For Halloween: A ghost story

Story and photos by MITCH TRAPHAGEN

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The long companionways leading to the first class staterooms would appear to be as good a place as any to haunt. And perhaps they are indeed haunted, if the mysterious scent of lavender perfume could be considered.

Four of us sat in the pitch black of the forward cargo hold of the 80-year-old ship. Two others remained behind – too frightened to face the darkness. We were 40 feet below the waterline at the very bottom of the ship, a place normally off-limits to guests.

The guide called out to the unseen. I looked around in vain straining to see… something, anything. Noise could be heard. Immediately to my right, I could hear the guide whispering. It sounded as though she was just inches away from the back of my head.

“Tell her we can help.”

“Please tell her.”

The guide called out again, asking if we could do anything to understand.

There was a loud moaning noise. Later that night, while listening to the recording I made, it sounded like a male voice saying, “No.”

The guide was whispering again.

“Can you see words in the dark?”

“Tell her tell her tell her.”

We turned on our flashlights and made our way to the stairs. Just before the guide reached the door on the first platform, I called out to her.

“Erika, were you whispering back there?”

“No, I didn’t whisper,” she replied.

Listening to the recording, it was obvious the voice I heard wasn’t hers.

The Queen Mary, today a floating hotel permanently berthed in Long Beach, Calif., is said to be one of the most haunted places on earth. Launched in 1934 as one of the world’s most glamorous transatlantic ships, she served in World War II as a troop ship, carrying nearly 800,000 American troops to battle in Europe. At least 49 people died aboard the ship, some of whom are said to still roam the companionways today.

Yet perhaps ironically, reports of ghosts aboard the ship didn’t begin until it arrived in California in 1967.

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Paranormal expert and media personality Erika Frost walks by a Halloween prop during a behind the scenes tour of the Queen Mary. The tour included the normally off-limits and long-closed first class swimming pool and the cargo hold in which voices whispered in the darkness.

Paranormal expert Erika Frost guided our small group to the long-closed first class swimming pool on the Queen Mary – which some believe is the most haunted place on the ship. I saw, felt, and heard nothing. We then entered the women’s dressing area. It was a narrow hall lined with small stalls. The guide asked each of us to stand in a stall while she turned off her flashlight. She said it was a very active place and suggested we needed to acclimate to the dark. A few moments later, she said she saw something. One woman suddenly decided she had heard enough and quickly left. The light went out again. After several long moments, she turned the light on again and seemed somewhat taken aback that her three remaining guests weren’t reporting anything unusual.

As I walked back out towards the dimly lit and empty pool, I decided not to mention that something had gently tussled my hair in the dark while I was alone in the small stall. I also decided not to mention that I was suddenly surrounded by the fragrance of lavender; a fresh, Old World scent that briefly replaced the musty, damp odor of the long-abandoned changing room.

On a previous visit to the ship in 2007, I frequently noticed a distinct scent of lavender perfume outside of my stateroom door. No one was staying in the adjoining room, nor did I ever see anyone in the vicinity when I noticed the scent. But I’m certain it was the same lavender fragrance I was enveloped in while standing in the darkness of the dressing room. It was the same lavender I smelled again outside of the very same stateroom while my wife slept peacefully inside on this subsequent visit.

Later that night, chills went up my spine as I listened to my recording of the whispers in the cargo hold. Due to a hearing impairment, I wear digital hearing aids in both ears. The microphones of the small devices are behind each ear. In the darkness, I could hear the whispers as though someone unseen was speaking directly behind me, into the tiny microphones. The question, “Can you see words in the dark?” almost seemed personalized for me, as someone who relies heavily on closed captioning for television and movies.

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The Queen Mary is said to be one of the most haunted places on earth. Ironically, reports of hauntings didn’t begin until the ship was permanently berthed in California in 1967.

Do I believe in ghosts? In all honesty, I don’t. But I’m not presumptuous enough to assume I know all there is to know. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it has been said that places aren’t haunted, people are.

“Tell her we can help.”

I sent the tour guide an email telling her that perhaps somewhere in the dark cargo hold 40 feet below the water, someone may want to help her. Help with what, I have no idea. But I’m not so inconsiderate as to ignore a whisper I heard in the dark.

I am, however, not above assumptions. I am certain that at some place in time, a beautiful woman wearing a lavender scent waited for a gentleman outside a first class stateroom on B deck. Perhaps it was the beginning of something wonderful for her. Or, perhaps, he never showed up. I really hope he did, though.

Hours later as I walked through the fresh bouquet of lavender to reach my cabin door in the early morning darkness, I turned and looked out at the small and empty companionway.

“I hope you had a good life,” I said. There was no reply. The lavender scent began to fade away.

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