Even for the most cynical when it comes to the idea of ghosts, the iconic Queen Mary has a way of making you a believer. According to Steve Sheldon, whose company EPIC Entertainment Group, produces and oversees the Long Beach, California ship’s annual Dark Harbor Halloween event, that is the strength of Dark Harbor.
“We try to stay tied to the history of the ship as much as we can,” Sheldon told me. “All of our mazes, with the exception of ‘Circus, are directly tied to spirits, characters who allegedly truly haunt the ship. And we’ve taken some creative liberties with our characters, but they’re all inspired by ghosts that haunt the ship. And there are more that we haven’t tapped into. So we look to those for inspiration as we produce the mazes.”
This year the featured maze among the six is the new “Rogue,” the first new maze in two years and the first new one held off the ship if four years. Being off the ship is significant, as Sheldon explained, because it gives them a different creative freedom than being on board the Queen Mary.
“We can take more liberty with the outdoor mazes in terms o the design than we can on the ship because it’s a historic environment and we’re very careful not to modify or cause any damage on the ship itself,” he said while giving me a preview of the new maze. “But outside we can have a lot more creative license so we’ve introduced elements of projection mapping on the inside of the dome that we’ve created here. we have elements of movement of the floors, we have elements of claustrophobia, of being off balance, you’re walking under the deck of the ship and she capsized so you’re walking at an incline. You have elements of being on the side or upside down. So it’s some things we haven’t been able to play with in the past.”
In keeping with the Dark Harbor tradition of creating mazes from the alleged real life ghosts that haunt the ship, Sheldon told me the full back story of Rogue. Here it is in his words.
” The inspiration for the Rogue maze is the same inspiration behind the movie The Poseidon Adventure, which was filmed partially here aboard the ship. And it’s a true-life story of a rogue wave that hit the ship during a wartime service. And it was actually the voyage on which she was carrying over 16,800 passengers and they were all military servicemen and women. And the Queen Mary, on that voyage, set the record for the most number of people transported be a manmade vessel anywhere in the world, ever. It still holds that record. It was rocky seas, encountered a lot of stormy weather and 700 miles off the coast of Scotland she was hit by a rogue wave that was over 90 feet tall. She was within three degrees of being capsized and the significance of that was had she been capsized was not only would we have likely lost the lives of 16,800 troops, but we would have lost the Queen Mary, which Winston Churchill credited with helping the allied forces to win the war. So had she not survived would we be in the same situation we are now? Would we have the war? Who knows. So we took that inspiration and we wanted to create a maze from that experience.”
Rogue joins previously seen mazes — Lullaby, Circus, Feast, B340 and Intrepid — all of which have their own monsters tied to the long and storied history of the Queen Mary.
Probably the most disturbing is Feast, based off the true story of a chef who, after abusing his staff, experienced a mutiny. How did they punish him? By cooking him alive in a walk-in oven. There is also Lullaby, which is based off the tragic story of a young girl, Mary, who drowned in the First Class pool in 1952 and has supposedly haunted the ship ever since.
Sheldon believes the long and storied history of the ship is what makes Dark Harbor special. “Our core strength is the tie to the history of the ship and the fact that we try to create as authentic a haunt experience as we possibly can,” he says.
What also differentiates Dark Harbor from other haunted attractions is the level of entertainment and variety. “Once you’re in you have access to all of the mazes at any time you would like to experience them,” Sheldon says. “We have secret bar experiences in some of the mazes and you may or may not gain access to them as you walk through. We try to make everyone a different experience. We have entertainment throughout the night on the fire stage and aerial stage as well as specialty performers.”
As he explains he wants Dark Harbor to be a night of entertainment. “We try to create opportunity and the environment for people to enjoy the entertainment outside of the mazes if they choose to. We have a monster dance party at the end of the night. We try to create a party atmosphere and fun atmosphere so people enjoy it and want to come back.”