THE GREY GHOST, A BIRTHDAY TRIP

Every year hubs and I would schedule small trips for our birthday months since they are 6 months apart.  For the last decade though something always came up when it came time for the trip near my birthday.

Finally, this year, we made it!  We were leaving the area for the last time and decided it was time to visit a southern California ICON, the Queen Mary during it’s 80th anniversary. It was a fantastic trip!  LOL that was almost 6 months ago and I’m just now getting this posted.

  • 1929-1935 Queen Mary became a groundbreaking event.  Cunard was undeterred by the Great Depression and was designing a pair of technologically advanced new ships to replace their 3 current ships; Mauretania, Aquitania and Berengaria.
  • The Queen Mary (named after wife of King George V) was originally launched on September 26, 1934.
  • 1936-1939 It was during the Queen Mary’s glamour years that they raised the bar for luxury travel and that forward thinking technology made the ship popular with British Royalty, Hollywood celebrities and dignitaries to become the grandest ocean liner ever.  Also known as the most haunted ship on earth.
  • 1939-1946 As England and France declared war on Germany, the Queen Mary began her war years.  Passenger travel was suspended, the ship was retrofitted, camouflage painted and dubbed the “Grey Ghost” to serve as a troopship.  The Queen Mary hauled as many as 15,000 men and with her record-breaking speed and size became a pivotal role in guiding our allies to a victory.
  • The Queen Mary became a bi-national family transport in 1946-47.
  • 1947-1960’s It took 10 months to re-retrofit the Queen Mary to it’s original splendor.  After that she returned place as a world class luxury liner.  During the 1960’s air travel was becoming more and more popular and ocean liners were becoming obsolete. The modern world was winning and the Queen Mary was quickly becoming outdated.
  • 1967 The Queen Mary was officially retired but almost didn’t make it to the hotel she is today.  When the decision to sell her came about, most of the bidders were from scrap metal outfits.  Fortunately Long Beach was looking for an attraction to draw in tourism and The Queen Mary was just the ticket. The Queen Mary was moved to sunny Long Beach California to become a living historical landmark, hotel and popular attraction education a new generation to the by gone ways of a grand era.
 The galleys were in perpetual motion and still had trouble keeping up with just basic meals in order to keep the troops fed.
 Troop accommodations were EXTREMELY basic by comparison to any class of of the luxury liner’s normal passengers.
 They did add bedspreads for the time spent toting war brides and families – nice touch. War brides often made the trip both directions as they were refused/returned once they arrived here.

For the 75th anniversary, a contest was held and thousands of letters were submitted with their experiences while aboard the Queen Mary.  Here are just a few that I found interesting.

Next door to the Queen Mary is the dome that used to house Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose.  In 1993 the Spruce Goose was shipped by barge up the west coast to Oregon where it now resides at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. The dome was purchased by Warner Bros. Studio and used as a sound stage for many years for Batman movies in particular because of the cave like qualities.  I understand the dome was purchased by Carnival Cruises and is now using it as a Customs and luggage facility.
We had a harbor view room which was especially spectacular at night.

Here are a few of the cabin photos to show you just how little has changed in all these years though the large screen TV in the sitting room looks really out of place. Originally the Queen Mary was truly a luxury liner.  One of the things I found the most interesting was that if you didn’t like the color scheme of your room they would change it within 24 hours!  Originally there was no carpeting, sprinkler system or fire detectors.

 1st Class Bedroom and sitting room.

Notice the bakelite knob and keyhole. The Queen Mary was one of the first to use this “plastic” throughout their ship as it was warmer to the touch than metal.  Even the light switches were bakelite.  Below are the water choices on the tub.

Each bathroom has four faucets, two for salt water and two for fresh as well red (male) button and green (female) buttons to call stewards to wash your back or attend you as necessary. By the way the tubs are NOT flat, but rounded to help prevent falls while at sea – something I had a bit of an issue with.

There was no air conditioning as we know if today originally. This fan and vent as well as the functioning portholes (if you were luck enough to have one) served as the only was to get cool.

We took several of the tours (I highly recommend the Behind the Scenes Tour) and we learned sooooooooooooo many things.

Above is the first class pool and then the gate between class levels. During “tea time” third class passengers were allowed to use the 1st class pool for 1 hour.  After that time, the pool was drained, scrubbed and refilled with “fresh” salt water ready again for 1st class passengers. The different classes were afforded different levels of comfort, food and entertainment.  Liberace once gave a concert for the 3rd class passengers that really ticked off the 1st class passengers as they were refused entrance.
The emergency Signals were posted throughout the ship and this is what the lifeboats looked like.  By my count though I think it was a bit like the Titanic in that there would have been more people than lifeboat seats.

