The Queen Mary rules once more after public reopening

Written and produced by Zeke Reed

“[The Queen Mary] was Churchill's floating Whitehall during World War II. So many decisions regarding the D-Day invasion were decided right here in his cabin,” notes the ship’s longtime Commodore, Everette Hoard. Photo by Zacile Rosette.

In May 1936, after a long construction process that was delayed by the Great Depression, the Queen Mary departed Southampton, England on her maiden voyage to New York. 

Named after Queen Elizabeth’s grandmother and built in Scotland at the behest of the British Cunard-White Star Line, the ocean liner was the grandest ever constructed in its day. It soon took the crown for fastest trans-Atlantic voyage and became the marquee means of oceanic travel for the rich and famous in the mid-20th century. 

Its illustrious career as a seafaring vessel ended in 1967. The Queen was decommissioned and subsequently sold to the City of Long Beach where it remains today, a North Atlantic titan enjoying retirement in the balmier Pacific. 

The Queen is now part hotel, part events space, and part tourist attraction. It even has its own amateur radio station that broadcasts as W6R0. 

Viewed by many as the crown jewel of Long Beach Harbor, the vessel shut down during the pandemic and underwent millions of dollars in costly repairs. 

As of April 1, 2023, the Queen Mary is open to the public once more. Commodore Everette Hoard, the ship’s chief tour operator, historian, and master of ceremonies, was on deck to greet the first waves of returning visitors. 

A 42-year veteran of the ship, Hoard appears as enamored as ever. 

“One thing about the Queen Mary is that it is a vessel with such a compelling allure and such a vibrant history that it clings to your heart. I've seen very few people ever cross this gangway that didn't leave a changed person.”

Commodore Everette Hoard stands in front of the Queen Mary. Photo Zacile Rosette.

Historian and former president of the Queen Mary Foundation Diane Rush shares Hoard's enthusiasm. Her connection to the vessel started with her father, who rode the Queen to Europe during WWII.

As part of the Allies wartime mobilization, the Queen became a troop transport ship and carried around 800,000 personnel across the Atlantic. Diane Rush’s father was among the thousands of troops leaving America for the D Day invasion, which Churchill had partially planned aboard the ship. 

“My dad said it was so thrilling. It was like the first color scene in the movie ‘Wizard of Oz.’ … He grew up in Missouri in a one bedroom apartment, so he loved the idea that he could eat in the Grand Salon … which is a very beautiful restaurant.”

The Grand Salon where passengers aboard the ship gathered to eat. Photo Zacile Rosette.

At three decks in height, the Grand Salon was once the largest room of its kind ever constructed on a ship. Cunard spared no expense, commissioning dozens of prominent artists to fill the hall with original artwork. According to Hoard, the legacy of their craftwork lives on.

“The Queen Mary is a veritable floating art gallery. She's the largest collection of Art Deco and any one given place on the planet today.” 

The Queen Mary’s luxury attracted what Hoard refers to as “the creme de la creme of the traveling public” after its post-war return to civilian life.  

“I mean all of Hollywood's royalty: Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, Clark Gable, Marlena Dietrich, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers … the list is endless.”

Unlike the soldiers who were crammed three to a bunk, civilian passengers enjoyed sumptuous suites complete with adjoining rooms and private baths. 

One of the cabins aboard the Queen Mary. Photo Zacile Rosette.

Though renowned as a pleasure cruiser, the Queen Mary was more than just a pretty face. It was an engineering marvel for the time. 

A mess of valves, pipes, gears, cogs and turbines driven by 24 steam boilers collectively moved four 32-ton precision-made propellers. The ship generated enough power to light a city of 100,000 people.

All this energy required massive amounts of fuel, says Hoard. 

“[It got] 13 feet to the gallon, or a barrel of oil every 12 seconds. That's 1000 tonnes of oil every day.”

The Queen Mary’s engine room with its countless gauges and dials remains intact. Photo Zacile Rosette.

Between its civilian and military life, the Queen ferried some 3 million people. An estimated 41 of those people died aboard. This leads many to believe the ship is haunted. 

According to Diane Rush, this comes from the abiding connections people like herself feel with the vessel. 

“Wherever there is a place of strong emotional attachment, I think it somehow imprints itself on that space for all times.”

New connections are still being made as visitors from around the world explore its storied halls. 

Vintage Cunard Line’s promotional signs appear outside the Queen Mary. Photo Zacile Rosette.

However, the Queen faces some uncertain seas ahead. In addition to the over $20 million already spent on repairs to prevent capsizing, the ship may require 100s of millions more according to recent estimates. To make matters worse, an audit found that many of the budgeted repairs were never completed. 

While supporters claim it can pay for itself through oil tax revenue, tourism and event/film licensing fees, its most recent operator filed for bankruptcy in 2021. When Disney operated the ship in the early 90s, they lost millions per year

In spite of these costs, boosters like Diane Rush believe that the city should preserve the ship no matter what. 

“Whatever it takes, The Queen Mary is the soul of Long Beach.”

Only time will tell whether The Queen can stay afloat.