Dead and Living It

A dollar a minute to hold your hand at GhostFest 2006

So I asked the security guard if he'd ever seen a ghost. Nah, he said. I started asking a lot of Queen Mary employees if they'd ever seen a ghost and that was it: nah, they'd say. But the GhostFest people were great customers, said one waitress. They tipped so well, she said: "I think a lot of them were waitresses, too." So I asked the ghost guide some of the hard questions the GhostFest website promised we could ask—What is a ghost? Is a ghost a thinking thing? Has your own experience with ghosts changed the way you think about life and death?—and to his credit he just looked up into the fluorescents and said he didn't know.

And then I kind of started drifting away from the tour because I was more into these empty parts of the Queen Mary anyway. Right after they docked her, they scooped her out to the last layer of skin and sold the guts for scrap, and if ghosts imprint on physical surroundings then a whole nest of them must've ended up haunting an asbestos-abatement landfill. Poor ghosts. I went back as far down and aft as I could get, to the very pinched little tail of the ship where nobody else was, a room so deep in the ship it hasn't seen the sun since the day they sealed over the ceiling, and thought about the day somebody would get the bright idea to redevelop the Queen Mary out of bankruptcy, and the day after that when someone would finally run a torch through 70 years of rivet and steel and every last hidden part of the ship would unfold out to the light. I was with this girl who had heritage going back to old England and she stopped and stretched out her hand when she saw a name stamped on a beam above us: "Oh my god," she said. "This is my family."

At that moment I realized we were not alone—but it was just security calling down from outside with the usual politic yer-busted instructions. Excuse me, sir: you can't pester ghosts by yourself. So out we went, and I didn't look behind us and so I didn't see a ghost. But as they were scooting us out the gangplank, I asked if any of the security people had seen a ghost, and of course they all said "Nah" except the no-nonsense girl leading the way. It was 4 a.m. and I'd been on that boat for 12 hours and the creepiest thing that happened to me was when I felt a breeze from an empty elevator shaft. So I had to ask again.

Boo! You have to leave! Photo courtesy
Boo! You have to leave! Photo courtesy

"You really saw a ghost?" I said.

"All the time, sir," she said.

"Really?" I asked.

"Sir," she said, "You have to leave."

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