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Nautical Notes

Brief commentaries on recent news about ocean liners and cruise ships


February 17, 2013

Saving the SS United States

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She was a ship of state, now “forlorn and largely forgotten.” Yet, she is still in the forefront of the minds of many former passengers, ocean liner historians, and others who are hoping to preserve SS United States, the beloved 1950s-built passenger ship and technical marvel that has sat idle since 1969. Today’s report on CBS Sunday Morning managed to convey, in just seven minutes, the variety of reasons the “Big U” continues to captivate many individuals and spur a conservation effort.


One prominent member of this effort, the SS United States Conservancy, is Susan Gibbs, granddaughter of the ship’s architect William Francis Gibbs. The CBS report included two wonderful segments pertaining to the Gibbs family—an interview with Ms. Gibbs along the ship’s enclosed promenade and a well-done biography of Mr. Gibbs. Other highlights were the shipboard memories of a woman who sailed as a child from the segregated south (“the ship was color-blind”) and a tour of the home of a CBS producer decorated meticulously (and lovingly) with artifacts from the grand liner.


Nautical Notebook strongly supports the return of SS United States to New York City to serve as a museum of US passenger ship history, complementing the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum that has been berthed at Pier 86 since 1982.  In this capacity, she could pay tribute to various passenger vessels of US-flagged lines, a task made easier given that the ship is essentially a blank slate. Imagine a sitting room designed in the fashion of the Native American-themed first class smoking room of the 1933-built Washington.  Or, perhaps a re-creation of the first class ballroom of America (1939), another Gibbs masterpiece. Other US lines could also be represented – Matson, Grace, American Export, for example. Of course, SS United States would be featured prominently, as well. In addition to reproductions of some of her public spaces, her promenade could be lined with a photographic timeline of her history.


Yet, there is the need to act quickly. Even her biggest fans can no longer see through the years of wear on her exteriors. As mentioned in the closing remarks of the CBS Sunday Morning report, “she is our best ship.” SS United States served us well as the pride of her country during her heyday. Now is the time for us to return the favor.





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