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Famous Ships That Did Not Sink: The 'RMS Queen Mary'

April 18, 2012 at 11:15 AM | by | Comments (0)

As you already know, this last weekend marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Though yes, the sinking is a huge part of history, it's also not indicative of how ship travel actually was in the early 20th century. Not every ship sank. This week, we'll show you some notable ships that managed to stay afloat and still make their mark in history.

Today's ship that didn't sink: the RMS Queen Mary of Cunard Line.

Let's consider something a moment. When the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic sinking rolled around last week, it became apparent that the younger generations were filled with kids who though the Titanic was a fictional tale made up for the James Cameron movie. It was only the news coverage of the anniversary that made them realize that—whoops, hey—over 1,000 did actually die when a real ship hit a real iceberg and really sank.

Now think about the fact that a transatlantic liner of the same style, though much younger, is currently still afloat as a hotel, museum and event space in Long Beach, California. This ship is the Queen Mary and she's not a stage set or a fauxboat; she's a real ship with a really impressive history and, lucky for her, a real future still afloat.

The RMS Queen Mary first set sail in 1936 and did what any serious ocean liner of the time did: capture the Blue Riband for fastest transatlantic crossing. She actually did it twice, stealing the title back from the SS Normandie several years later. Keeping up the similarities between our past featured "Famous Ships That Did Not Sink," the Queen Mary prided herself on her luxurious interiors (two indoor swimming pools! a mini-synagogue! Art Deco details!) and First Class comfort...until the outbreak of war.

Unlike the Kronprinz Wilhelm and Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Queen Mary wouldn't end up in enemy hands; she became a UK troopship and lost the red funnels and black hull for a more war-friendly monotone grey. "The Grey Ghost" would end up transporting some 15,000 Aussie and NZ troops per voyage to the UK, and Wikipedia even notes that she still holds the record with a (frankly insane) total of 16,082 troops and crew, on a ship built to originally hold only 3,240. Of course Winston Churchill hitched a few rides (does he count as two people?)

The war ended, the ship was useless as a troop carrier, and so Cunard retrofitted her with most of her old finery (saved in storage) and put her back on the transatlantic route in the late 1940s, which is the time that our postcards (below) were printed. The dawn of the jet age finally forced her to retire in 1967, whereby she was eventually purchased by the City of Long Beach for $3.5 million, who converted and re-opened her as the tourist attraction she is now.

The RMS Queen Mary can't sail anywhere anymore, but what she lacks in engines and seaworthiness, she makes up for with preserved vintage details. We personally visited her a couple years ago and indulged our nautical fantasies for an afternoon. It's not very difficult considering there's wood steamer chairs on her deck, art deco murals and finials at every turn, and a submarine parked alongside (not a U-boat, but a Soviet sub). And all this may still be enjoyed...why? That's right—because she didn't sink.

[Scanned images from two 1948 Queen Mary postcards: Jaunted]

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