens Mary and Elizabeth—as well as other steamships—for transport of troops and POWs. Many of the hauntings associated with the ship track back to this dangerous time in her history, where death, stress, and uncertainty provided a potent energetic cocktail that continues to feed both residual and intelligent hauntings.
Perhaps one of the most important events was the HMS Curacoa disaster, 2 October 1942, when the Queen Mary collided with this much smaller, slower British Navy escort ship, which sank within five minutes, resulting in the loss of more than 300 British sailors.
On a happier note, at the end of the war the Queen Mary was enlisted to deliver war brides and their children to New York. The immense joy they must have felt also energizes a number of shipboard hauntings.
The Queen Mary has inspired everyone from crew to passengers to paranormal investigators. Poets are no exception. The volume is bookended by poems from John Masefield and Strickland’s mother. There are also song lyrics written for her maiden voyage in May 1936, a celebrated undertaking that included dropping a wreath at the spot where the Titanic succumbed to the sea.
The middle section provides an impressive and extensive series of photographs that make you feel like you are there as the stories unfold. Even in these black and white photos, the luxury and unique energy of the ship and all those associated with her are palpable.
In many ways, the most interesting story is what happened to the Queen Mary after she was retired from the Southampton–New York luxury liner route and docked in Long Beach, California in December 1967. She’s had many incarnations as hotel, museum, and entertainment venue for Disney and others, and Hugh Heffner even thought about turning her into a Playboy Bunny ship—an idea that met with plentiful opposition.
Chief among her offerings since her docking are the popular paranormal tours and investigations. No wonder—nearly every manifestation of otherworldly phenomena is represented in the book’s second half. There are the usual knocks, bangs, and strange lights, which one expects in any aged structure, especially a steel and wood ship. But the reports of apparitions are truly notable, ranging from famous folk such as Winston Churchill (whose cigar can be smelled) to several children and wealthy, dressed-up or bathing-suited passengers to soldiers and crewman who died aboard the ship.
And these ghosts and spirits communicate on a level that’s truly rare. They whisper in ears, asking for a light or a drink (or offering one!), or otherwise make themselves heard, including the screams of what are thought to be victims of the Curacoa collision. Some seem to be residual, nonsentient hauntings, while others are well aware of their surroundings and who is in them. Others answer to their names, either through clairaudience or electronic devices such as spirit boxes and digital recorders. There’s even a phantom cat and a ghost who has an over-fondness for Old Spice! Not surprisingly, some of Mary’s captains also remain on board—or frequently visit their beloved former command.
As any responsible investigator should, Strickland provides several theories as to why the Queen Mary is so incredibly haunted, although, in the final analysis, it is obvious that this singular luxury liner is in many ways “alive.” Strickland clearly has a close personal relationship with her, as do many others who share their stories in this book and the rest of the trilogy. This is not always the case in long-term investigations. Although Tonya and I talk in detail about dozens of ghosts, spirits, and other entities in addition to the architectural features and antique books and furnishings in the Webb, we never sensed that the building itself was sentient. However, in the case of the Queen Mary, this seems to be very much the case.
Reading this love letter to a truly impressive ship and all those associated with her, living and dead, will make you want to pack your bags and get to Long Beach as quickly as you can.
I know I will be soon.
TITLE: Haunted Queen of the Seas: The Living Legend of the RMS Queen Mary
AUTHOR: Nicole Strickland
PUBLISHER: Penoaks Publishing