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13 Couples Pay for Privilege of Investigating Ghost Stories A Hunt for Haunts on Queen Mary

March 06, 1988|TERRY SPENCER | Times Staff Writer

They say John Pedder was spotted recently, making sure the drive shafts of the Queen Mary were well lubricated.

Up in the captain's quarters, Senior 2nd Officer W. E. Stark supposedly still makes his rounds, searching for a shot of gin much as he did 38 years ago.

At least, that is what ship officials in Long Beach say.

Pedder and Stark are two of the better known ghosts that employees contend haunt the former luxury liner that has been moored as a tourist attraction and hotel in Long Beach Harbor since 1967.

"We used to stay away from talking about it," said Richard Kerlin, the ship's public relations director. But now he doesn't think rumors of a few bumps in the night will scare away those who take the regular, less-spirited tours of the ship.

"Those who believe in ghosts will believe in ghosts, and those who don't (believe) won't stay away because of them," Kerlin said.

The belief that phantoms inhabit the vessel is strong enough that people are willing to fork out more than $100 to scour the Queen for specters. Of course, getting a first-class room and meals thrown in probably adds to the draw.

Richard Senate, who runs the Alpinger Archeological Museum in Ventura and teaches a college course on hauntings, will lead such an expedition of 13 couples today.

"We are going to do a series of experiments--photos, video recordings, sensitive tape recordings. . . . We are also going to be holding a seance at midnight to see if we can contact any of the ghosts," Senate said.

"We did it once before," Senate said. "We contacted what was purported to be an Italian aviator from World War II. . . . Doing research we found that the ship was used for transporting POWs in the Mediterranean and that several died on board."

Pedder, according to the ship's archives, was an 18-year-old laborer when he was crushed to death by a mechanical door in the engine room as the Queen sailed the Atlantic during the early morning hours of July 10, 1966. The door's number is 13.

"Pedder was going through the area as part of an emergency drill," said Bill Winberg, the ship's archivist, noting that the watertight doors were closing automatically as if the liner had sprung a leak. "He tried to squeeze through, but he didn't make it."

Since then a figure has been seen lurking there, Winberg insisted, as he pointed out the door, located in a murky and rusty area 35 feet below the waterline.

"Guests will ask, 'Who is the man in white coveralls tinkering in the engine area?' " Winberg said. "They just ask, without being told about it. You get a very creepy feeling when you are down here alone."

In contrast, Stark died on board after accidentally drinking a swig of acid in late 1949.

F. R. Stokes, the captain's steward, explained what happened in ship documents.

"I was seated in my room when Mr. Stark came to me and said, 'Stokes, I am in a bit of a fix,' " Stokes wrote in his report. "I said, 'Oh sir, what is it?' He replied that the staff captain (who was not identified) had given him permission to have a drink of gin and that he couldn't find the bottle."

Stokes found a gin bottle, but he did not know that one of his shipmates had used it to store a cleaning solution. He handed the bottle to Stark and returned to his room.

"Several minutes (later)," Stokes' report continued, "Mr. Stark came to my cabin again and said, 'I have drunk some kind of acid.' I said 'I am sorry sir, I thought it was gin.' "

Finding anybody who has actually seen a ghost is about as difficult as finding one of the ghosts. But everybody--Winberg, Kerlin, Senate, bellhops, security guards and tour guides--seems to know somebody who knows somebody else who claims they did.

"I had a friend who was a tour guide" who was working in the first-class pool area, Winberg said. "My friend saw a lady in a '60s-type outfit come in the door. She came up the stairs toward where he was working. She passed behind a pillar, but when my friend looked on the other side of the pillar she was gone and there was no way for her to get out."

Winberg said, however, that his friend does not like to talk about the episode to outsiders.

Senate said he understands those who have doubts. In fact, he said, it is healthy.

"People who are skeptical, retain your skepticism," Senate said. "I .am skeptical, too. I don't say ghosts are spirits trapped after death between here and the afterlife or any of that other weird stuff. But people have recorded ghosts for too long for them not to be something. A Roper Poll says 13% of Americans have reported seeing ghosts. They are not all crazy or drunk."

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