Chills ran up my spine as I stood on the gangplank and looked up at the red-orange smokestacks of the Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach, California. I was fulfilling a dream of mine to visit her, after I took a transatlantic crossing aboard the opulent Queen Mary 2 from New York to England, two winters prior. What would it look like in comparison?
With my press pass in hand, I slowly walked into the ship, my heart fluttering. I was here to attend SuperBook Weekend, put on by Adventures by the Book, located in San Diego. They were hosting a literary event of 22 Best Selling authors on Super Bowl Weekend, January 31-February 1, 2020. adventuresbythebook.com. There would be panels by authors, keynote speakers, a delicious Super Bowl-themed lunch, and an opportunity to buy best-selling books the next morning.
Held in the historic Queen’s Salon, resplendent with Art Deco artwork and fixtures, I was inspired and motivated to write again after listening to these successful writers tell of their writing journeys, their research and story-line tips, and their rejections and successes. Laughter and joy rang out in the former music room that once held famous Hollywood stars and royalty.
I met in person my new favorite author, Kristin Harmel, who writes historical fiction. KristinHarmel.com I gushed about her latest book, The Winemaker’s Wife, which I was currently reading. Interested in my own stories as a writer, she suggested an idea for publishing my children’s books. Toward the end of our chat, she handed me her card, asking me to send her my thoughts on the fate of a favorite character of mine in her story. This type of personal exchange between author and reader is what Adventures by the Book is known for.
As a travel writer, I knew the Queen Mary would have a story for me to tell, but what would it be?
I was spellbound. Not by the supposed ghosts onboard, or the popular belief the ship was haunted, but by the decor of this great luxury liner now docked in the harbor since 1967. That Friday morning, as I stepped off the elevator into the Main Mall on Promenade Deck, I drew in my breath, and softly exhaled. The area was designed to look like Piccadilly Circus in London. My eyes cast over original 1920s Art Deco artwork and architecture made from many different types of beautiful wood. As an artist, I was in heaven, and joy leapt in my heart. The Golden Days of Hollywood were a favorite of mine, wanting to run away and become another Marilyn Monroe as a teenager. Snap, snap went my iPhone camera. I stepped into one of the shops and spoke with the young saleswoman.
“What did this store used to be?” I asked, admiring the curved bookcases.
“It was the first class library. There is a picture of what it looked like when the ship took its maiden voyage in 1936 outside the door. It was also used for religious services for first class Protestants.”
“Wow.” I leaned in and whispered, “Is this ship really haunted? I hear you have tours to find the many ghosts onboard of people who died on the ship.”
“Yes, I have felt that cold darkness in certain parts of the ship, including the engine room, and I hurry out of there! My supervisor advised I say when I step onboard, ‘I am here to work, I will not bother you,’ and when I leave to say, ‘I am leaving now from work, you cannot follow me home.’ The spirits leave me alone.”
My eyes grew huge. “Maybe I should say that when I leave, too,” I laughed.
My next stop was at the tour office, which used to be the first class bookstore. I bought a $10 ticket for the Glory Days Tour at 1:15pm and then went for lunch. I walked down the inside wooden promenade, with its creaking, uneven floors, the sea breeze caressing my face through the open windows. I could imagine the ghosts of past passengers walking beside me. The walls were graced with full-length pictures of Hollywood stars and notables, such as King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson, Liberace, Fred Astaire, and Elizabeth Taylor with her dogs.
After lunch, as I walked further down the promenade, I felt a cloud of darkness surround me and I became nauseous. Had I stepped into one of the paranormal spots onboard the ship? I prayed to dispel the spirits, and soon after they left me.
I had discovered the ship was haunted, indeed!
On the tour, we peeked into most of the first class rooms. My favorites were the nursery, with miniature steamer trunks filled with doll clothes, and its pastel-colored painting of Noah’s Ark; along with the curved Observation Bar at the bow of the ship, with its original painting of dancing guests hung over it. “Clark Gable used to sit on one of these bar stools and drink his whiskey,” the tour guide, Julien, said.
“Wow,” I remarked for the second time that day. “I am going to come back here later and have a drink to celebrate this fact!” And I did, awed by the history I was sharing at that moment.
The sun had started to set, and being tired, I took leave of the ship, saying a soft goodbye. I caught the free Passport shuttle back to my hotel, downtown in the East Village. This was my first trip to Long Beach. The warm weather and beauty of the town lifted my winter blues from cold San Francisco. I chose to stay at The Best Western Plus Convention Center Hotel, and it was a marvelous stay. bestwestern.com. Shawn, the manager, welcomed me and spent time pointing out all the attractions and bus routes.
Located in the heart of the art village, there are many cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs within a block or two of walking from the hotel. My favorite was the French cafe, Creme de La Crepe, which I discovered later that night. I had the most delicious cafe macchiato, made by Fanny from the south of France. It was lovely to speak with her in French and enjoy the ambiance. Little gifts like these, were extra blessings to my weekend stay.
Sunday morning, after a full complimentary breakfast at the hotel, I took my camera and shot pictures of the Art Deco buildings and murals of the village. I was thankful for the late checkout time that allowed me to do so before catching my Lyft back to the airport.
As the plane took off bound for San Jose, I watched the bright orange glow of the sun setting above the fluffy white clouds, and reflected on my trip. God had met me in so many ways. The lovely book event that filled my depleted writing well, the majesty of the now silent Queen Mary, and my artist heart filled to the brim, all made this weekend getaway one I would never forget.