Over 1,000 feet long (1,019.5 feet to be exact) and full of character, The Queen Mary had its maiden voyage on May 27, 1936. Much history was formed throughout those years, and more than a few ghost stories.

Amid the beauty and classic style of the ship, there’s an undeniable creep factor. There’s a fun atmosphere when the lights are on and revelers are in full party mode. But turn down the lights and sit in a bit of silence, and you just might feel a chill – or more.

So it seems that a Halloween-themed event like the annual Dark Harbor, which debuted in 2010 and is in its sixth year in October, would be a perfect fit. And it has been. Full of mazes, shows and monster talent, the event has grown steadily throughout the years, each year surpassing the last.

This year’s new attractions include the Lullaby maze, telling the story of Scary Mary, as well as the Anubis Paintball Adventure, where guests will go into battle – with LED 3D paintballs – against mummies and other monstrosities.

Sounds enticing doesn’t it? So enticing that we couldn’t wait to learn more. Fortunately Dark Harbor’s Creative Director J.J. Wickham took pity on us and answered our pressing questions of what to expect at this year’s event.

Dark Harbor has certainly evolved throughout the years. What have the creators learned throughout those years about putting on this event?

The Queen Mary is one of the most haunted venues in Southern California. She is rich in history and stories from the past 80 years – so many unexplained paranormal sightings and activities – I can’t imagine a better place to create a haunt. On the creative side, we have really learned that this ship, The Queen Mary, is the most valuable resource in what makes this haunt so special.  We have learned that if we direct our inspirations toward the stories and legends of The Queen, the spirits come to us and the vault of creative ideas and inspiration is endless.

We’ve also learned that a haunt can be more than just mazes. We like to explore what we can bring to the event to make it more of an evening of complete Halloween celebrations.

Throughout the years we have added more entertainment and experiences, such as magical performances by Mudd the Magnificent, Fire Breathing performances, Freakshow, Dragshows with Jewels, Slider Olympics, Costume Contests, Dia de Los Muertos parade, and this year we are introducing even more new acts!

On a technical side, we’ve also learned a lot about what it takes to work on such an old haunted vessel. We’ve learned to always have a flashlight (and maybe a back up or two) and a buddy.   The spirits like to play tricks and having a flashlight mysteriously go out is just one of the many playful tricks they may play… and in this case, it’s always nice to have a buddy!

Lullaby, your new maze, features the famous Scary Mary. Tell us, is she for real? Who was Scary Mary?

Scary Mary is our youngest spirit at Dark Harbor. Although our character and her story are fictional, she is inspired by a real legend. Scary Mary is based on a young spirit that is known to haunt The Queen Mary’s first class poolroom. When The Queen Mary was an active cruise liner traveling the Atlantic, it was reported there was a [young] girl of about 9 years old who tragically drowned in the pool. Since the ship docked in Long Beach in 1968, there have been countless reports of guests hearing a young child giggle. Women who have come through the poolroom have reported the feeling of having their hair pulled. Orbs and child-like forms have appeared in photographs. Guests have claimed the feeling of being gently shoved as if in a game of tag.  Some guests have even reported waking up to a ghostly child figure crying at the foot of their beds. We don’t know the details of the life of this spirit, but it is from these encounters we were inspired to bring to life, Scary Mary.

Tell us more about the new Anubis Paintball Adventure. We get to shoot at actual monsters? Do they fall down and die for good or keep on coming?  

We are so excited for this new attraction. Along with the new paintball attraction, comes a new story at Dark Harbor. In this story, a mysterious and faceless Professor has partnered with The Ringmaster to bring even stranger oddities and curiosities to Dark Harbor and the circus. This year, as part of his traveling exhibition, he has brought with him a most dangerous curse from the ruins of Egypt: the Curse of Anubis. But the Professor has gone missing on one of his excursions; and mummies and evil darkness are being raised from the dead by the ancient Egyptian god of death! Guests will be fighting the monsters in a battle of paint and bravery before they are unleashed for good. Guests will be given a round of ammunition with their purchase of a ticket ($10) into the exhibition. There are actual monsters to shoot, and you guessed it, because they are mummies in the Anubis curse, they keep coming back from the dead. In addition to the “live” targets, guests will get to shoot at a variety of moving, still and animatronic targets. It will be a fun interactive 4D kind of experience.

What can we expect to see in the Side Show of Freaks and Oddities?

This year, Sideshow will be a brand new experience for our Dark Harbor guests. For the first time, guests get to go “back stage” of the Circus. Once inside the attraction, there is a private Sideshow bar with signature cocktails only available at The Sideshow. The White Ghost and Shadow Spirit will be making return performances. This year, guests will also get to explore on their own. There will be an old storage container full of broken Circus sets and oddities, and possibly something unexpected lurking in the shadows. There is also a private tent where guests can have their tarot cards read or possibly be able to sneak a peak at the Twins. If this wasn’t enough, there will also be stage performances with a contortionist, a magician and even some fire breathing. As well as roaming freaks like The Bearded Lady and Oceana, our human octopus drag queen. There will always be something new going on in Sideshow, and it won’t be the same experience twice.

Other than Scary Mary, who are some other ghosts that are known to haunt the ship? Any ghost stories to share? 

Like Scary Mary, all of our Queen Mary spirits at Dark Harbor are based on actual legends and encounters of the ship. Half Hatch Henry is based on the adventurous spirit of a crew member that haunts the engine room. Samuel the Savage is inspired by a particularly violent ghost that haunts the infamous and most haunted room aboard the ship: Cabin B430. Graceful Gale is based on a beautiful woman in white who has been seen mysteriously coming and going from the Royal Salon. And of course our Captain is at the helm leading these spirits of darkness.  However, this only scratches the surface of the vault of ghost stories and encounters. There is so much to explore in the ghost world of this ship.

Working in some of the darkest areas of the ship, our creative crew and even some of our monster actors have reported some of their own encounters. One of the most chilling stories I have heard is one that happened during last year’s event. Just after opening, two of our technicians were sent in to one of the mazes for an inspection. They were to fix any props that may have been damaged the night before. When they got to the poolroom, one of them cried out in pain. No one was around him, there was no explanation as to where the pain came from, but he felt as though something large had scratched him across the back. He quickly left the poolroom. Once outside, he had his co-worker take a look at his back. Three scratch marks were streaking down his back. By the time he got home, the scratches were gone, leaving no trace that they had ever been there.

Another friendlier story is actually from my first year on the team. My partner Adam and one of our leads, Stephen, were dressing in one of the mazes on the ship. It was fairly late and in an area guests are not allowed after the tours close. They were stacking old trunks and they had just finished a stack and secured them with zip ties and screws and straps. They stepped out to get another trunk. They were gone less than 90 seconds. When they returned their secured sculpture of trunks was scattered throughout the maze. No signs of broken zip ties or torn straps. No signs of other staff member[s] or any other person for that matter. These friends, like myself, were skeptical coming in. They spent the first half of that first year explaining away small unexplainable occurrences. Until this night; on this night, they both just couldn’t explain this one away. On this night, we all became believers.

The Details: Dark Harbor runs Oct. 1 on select dates through Nov. 1. Ticket prices start at $20 online. :: queenmary.com/dark-harbor

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