Fred & Sharon Smith – Exploring RMS Queen Mary
Exploring the RMS Queen Mary from Bow to Stern, Port to Starboard, and Top to Bottom by Sharon Smith
Those of you who have traveled with Fred and myself on a Corvette run know that I am always up for checking out the road less traveled and exploring places and spaces off the normal tourist grid. The run to the Queen Mary provided the opportunity for just such an adventure and a serendipitous meeting. No, Fred and I did not encounter any ghosts on our sleuthing out the inner workings of the ship, but we did meet a living person who was a crew member of the Queen Mary from the 1950’s until 1962, and he was more intriguing than any ghost. But more about that later.
Now I am admittedly not one who is a foodie and the cost of the Sunday Champagne Brunch for two was 1/3 of my food budget for the month, but it was a Corvette run and I had never been to the Queen Mary so count us in.
Tony and Paula Megowan did a great job leading us through the dreaded LA traffic and we arrived at the Queen Mary ready to see what was on the menu for that kind of $$$. We were dazzled by the appearance of the 1st Class Dining Room where brunch was held. There were selections from several cuisines around the world and there was champagne and plenty of it. No wonder Conde Nast Traveler names it one of the best hotel brunches in the world. OK, I was very impressed, and should we ever go again I would stay at the table eating until they pulled me away from the table with my fork still in my hand.
So with full stomachs it was time for Fred and myself to excuse ourselves from the group and start our exploration. We joined Fred and Anne Lopez as they were going to the exhibit “Diana Legacy of a Princess” located on the Sun Deck. The exhibit not only showcased Diana, but the whole Royal Family was represented in articles of dress, fine china, royal greeting cards, newspaper articles, and other items from the royal family life. It was a historical and personal look at the royal family through the years.
Fred and Anne had to depart, but we continued on. I wanted to see the Isolation Ward which was not easy to find. Probably for good reason since contagious passengers on a ship of that size in those days with limited medical treatments could spell disaster. The area however was very small so I can see why severely ill patients were often transferred to other ships to be taken to the nearest land facilities.
The Observation Bar was suitably ostentatious as I would expect it to be for the time period of the late 1930’s. For me, this bar represented the setting, architecture, and feeling of elegance that I expected from the Queen Mary.
Now back to the serendipity. We had stopped in a small side room where a video of life aboard the QM was presented by various people who had been on it. For example, a serviceman who was on the QM both going overseas to battle and then returning home to the US; a war bride, one of thousands, coming to New York with her child to meet up with her husband who was waiting for her on the dock; and a First Class Dining Room Waiter named Ralph Rushton who joined the British Merchant Navy when he was 15 and was assigned to the QM.
As we were leaving the room a gentlemen asked us if we liked the video. We said, “yes, very much”. We walked a few paces and looked at each other. It was the voice from the video. I looked back and said to Fred, “Do you think it is him?” So I asked if he was the crew member and he nodded. Oh my goodness, could you find any better source to tell you all the stories of the QM. He had started at age 15 as a bell boy and rose in position to Cabin Class Waiter along with other jobs. He was promoted to First Class Waiter, but he said he hated it because the people were too hoity-toity. So he got reassigned. The twinkle was still in his eye and he must have been and still is an independent thinker, tell it like it is, stand up for his rights guy. He currently lives in Australia and was here for the 80th Anniversary of the Queen Mary’s Maiden Voyage. He said he came back to see his old girlfriend, The Queen Mary. We talked to him for quite a time and then he told us that his ghost is still on the ship. He took us to a wall (original to the ship) and sure enough we could see his caricature in the wall. He obligingly posed for us. About that time another guy spotted him and we bid him farewell, but not before I got a kiss on the cheek from a living legend of the QM. As we parted he said to be sure and check videos on YouTube about him. Just search for Ralph Rushton Queen Mary. I checked and he is there. Also the video, Stories of the Queen Mary, is very interesting although long.
The afternoon was moving on and we headed for the Engine Room in the depths of the ship. With or without a ghost in residence, this is the creepiest part of the ship. You feel very small and insignificant amongst the huge pieces of machinery. We stayed on the main catwalks, mostly because Fred would not let me go explore where it was dark and spooky. I saw two open gates that were calling to me to go through them, but my arguments to Fred failed and we moved on. Yes, I know it is an old ship and you never know when something might give way.
By then it was 5:30 PM and we left the Queen Mary saying goodbye to our new friends, both seen and unseen.