Queen Mary Ghosts

Back in 2012, I wrote a guest post about a strange, possible ghost encounter I had aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach for Gayle Martin’s Accidental Ghost Hunter Blog. I’m sorry to say, Gayle is no longer maintaining the blog, so the original post is no longer available. I’m reposting it here so it’s still available for your reading enjoyment.

These photos are from a ghost tour my daughter and I took during Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium held aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach California on Friday, January 13, 2012. The strangest incident that happened was when we went to the first class swimming pool aboard the ship. It’s a noted “hot spot” for ghost sightings. The first photo shows the pool.

Off the upper balcony, we went into the women’s dressing rooms. I snapped a photo of the corridor. When I took the photo, I thought I saw a person in the flash and indeed, there is a strange, almost human-shaped shadow in the photo. I assumed it was one of my fellow tourists, but when I walked up the hallway, I didn’t pass anyone or see any other people ahead of me in the corridor or the dressing rooms. I did get a serious case of the willies as I walked further down the hall and the hairs raised on the back of my neck.

When I downloaded the photo onto my computer, I assumed the shadow I captured was some strange trick of the light. However, I then did a simple brightness/contrast adjustment and adjusted the color curves a little in Adobe Photoshop and the image below popped out. I should note, the hallway was completely dark. The only illumination came from my flash. If this was a fellow tourist, they were standing in the dark with this apparently non-nonchalant pose. They had no flashlight and the flash didn’t seem to illuminate them.

Another place that felt very eerie to me was the old boiler room. This photo was taken just outside the boiler room.

Inside, the boiler room, I took several photos. I kept feeling like I was seeing something move outside the corner of my eye. The one thing that I may have captured is the green glow in the lower left hand corner of the bottom photo.

I’m a professional astronomer and writer. I’m also an admitted skeptic. I’m hard pressed to say these photos serve as hard evidence of ghost encounters. Despite that, these photos do raise questions for me—especially the one taken in the dressing rooms. That said, incidents like this do provide inspiration for writing books like The Astronomer’s Crypt.

Steampunk Telescope

Back in November, I wrote a post that discussed building a telescope. The telescope worked great. The only problem was that without a mount, it was hard to point and keep the telescope on a target. This made it hard for multiple people to enjoy the view, or even for one person to look for more than a few seconds. To kick off this year, I built a simple mount for the telescope and this weekend, at Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium in Long Beach, California, I’ll be hosting viewings through the telescope and showing people how they can build one just like it.

steampunk dobsonian

The mount I built is basically a variation of one described at the 10-minute Astronomy Blog. Because my telescope is in a cardboard tube, I built a wooden box that fit snugly around the tube to hold the altitude bearings. Like the mount described in the 10-minute Astronomy Blog, my bearings are simply grated PVC end caps. I lined the wooden box with felt to snug the fit a bit more and avoid damaging the tube as I slid it in place. Allowing the altitude bearing box to be a pressure fit allows me to rotate the tube inside and it allows me to adjust the position of the telescope if I should add weight to one end or the other.

Another variation is that instead of building the ground board from scratch, my wife found a rotating TV stand at a thrift store for 99 cents. I simply put rubber feet on the bottom of my rocker box and set it on the TV stand.

Finally, I found that my elevation axis had a tendency to slip sideways, causing the telescope to slip out of the V-cuts. I solved this by adding melding plates to the outside of the V-cuts that keep the telescope from slipping sideways. I could possibly have also prevented this problem by making my rocker box a little narrower.

So, what makes this a “steampunk” telescope? First of all, it’s a Newtonian telescope very similar in design to the one Nathaniel Green, painting instructor to Queen Victoria, used to observe Mars in 1877. I painted the tube with brass spray paint to give it that old-fashioned brass tube look of nineteenth century telescope.

Although it gets dangerously close to the song “Just Glue Some Gears On It (And Call It Steampunk)”, I did glue some gears on my Dobsonian mount. I tried to evoke the idea of the clockworks that were used to drive old telescopes. What’s more, they make the melding plates looks more decorative than purely functional. I also added a steampunk cuckoo clock decal to the top of the mount. After all, time is very important to astronomy!


In a sense, the sky’s the limit—literally! The cardboard tube and simple wooden mount allow you decorate your telescope in a myriad of splendid ways, so you can go stargazing in style! My only recommendation would be to keep lights to a minimum to keep your telescope functional. The stand and telescope are lightweight and easily transportable, making them good for taking out any time you want. And really, that’s the point of having a little telescope like this, so everyone can enjoy the wonders the sky has to offer.


This past weekend saw the release of the steampunk anthology Gears and Levers 2 edited by Phyllis Irene Radford. The release of the anthology marks something of a milestone for me in that it contains the first collaborative story I’ve published. The story is “Endeavor in Halcyon” and I wrote it with Kurt MacPhearson.

Gears and Levers 2

“Endeavor in Halcyon” tells the story of Captain Penelope Todd of the East India Company’s Airship Endeavor. She is on a mission to find new trading routes when her ship gets caught in a mysterious storm and they are hurled into a strange new world.

This was an interesting collaboration because although Kurt and I have corresponded off and on over the years, we have never met face-to-face. He lives in Michigan and I live in New Mexico. The way this collaboration happened is that he suggested writing a story together. I had written the beginning of the story, but wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to go with it, so I sent it to him. He wrote a couple of pages and sent it back. It went on that way for about three or four times until we came to a place we both thought was a satisfying conclusion. We then took turns polishing the story before sending it in to Ms. Radford. I was pleased she liked the story enough to buy it.

What else will you find in the anthology? Adventure and romance await in worlds that never were but should have been. Magic and science blend together as Gears and Levers explores the quest for all that makes up humanity. Battle pirates, walk with ghosts, fly in dirigibles, explore the wonderous world, and walk with automatons in twenty amazing tales set in Steampunk lands by masterful storytellers such as Alma Alexander, Chaz and Karen Brenchley, Shawna Reppert, Larry Lefkowitz, Tina Connolly, Jeanette Bennett, Voss Foster, Frog and Esther Jones, and many more. The anthology is available at Smashwords and Amazon.

At the same time as this book was being released, I was engaged in a collaboration of a different sort. Last weekend marked the third time Dino Staats and I have presented a Victorian Magic and Science panel. So far, no two of these have been alike.

Dino and David

The first time we presented this panel was on the Queen Mary a year ago and we were joined by Professor D.R. Schreiber who had a Windhurt generator and a great perspective on how the history of magic and science intertwine. In that panel, we focused a lot on the magic and science of electricity.

The second time we presented the panel was at San Diego’s Gaslight Gathering. There, much of the discussion focused on chemistry and biology and how they were utilized in magic.

Last weekend, Dino and I were again on the Queen Mary. This time we focused a lot of our discussion on the clockwork automata of Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin.

What’s exciting about these is that Dino and I never rehearse our presentation and really aren’t certain what the other will present. In fact, the first time, neither of the magicians even knew I had been assigned to the Magic and Science panel! For the latter panels, Dino and I have maybe exchanged an email or two about what would be fun to discuss and what would make the panel a little different for people who have seen it before.

Both of these collaborations have left me enriched. I’ve learned new things, improved as a writer and public speaker—and what’s more, I’ve forged friendships that I hope will last for years to come.