Here are 8 photos that I took on board or circling The SS United States. These were done when I was with “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1966. We were shooting a TV special: “Merv Griffin’s Sidewalks of New York” which was syndicated to stations throughout the United States. We spent the morning and mid afternoon on the ship shooting when it was in dock at its pier in New York harbor. We then sailed with the ship as it was departing for its voyage. Once we got past the Verrazano Bridge, we left the ship via the tug boat that was guiding the United States out of harbor and then returned to the pier. So while we technically “sailed” on the United States, we never got out into the actual ocean. I forget the song Merv was singing on board. He did a lip sync to the recording and there was no actual band or live singing on the ship. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, there is no copy of the actual TV special we made which included the footage we shot.

Albert Fisher

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SS United States Journey August, 1969

By Suzanne Jarvis

 

In August of 1969 my family and I sailed on the SS United States from England to New York. It was one of the last crossings of the Atlantic before the ship was retired. We traveled with our very close family friends Marge and George Felton and their daughters. The crossing started out fun with bingo, practical jokes and a dance contest. And then we met Debbie.

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The Legacy Project is an on-going initiative aimed at collecting, preserving, and archiving photographs, visual materials, and the stories related to passengers and crew who traveled in, helped build, and/or served aboard our nation’s flagship, the SS United States. For more information, visit our website. Want to share your story? Email us at info@ssusc.org.

SSUSC-OralHistory-Bauer01-1

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The Legacy Project is an on-going initiative aimed at collecting, preserving, and archiving photographs, visual materials, and the stories related to passengers and crew who traveled in, helped build, and/or served aboard our nation’s flagship, the SS United States. For more information, visit our website. Want to share your story? Email us at info@ssusc.org.

 

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The Legacy Project is an on-going initiative aimed at collecting, preserving, and archiving photographs, visual materials, and the stories related to passengers and crew who traveled in, helped build, and/or served aboard our nation’s flagship, the SS United States. For more information, visit our website. Want to share your story? Email us at info@ssusc.org.

WRITTEN BY: William Newell “Pete” Guild

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The Legacy Project is an on-going initiative aimed at collecting, preserving, and archiving photographs, visual materials, and the stories related to passengers and crew who traveled in, helped build, and/or served aboard our nation’s flagship, the SS United States. For more information, visit our website. Want to share your story? Email us at info@ssusc.org.

David and Carole Larson with the SS United States in the background. Pier 86, New York City.

David and Carole Larson with the SS United States in the background. Pier 86, New York City.

In 1955 artist David Henning Larson greeted his bride-to-be, Carole Hill, as she arrived from England aboard the SS United States. David and Carole Larson were married 50 years until his death in 2007. Carole still resides in Maine where the couple had lived for over 35 years. A large collection of David’s paintings are on permanent display at the Larson Studio & Gallery at South Penobscot, Maine. (Update: The Larson Studio & Gallery is now closed, for more information on where you can see David’s work, visit the Larson Studio website.)

The photo above was taken by David’s father, renowned NYC-based photographer, Frank Oscar Larson. Thanks for Frank’s eye (and lens), such casual moments in American history have been captured.

Special thanks to Carole and David’s son, Soren for sharing his grandfather’s photo, and to Paul Stipkovich for producing this lovely story.

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United States Lines Menu

United States Lines Menu Cover

Inspired by the rising popularity of the fine cuisine offered on board, the United States Lines created the cookbook, The Captain’s Table, in 1966. The book included some of the most famous recipes ever served on the SS United States and the SS America and was offered to passengers so they could try their hand at preparing their favorite SS United States dishes at home.

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The Legacy Project is an on-going initiative aimed at collecting, preserving, and archiving photographs, visual materials, and the stories related to passengers and crew who traveled in, helped build, and/or served aboard our nation’s flagship, the SS United States. For more information, visit our website. Want to share your story? Email us at info@ssusc.org.

 

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Chota Peg

Chota Peg shown with the Funnel in background. Photo courtesy Charles Anderson.

Along with the thousands of passengers who traveled aboard the SS United States during her years of service, there was a very special crew member that delighted all who knew him: Chota Peg. A lovely cockerspaniel, Chota lived his entire life aboard the various ships on which Captain Anderson worked.

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By: Peter Paul

Courtesy of the SS United States Conservancy Archives.

Courtesy of the SS United States Conservancy Archives.

She had gone to one final auction and had caught the attention of a major cruise line, which won the bid and intended to refit the ship to its former glory if at all possible. Years after the auction, we find ourselves back at square one, the cost of retrofitting-to-cruising condition having fallen victim to costs. Such a vessel would have to command premium prices from its customers, a huge gamble.

