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SYFY WIRE Geek Road Trip

Geek Road Trip: I stayed in California's most haunted hotel room and communed with ghosts

By Julie Tremaine
The Queen Mary, Getty Images

If you're ever in the position to spend the night in a notoriously haunted place, even if you're a little more Mulder than Scully, you should still make sure to bring a friend.

I wish someone had told me that before I spent the night in Room B340, the most haunted room on The Queen Mary, a very haunted cruise ship that's now a floating hotel in Los Angeles. But even totally alone (with no one to talk me down or, say, be available to push in front of a ghost as I ran to safety) I made it through to morning. Scratch that: I wasn't alone — there was just no other living person in the room with me.

Notice that I didn't say I slept in B340.

After it was retired as an ocean liner, Disney purchased The Queen Mary, and B340 became a prototype Haunted Mansion-at-sea. The room was wired for spooky happenings, like creaking floorboards and faucets turning on by themselves, and eventually closed when the experiment was unprofitable. But smoke and mirrors aside, the room's history is rife with suspicious or unexplained deaths, and there are rumors of many other sinister disasters on the ship: a girl drowning in one of the (now closed) pools; a man being crushed to death in the boiler rooms; a criminal held by authorities dying alone under eerie, grotesque circumstances. (I'll spare you the details, but think "entrails.")

At least one tragedy is confirmed: During The Queen Mary's stint transporting soldiers in WWII, there was a catastrophic collision with the HMS Curacoa, tearing the smaller boat in half. Over 300 people drowned.

Queen Mary ghost

The ship leans into its haunted history, offering ghost tours and recreating Victorian seances aboard, which means it draws in a lot of para-curious people. During my stay, I was traveling with Strange Escapes, a supernatural tourism company run by Amy Bruni, a paranormal investigator who got her start on Ghost Hunters and now stars on Kindred Spirits. Bruni had gathered a group of 200 to explore the haunted ship, with the assistance of other famous paranormal investigators, including two other Ghost Hunters: Grant Wilson and Adam Berry, who's now Bruni's co-star on Kindred Spirits.

In B340, in the bedroom and the small, attached sitting room, I found a group of novice investigators huddled in the dark with Greg and Dana Newkirk and John E.L. Tenney, paranormal experts leading the investigation. The Newkirks had brought along some truly grisly items from their Traveling Museum of the Paranormal & Occult, including a spirit board made from floor planks salvaged from the site of an axe murder.

"You can see blood on it," Greg told me, a touch too gleefully. "You want me to leave it here for you?"

I did not want.

The Queen Mary, Getty Images

I had once spent an evening investigating The Princess Room at New Hampshire's Mount Washington Hotel on another Strange Escape. That hotel also has well-documented hauntings — in The Princess Room most of all, in which former owner Carolyn Stickney (who married a French prince and became an actual princess) allegedly lingers in spirit form. This night in B340 was nothing like that lighthearted one. Before we investigated that space, we had been advised to ask The Princess about parties, especially ones on New Year's Eve, because those were her favorite. She's a happy haunt, content to spend eternity in a place she loved.

The Queen Mary is the polar opposite. Because people seek out B340 specifically searching for ghosts and intent on provoking them — you can watch an onboard "devil summoning" on YouTube — the room draws in all the negative energy and supernatural forces on the ship like a paranormal black hole.

During the investigations that night, the experts used three different methods to channel the spirits: Greg Newkirk and John Tenney held EVP (electronic voice phenomena) sessions, using recorders to ask questions in an effort to capture responses the human ear can't perceive. Dana Newkirk pulled tarot on two different decks. Both Newkirks used the Estes Method, in which one person asks questions and the other, while in a sort-of sensory deprivation environment, repeats what he or she hears through the spirit box.

I heard many responses that night, while I sat in the dark through two different investigation sessions, and none of them were good. There were many frustrated spirits in that room, and a huge amount of confused, angry energy. At one point, after Greg pressed the issue of why a spirit wasn't telling us its name, it hissed "HASSLE" before going silent for the night.

When Bruni first offered me the chance to sleep in the room, I had asked how haunted it really was. "Princess haunted? Or murderous ghost with a scythe haunted?"

"So haunted it was closed for 30 years."

Of course, I chose to stay. Wouldn't you?

Everyone else left the room around 2AM — with every bit of their haunted ephemera in tow, including that spirit board — and I surveyed my surroundings. (By "survey," I mean "check every closet, drawer, and corner of the room, while avoiding looking directly in any of the mirrors.") Then, leaving one lamp on, I got in bed and tried to sleep. You might be surprised to learn that, despite having flown in that morning, driving 100 miles, and spending three hours sitting in the dark striving for a paranormal experience, I wasn't a bit tired. Wide awake, even. I have never been less tired in my life than I was that night, lying in the bed of probably the most haunted hotel room in all of California.

Then, around 3AM, the voices started.

The ship makes no attempt to hide B340's history. Now that's it's reopened to the public, the room rents out at a premium, and there are accounts of ghost sightings inscribed on the walls. People come looking for the unmarked room every night. (Visitors persistently pilfer the room number as a souvenir). But I didn't know any of that at the time. So when I heard whispers outside my door, I nearly jumped out of my skin. And when I got up to answer the door, I didn't even have time to tell them to go away, because whoever was out there ran screaming down the hall before I fully turned the knob.

Did I mention The Queen Mary is a pretty creepy place?

Queen Mary ghost orb

The same thing happened two more times that night. It's easy to ascribe a supernatural origin to any single noise emanating through those paper-thin walls, because you're expecting (hoping? dreading?) to experience something you can't explain. But I was too busy jumping out of my skin at the completely mundane to experience the paranormal — which made the night no less terrifying.

The next day, I looked through SLS footage taken during the investigation of B340 the night before. An SLS camera — it stands for "structured light sensor" — perceives and spatially locates energy that isn't visible to the human eye. I had been sitting in the corner of B340 all through the investigations, on the side of the bed next to the wall. There was no one next to me all night — no one human, anyway — and I never budged from that spot. Imagine my surprise when I saw a creepy, spectral stick figure looming next to me on that camera. And imagine my further surprise when I went back to transcribe my audio notes, and I heard the same EVP responses on my own file. The difference? That angry "HASSLE" was louder and clearer on mine, because it was coming from directly next to me.

Several people on that trip, including Bruni herself, reported strange happenings in their rooms overnight. The following evening, when I investigated the boiler rooms four stories below sea level, I'm certain I saw something move when no one was there.

I have yet to book my next visit.