The Queen Mary
Our most recent trip aboard the Queen Mary was during the annual Art Deco Festival, where the ship came alive with shopping, lectures, an art deco ball, and vintage-clad visitors. This art deco time capsule of a ship retains the glamour, luxury, and leisure that it did during its maiden voyage across the Atlantic on May 27, 1936.
The Queen Mary’s story is connected to the high life of dignitaries and Hollywood stars as well as the turbulence of WWII, all the while stunning the world with her grandeur and reinforcing relations between the US and Great Britain. In late May 1936, trains from all over England descended on Southampton, carrying throngs of eager passengers ready to make their way across the Atlantic to New York City. The ship’s maiden voyage was one of great celebration commemorating Queen Mary’s 69th birthday as well as the size and anticipated speed of this beautiful new vessel.
Described as the “largest, proudest and best-equipped vessel that the British have ever put into commercial service,” thousands of Brits flooded the docks to get a look at the RMS Queen Mary before her departure. “A great wall of glistening black and white paint topped by a long row of lifeboats,” the Queen Mary found herself in a league of her own. One 1936 New York Times article commented that it was “as if her designers had toured the world picking out ideas from all that is best in hotel life and embodying them in this floating palace… the British have built a ship as beautiful as a yacht and have placed in her an ultra-modern hotel.”
Jubilant passengers including dignitaries, businessmen, and stage and film stars, toasted to a safe voyage as the ship pulled out of the dock to begin her journey to New York. Radio programs across the US and Europe documented the journey, tracking the Queen Mary’s pace to see if its speed would break the Normandie’s record set the year prior. While it fell just short of breaking the record, the Queen Mary quickly arrived in New York on June 1, 1936 to throngs of Americans eager to greet the ship to their shore.
The enthusiasm was resounding. The New York Times recalled how “the thunderous applause that came through countless radio receivers…in New York Harbor told that even the demonstrations at her departure from Southampton had been undone.” The Queen Mary’s arrival began a several day celebration including nearly 10,000 sightseers touring the ship, and parties and celebrations both on and off the ship. Much of the remainder of the 1930s would see the Queen Mary complete countless trips across the Atlantic, continuing to serve as a best in class mode of transportation. Hollywood actors, directors, and financiers often chose to travel aboard the Queen Mary, with Marlene Dietrich being one of the ship’s well-known frequent travelers.
The goodwill enforced between Great Britain and the United States during the Queen Mary’s first voyage to New York continued through the eve of WWII. Thousands overcrowded the ship’s last prewar voyage from Great Britain to New York, seeking to escape escalating tensions and Hitler’s force in Europe. Once Great Britain entered the war, the glamorous “yacht” of an ocean liner wasn’t just going to sit and rust while docked on the shores of New York City. The Queen Mary traded her black and white exterior for a coat of gray paint, and headed off to war on March 21, 1940. Throughout WWII, the newly dubbed “Gray Ghost” carried hundreds of thousands of Allied troops from one destination to another, swiftly avoiding attack. On June 20, 1945, the Queen Mary made its first post V-E Day voyage to America, returning thousands of American soldiers home for good.
With the war over, the Queen Mary soon returned to her original intention. In August 1947, she left for her first post-war commercial trip from New York to Southampton carrying her typical glamorous group of passengers, including Elizabeth Taylor. However, despite her size, speed, and design, the Queen Mary, like many other luxurious ocean liners, could not compete with air travel and advances in modes of transportation. Two decades later, the Queen Mary made her final voyage to her permanent home in Long Beach to be used as a hotel and tourist attraction.
Today, the ship sits quietly in the Port of Long Beach, still open to sightseers and hotel guests. The ship is long said to be haunted, and while we didn’t see any specters on board, the ship is undoubtedly haunted by its history – the passengers it carried in times of celebration and of war; the preserved art deco detailing throughout the main lobby, ballroom, bar, and cabins; the exhibits on display taking visitors back to the ship’s heyday; and the spirit of the glamour of the Golden Age of Travel. Despite the beauty of the ship, the Queen Mary is in need of extensive and immediate repair. The steel is corroding and rusting in areas, upgrades are needed to plumbing and decking, and the hull is at risk for flooding and leaking. It is estimated that costs to repair and upgrade the ship could cost as much at $289 million. We hope to see ongoing preservation efforts save this historically and architecturally important site.
The Queen Mary is located at 1126 Queens Highway in Long Beach, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"10,000 VISIT THE LINER." New York Times (1923-Current file): 26. Jun 04 1936. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.
"11,288 DUE TODAY ON THE QUEEN MARY." New York Times (1923-Current file): 13. Oct 16 1945. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.
"BRITISH FILM BACKER HERE." Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File): 1. Jun 05 1936. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.
Cooper, Suzanne Tarbell. RMS Queen Mary. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2010. Print.
"HUNDREDS ATTEND QUEEN MARY DANCE." New York Times (1923-Current file): 18. Jun 05 1936. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.
"Marlene Dietrich Returns." New York Times (1923-Current file): 15. Aug 22 1939. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.
"QUEEN MARY BEGINS MAIDEN TRIP TODAY." New York Times (1923-Current file): 1. May 27 1936. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.
"QUEEN MARY IS DUE WITH 14,000 TODAY." New York Times (1923-Current file): 11. Jun 20 1945. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.
"QUEEN MARY NEARS DAY'S SPEED MARK." Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File): 1. May 30 1936. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.
"QUEEN MARY SAILS TODAY." New York Times (1923-Current file): 33. Aug 08 1947. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.
Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES. "BRITISH DELIGHTED BY SHIP'S RECEPTION." New York Times (1923-Current file): 3. Jun 02 1936. ProQuest. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.