The great debate over her fate: cruise ship, stationary museum, powered floating restaurant, gambling haven, what to do with her? Her lines were built for speed, her engines hugely expensive to replace and operate. Would it even be worthwhile to pretend that all this time had not passed, or would it make better sense to let her rest in peace somehow?

None of the passenger configurations were up to date: no balconies, no wide promenades, no cliff-walking attractions, no aquariums, nothing which the modern “cruise passenger” demanded. Certainly, her clean up, the toxic material aboard, POL abatement, all the rest of the modern standards that would come to bear, spelled enormous expenditures, which, for a vessel that was not designed to have the carrying capacity of our highly touted “barge-ships”, would mean sky high ticket prices. Where was the public demand for that kind of cruise?

To this date, some 57 years after her launch, this fine lady of the seas is kept in limbo, her future uncertain. She is the only ocean liner in US maritime history that has had such a tortuous, almost living, death. To say that there is a crime here, a crime against a ship, our history and our heritage, against art and all things right, well, it may be overstated. But it feels that way.

That sorrowful ending, scrap, would hurt anyone with a love of the sea and ships, but there is an end to her that we all, I think, could live with, should all else fail. It wouldn’t cost much money, it would end her life with grace and dignity and it would, quite appropriately, keep her alive in the same sense that others before her have had: reefing.

Anyone who has followed a similar story in the disposition of the James River Ghost Fleet, a fleet of retired WW2 vessels at anchor in Virginia’s James River, knows what I mean. Those ships have mostly been sold due to the rise of scrap metal prices and despite the efforts made to use them as a National Maritime Reef. Money won out, the environment lost. Hardly news.

We were once balanced between scuttling her and allowing new life to grow from her sunken hull, or trying a smaller scale retrofit as a floating something-or-other. Rebuilding her to her former glory is largely, sadly, a dead issue. I’m not sure which is better, honestly. The notion of using her hull for a national marine sanctuary, provides a lot of us who are getting up in years, with a sad, yet still satisfying feeling that she will be with us for a long, long, time to come.

As a SCUBA diver, I can say his without reservation: I have mixed feelings here. Either a reef or a museum, anything, would be better than sale for scrap. If she does go down to the depths to her final glory for lack of funds to keep her above water, I will  be onboard her one last time, if God grants me strength and a few more years. I’ll make it a point to find my old guardrail, stand tall, look over the edge and remember. It would give me peace of mind – the SS United States and I, together again, after all these years.

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By: Peter Paul

Photo courtesy Nick Landiak.

Photo courtesy Nick Landiak.

Thus, the “Big U” plied the waters of the Atlantic, ferrying the wealthy and gaining fame thus, but paying her way with the more modest fares drawn from the rest of us. Below decks, small and cramped, cabins were a sort of commercial “steerage”, yet by my “standards” then, more than adequate. These crossings signaled what was thought to be the start of a long history for her, but the times, as they say, were a-changing. They changed more quickly than anyone ever imagined.

People’s ever-faster lifestyles spelled the doom of the SS United States (and others of her kind) and her removal from active service. Impatience “to get there”, (as opposed to appreciating the journey), coupled with the price of travel, the advent of the commercial jet liner and the expense of keeping her massive machinery running, eventually became too much for the shipping line. Her last voyage, taken just seventeen years later, in 1969, ended with her decommissioning at a berth at the Newport News Shipyards, Virginia, which had built her. There she stayed, tied up, a former greyhound of the seas, leashed to the dock, for all the years until 1996, when she was moved to Philadelphia, which is where she still lies in wait.

This ignominious ending was only the beginning of another phase of her “life”, a time of slow decay, a ransacking of her interior and utter neglect due to zero maintenance. Anyone who has ever seen a fine ship turned derelict knows whereof I speak: there is a sadness to the sight that sinks to the heart of those of us who love ships. It sometimes seems as if some small piece of ourselves, our soul if you will, has died too.  It may be overstated, but the sight makes you want to cry.

Slowly though, over time, the public, perhaps not quite willing to say goodbye just quite yet, showed an interested in saving her. The SS United States Conservancy was organized to save her, with the express mission of returning the ship to her former glory. Small at first, the Conservancy eventually commanded thousands of members and attracted the attention of the media. This attention came in the form of newscasts, feature articles and TV specials and a full length documentary narrated by no less an icon than Walter Cronkite, a newscaster who once held the unquestioned title of “the most trusted man in America” – an honorarium bestowed on very few people in my lifetime.