Much, if not most of the ship still has the original art work and superior craftsmanship, most of it well ahead of its time and very well preserved despite the time the ship spent as a troop ship.

These pictures above do not do any justice to the murals and artwork or the beauty of the captains doors below the mural. The captain liked to make a “Grand” entrance to the Grand Salon.  All the artwork was covered during the “grey ghost” years.  The fireplaces were electric to avoid fires though ironically they allowed smoking.

This beautiful navigational piece is a functional work of art with crystal ships on a pulley sytem.  It is hard to see, but there are two ships that follow those tracks through the center that would allow the passengers to know not only where they were at any given time, but also where the Queen Mary’s sister ship was in their route.  A little trivia fact: the ship would get 13 feet to a gallon. Also the original linoleum has been replaced everywhere except inside 1 phone booth where the small little holes left from women’s stiletto’s can be seen.

This shot reminds me of the shining for some reason!  It appears to be sloped AND IT IS!  When the ship was built they took into account the pitch, roll and sway and built the ship to absorb as much of the sea movement as possible. The Queen Mary is considered the most haunted ship in the world ever.  I had one of those WTH? moments when there was an ethereal flash in the middle of the night in the dark of our room.  Long story short, it turned out to be my cell phone finishing its charge. LMBO still.

While we were there the Queen Mary was hosting a fabulous Bob Hope exhibit. It is impossible to show all the wonderful displays that were donated for this exhibit. Suffice it to say that Mr. Hope was a one of a kind man that was cherished by the world as an entertainer and great humanitarian.

One of my most favorite places on the entire ship was the Observation Deck Bar.  The bright red enamel art deco look was beautiful with the original wood work and a very inviting area to sit and watch the water and birds.  Plus the drinks and food was excellent.

Across the way is the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific.  We love the beach and aquariums so this was a perfect combo trip for us.  Here are a few of the favorite aquarium pictures.

The Aquarium was a fantastic way to spend a day and we topped it off with a birthday meal at Bubba Gumps.  I just adore their Shrimp Shack Mac & Cheese and it was my birthday after all!  I did find a copy cat recipe that sound worth trying.

The on board restaurants have fantastic menus, but also had fantastic prices to go along with the menus.  So we spent a good deal of time checking out and enjoying the surrounding restaurants at Shoreline Village like:

I have at least 2 dozen more pictures I planned on adding to this post, but as you can see I’m already running quite long and really enjoyed the trip A LOT!  The majority of the ship has been set up as a floating museum and hotel.  They have done a fantastic job at keeping the integrity of the ship while allowing you to tour the engine room, bridge, radio room, captain’s quarters and so much more and keeping the history interesting too.  If you are in the are it is well worth planning as part of your trip.  The Queen Mary has a Halloween Dark Harbor event, a winter ice festival, Sunday Brunch and a 4th of July party that all look fun.  They are also near the Long Beach Grand Prix and rotating historical exhibits like Bob Hope or Princess Diana.

Save

Save

Memories and a bit of history

When I was a young girl I would go home to a neighbor’s house after school. She had 5 kids of her own and her middle daughter L was my best friend. Soooooo many odd years later we are still friends. That in itself is pretty amazing since we’ve know each other since we were 2 and 3 years old.

Her dad worked in the grocery business and had what seemed liked odd hours to me back then since my dad worked Monday through Friday 8-5. But, that was what made her dad so awesome too! He was home on Tuesday afternoons when we got home from school and was waiting for us. He would pile us all into his car and drive us to Placerita park long before it was a nature center.

We would troll around the trails and hills making a few trails of our own, play our own version of miniature golf, swing and beg him to twirl us on the merry go round for as long as his arms would hold out. One of our favorite hikes was to the Oak of the Golden Dream, mainly because it meant hiking through a drainage tunnel back then, but later in years we realized how important this tree was to California history.

We always finished the afternoon with hot dogs cooked over a bonfire on hand whittled oak sticks that her dad made while we were out exploring and then many times we would stop for a Thrifty’s ice cream cone on the way home.

Here’s a bit of the history as written by By Leon Worden COINage magazine, October 2005
California’s REAL First Gold

Golden Oak
Oak of the Golden Dream in Placerita Canyon, where legend says Lopez napped and dreamed of riches.
(Photo:Leon Worden)

There can be no doubt that James Marshall changed the course of history when he peered into the tailrace of John Sutter’s sawmill on a brisk January day in 1848 and spied California’s future.

