Transmission 24: Betsy Stettinius

Photo of Sean Connery courtesy of Mario De Biasi/Mondadori Portfolio, image of the first class ballroom courtesy of Cruising the Past.

Photo of Sean Connery courtesy of Mario De Biasi/Mondadori Portfolio, image of the first class ballroom courtesy of Cruising the Past.

The SS United States was a major part of my childhood and adolescence. Starting in 1953, we sailed back and forth across the Atlantic for family vacations. Later, my brother and I commuted to and from boarding school by ourselves each fall and summer.

Our father worked for U.S. Lines in Europe, and because of his position, we had opportunities most people didn’t have. The purser would give us a crash gate key so we could go anywhere on the ship. My youngest brother learned to walk on the United States during a crossing from New York to Le Havre. The stewards on the promenade deck would play with him by tying a red ballon to the end of the stick and pretending he had caught a fish in the scuppers. Dave and Herby in the smoking lounge always indulged us with fun drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

We loved Gala Night, even as children. Our parents looked so glamorous. Once I was older, my mother would buy me a new evening dress for the event. I adored the glass panels in the ball room. In 1966, I danced with Sean Connery there. I met other celebrities too: Robert Morely, President Eisenhower and his brother David, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Several crossings were so rough, the dining room chairs were strapped down, the elevators were lined with padding, and velvet ropes were strung along the hallways. As kids, we loved to swing on the ropes and hang upside down! 

I remember the smells and the low hum of the engines idling. When I boarded the ship, it felt like coming home.

– Betsy Stettinius, who crossed the Atlantic on the SS United States regularly between 1953 and 1969