 

The internet, now of age, publicized her fate. Along the way, the ship had been purchased by several private investors for salvage value. They had high hopes, big dreams and in the end, less money. It was obvious to anyone with a knowledge of ships, especially one this size, that restoration to modern standards would come at a steep price. Estimates vary, but $500 million could not be ruled out. Efforts were made to interest the same Defense establishment that helped build the ship, to help secure her future by granting her status as an Historical Landmark and perhaps share in her rebuilding, but the love of ships and history proved unpersuasive.

Funds are always short, even in this time of stimulus money and memory is even shorter. Her benefactors inside the Congress were largely gone; her official “fanbase” among our politicians could not hold sway, or better said, showed no interest at all. She wound up becoming a Registered Historical Landmark, but sans the funds to do anything with her. A halfway measure, if there ever was one. The spirit, this time, could not be roused.

She had gone to one final auction and had caught the attention of a major cruise line, which won the bid and intended to refit the ship to its former glory if at all possible.

Check back for the next installment of “SS United States: Soul of a Nation.”

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By: Peter Paul, Guest Writer

View of the SS United States wake from her fan tail. Photo courtesy Henry Brunjes.

View of the SS United States wake from her fan tail. Photo courtesy Henry Brunjes.

More than a half-century ago, a very young boy of not more than five years of age, stood on the bottom rung of the guardrail (which ran around the huge ship’s fantail), his chin resting on the topmost pipe, held firmly in place by his mom. The weather was awful, it was cold, yet he took no note of the inhospitable conditions:  he was stunned by the scene in front of him – the enormity of the ocean behind the ship, the cauldron of white foam that was the ship’s wake. The sheer wildness of it all stretched, to his young eyes, from horizon to horizon. He couldn’t yet grasp the impossibly violent, yet beautiful panorama, a sight he would remember to this very day.

He had been “rescued” by a sailor, a young Navy guy who had just married his mom, the three of them having been plucked from the unspeakable carnage that was Hamburg, Germany, a city that had been bombed to dust just a few years earlier. Now, they were on their way to a new and better life: a life in the States. That youngster was, of course, me and the ship I stood on that winter day was the SS United States.

We were westbound, headed to New York City, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and dreams, carrying very precious cargo. In order to appreciate this ship, we need to warp ourselves back in time and try to imagine a country that today, only vaguely resembles what it once was. Cars were slower, the interstates not completed, trains belched smoke, and a giant of an industrial powerhouse of a nation was just beginning to come out of war mode. We could do anything, and that included showing the world how to build an ocean liner with more speed, safety features and sheer class than anything yet built.  The fact that she became, arguably, the most graceful ship afloat – well, I’ll leave that for you to judge.

The “Big U” was the brainchild of noted naval architect William Francis Gibbs, who designed the ship from a very unique vantage point: he was the chief naval architect for the US Navy in World War II. The liner was actually a joint commission, with shared sponsorship undertaken by the United States Lines and the Navy, which saw the need for additional troop transport capacity – this was before mass airlift capability. Gibbs decided that this ship, the culmination of a brilliant career, would be like no ship ever built, and when he finished, his prophetic dream came to pass.

Some 990 feet long, 101 feet wide and standing some twelve stories tall, the SS United States was powered by four steam turbine engines which produced a stunning 261,000 horsepower, a surfeit of power that would assure her first place in the Trans-Atlantic Crossing record books.  Her sea trials in 1952 enabled her to reach a jaw dropping 38 knots, although exact numbers are elusive. It was well known that she was never pushed to the maximum, thought by some to be over 50 miles per hour, a speed capability unheard of today. She crossed the Atlantic in three days, 10 hours and 40 minutes, winning the “Blue Riband”  (yes, blue ribbon!), a record still unbroken today.

But Gibbs’ legacy showed itself in more than statistics and speed records. A less known fact was that Navy specifications for wartime were used in the hull and safety features, plus the capacity to ferry an entire Army division to Europe and turn around without refueling – a ten thousand mile range. Simply amazing! The ship was a sea-going tank and experienced not a single mishap, breakdown or significant incident during its service years. They say they don’t build things like they used to: in this case, it’s really true.

Check back soon for the next installment of “SS United States: Soul of a Nation” by guest writer, Peter Paul.

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Shipway No. 10

SS United States in her dry dock, Shipway Nº 10 at Newport News, VA.

We’re very excited to announce the new, official blog of the SS United States Conservancy, Shipway Nº 10. SS United States supporters and fans will enjoy regular content featuring highlights from the ship’s history, passenger memoirs, little-known facts about the SS United States and William Francis Gibbs, posts by guest writers, insights into the ship’s future, and more!

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