Within weeks the United States signed peace accords with Mexico, and within a few months, Naval midshipman Edward “Ned” Beale and his pal Kit Carson were headed east with proof of Marshall’s discovery.

Mormon newspaper publisher Samuel Brannan ran through the streets of San Francisco spreading the word:
“Gold! Gold on the American River!”

Legions of argonauts flocked to the Sacramento Delta. Granted, few fulfilled their dreams of riches, but all contributed to the realization of James K. Polk’s visions of Manifest Destiny as they erected towns and forged a territorial economy from the glittering soil. When the news finally reached New York in September, it triggered the biggest westward migration the young nation had ever seen.


The import of the occasion wasn’t lost on official Washington. Memories of the “hard times” of the 1830s all too fresh in their minds, senators hastened the admission of the “Golden State” into the Union. Within three years after Marshall’s fortuitous millwork, there were gold-producing states from sea to shining sea, and within another century, the cultural navel of the universe had shifted from Paris and Rome to a place called Hollywood.


But did you know that Marshall wasn’t the first to find gold in California? And that the shiny metal had been mined there well before 1848? And that Marshall undoubtedly knew it?


The year was 1842. Both Californias — Alta and Baja — were part of Mexico, and Francisco Lopez was herding cattle on his niece’s ranch in Placerita Canyon, 35 miles north of the Pueblo de Los Angeles.


It was around noon on his 40th birthday, March 9. Lopez paused to rest with his two companions, Manuél Cota and Domingo Bermudez. As the story goes, Lopez fell asleep in the shade of an oak tree and dreamed he was floating on a pool of gold. He awoke, crossed the little creek to a grove of sycamore trees, stuck his knife into the ground, unearthed some wild onions — and there, clinging to the roots, were chunks of gold.

“I with my sheath knife,” Lopez later recalled, “dug up some wild onions, and in the earth discovered a piece of gold, and, searching further, found some more.”
That, of course, is the stuff of legend.

The facts are a bit drier. But importantly to the gold history of California, they are documented.

Lopez wasn’t just some lucky rancher. He’d been schooled in mining at the University of Mexico and had good reason to be scouring the hills above the Mission San Fernando. Cattle ranching merely paid the bills while he was on the prowl.


Unverified reports of gold activity in the region date to the 1790s with the mystery of the Lost Padres mine. No doubt Lopez had heard about the party that set out from San Fernando in 1820 under the leadership of Santiago Feliciano, the onetime superintendent of government mines in Mexico. Feliciano’s party supposedly came upon a band of miners in the nearby Castaic region, not far from today’s Magic Mountain amusement park, who had panned several reales’ worth of gold. The historical literature references several similar discoveries in the vicinity after 1833.


What sets Lopez’s own activities apart from earlier tales are the official records.


The day after the wild onion adventure — a story Lopez himself may have embellished — Lopez and his brother, Pedro, the majordomo (foreman) at the Mission San Fernando, rode to Los Angeles to bring samples of their findings to the prominent merchant Abel Stearns. Believing the yellowish metal to be the genuine article, Stearns sent the gold via Alfred Robinson to the one-and-only United States Mint at Philadelphia, where it was assayed at .926 fine gold, worth $19 an ounce.


Lopez and company quickly petitioned the Mexican governor of California, Juan Batista Alvarado, for permission to excercise what they considered their divine right to mine the metal.


“To his excellency the governor,” reads the petition, translated from the original Spanish, “The citizens Francisco Lopez, Manuél Cota and Domingo Bermudez, residents of the port of Santa Barbara, before your excellency with the utmost submission appear saying: that His Divine Majesty having granted us a placer of gold on the ninth day of March last at the place of San Francisco, appertaining to the late Don Antonio del Valle, distant from his house about one league towards the south, we apply to your excellency to be pleased to decree in our favor whatever you may deem proper and just, for working; herewith is a specimen of said gold.”


By “San Francisco,” Lopez refers not to the city by the bay 450 miles north, but rather to the Rancho San Francisco, as the area immediately north of the San Fernando Valley was known. Today it is called the Santa Clarita Valley and straddles northern Los Angeles and eastern Ventura counties. Del Valle was Lopez’s nephew, who died the previous year.


The petition continues: “Wherefore we pray your excellency to be pleased to give us the respective permission to undertake therewith our labors jointly with those who may wish to proceed to said work. Excuse the use of common paper in default of that of the corresponding stamp. Santa Barbara, April 4, 1842. (Signed) Francisco Lopez; Manuél Cota; At the request of Domingo Bermudez who does not know how to sign, Francisco Lopez.”


Lopez’s original petition resides in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It is the document that makes Lopez’s discovery the first “documented” discovery of gold in California.


It follows, naturally, that Lopez’s discovery sparked the state’s first “gold rush,” albeit nothing on the scale of Marshall’s. An estimated 2,000 miners, primarily from Lopez’s home state of Sonora, worked Placerita Canyon in the ensuing years.


Ygnacio del Valle, Anotonio’s son, was named “encargado de justicia del placer de Rancho San Francisco” — the head of California’s first mining district. He kept meticulous records; by November 1842, two hundred ounces of gold had been extracted, and by the time the quarry was exhausted in 1848, it had yielded 125 pounds. Some of it reportedly went to Mexico where it was minted into coins. For all the Mexican silver that traded freely in the United States at the time, a little bit of “California” may have circulated the other direction in the form of escudos.


That Lopez’s discovery is largely lost in the annals of U.S. history is understandable — and not only because it was so monumentally overshadowed in size and significance by Sutter’s Mill. Lopez’s discovery was a “Mexican” discovery and not an “American” one. To Lopez and his collaborators, and to most others prior to the American conquest, Placerita Canyon and the Rancho San Francisco were simply parts of Mexico.


But Lopez’s doings weren’t ignored entirely by contemporary Americans. As with Marshall’s later discovery, the eastern press caught wind of it.


Under the headline “California Gold,” Sidney Morse — younger brother of Morse Code inventor Samuel Morse — reported the following in his abolitionist newspaper, the New-York Observer, on Oct. 1, 1842:


“A letter from California, dated May 1, speaking of the discovery of gold in that country, says: They have at last discovered gold, not far from San Fernando, and gather pieces of the size of an eighth of a dollar. Those who are acquainted with these ‘placeres,’ as they call them, for it is not a mine, say it will grow richer, and may lead to a mine. Gold to the amount of some thousands of dollars has already been collected.”


Others took note, as well. In 1845, with war between the United States and Mexico still a year off, Alta California was ruled by the unpopular Gov. Manuel Micheltorena. His predecessor, Juan Alvarado, mounted an insurrection. Taking Micheltorena’s side was none other than John Sutter.


Alvarado’s forces prevailed, driving Micheltorena back to Mexico in a one-day battle that cost no lives — but not before throwing Sutter and his right-hand man, John Bidwell, into a prison near the Mission San Fernando. They were soon released. Bidwell headed north through Placerita Canyon and observed the gold mining operations, vowing to hunt for the metal upon his return to Sutter’s Fort. When he reached his destination he would meet a new arrival — James Marshall.


Do you remember Ned Beale, who carried samples of Marshall’s gold eastward in 1848? He was no stranger to Placerita Canyon. He had familiarized himself with the area during the war of 1846-48. In 1847 he accepted the sword of his battlefield adversary, Gen. Andrés Pico, at the Capitulation of Cahuenga (now Universal Studios Hollywood). Beale’s illustrious career included an appointment by Abraham Lincoln as surveyor-general of California and Nevada. Lincoln fired him when he tired of Beale’s tendency to purchase all of the land he was supposed to be surveying. Typical of the way aristocratic American and Mexican citizens let bygones be bygones in California’s early days, Beale teamed up with his old foe, Pico, in the 1860s and staked several petroleum mining claims in the Placerita Canyon area. But that’s another story.


When America’s fledgling film industry moved from New York to Hollywood at the dawn of the 20th Century, Francisco Lopez’s old stomping grounds went through a metamorphosis. Placerita Canyon became the backdrop for “B” Westerns featuring the likes of William S. Hart, John Wayne, Harry Carey and Gene Autry. The latter purchased the old Monogram movie ranch in Placerita Canyon and renamed it “Melody Ranch.” Today it is home to HBO’s “Deadwood.”


The oak tree where Lopez took his famous nap still lives, narrowly escaping brushfires as recent as July 2004. Named the “Oak of the Golden Dream,” it is California Historical Landmark No. 168. As the state of California affirms, it is where “Francisco Lopez made California’s first authenticated gold discovery on March 9, 1842.”


The oak is located inside Placerita Canyon State Park, operated by the county of Los Angeles and generously aided by the volunteer organization, Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates.

aprons 3