My friend David Patrick Columbia’s New York Social Diary continually comes up with memory-stirring articles for me. Earlier this week he did an article on a benefit held by the SS United States Conservancy in Philadelphia. The Conservancy was established in 2004 to refurbish and repurpose the ship of that name that was launched in 1952 and retired in 1996. The benefit was held aboard the SS United States now moored at the Corinthian Yacht Club outside Philadelphia near the Delaware River Pier.
The gala sounded very grand with a dinner straight off the first class menus from the days when the ship sailed back and forth across the Atlantic. The profits from the event are going towards creating a museum aboard the SS United States. This ship was the largest ocean liner ever made in the United States. Original cost was $78,000,000. It was a very grand ship indeed. As elegant in every way as the Cunard Line ships making the same Trans Atlantic journey. Although through the years my favorite ships were the French Lines Liberte and Ile de France and the Italian Michelangelo, the SS United States has a very warm spot in my memories.
My parents and I sailed on the second crossing of the SS United States in 1953. We traveled by train from Los Angeles to New York City where our journey began. Our large wardrobe trunks, packed carefully in Los Angeles, somehow magically were sitting in our staterooms when we boarded the ship in New York. What a difference from today’s travel, dragging suitcases on wheels behind us with bags hanging around our necks as well. It was THE way to travel. You unlocked the trunk and the gowns were all hanging neatly on hangers (you dressed for dinner very grandly every night except first night out and last night before landing). Drawers held everything else in the most orderly fashion. And one could keep track of the places they had visited by the interesting labels hotels in the various countries you visited offered with their hotel stationery. These were plastered all over the trunks. Two more things only a memory now, luggage labels and piles of hotel stationery for your use! And of course when you disembarked there was no worry. Sturdy porters took charge of the trunks and made sure they were waiting in your hotel room by the time you got to London from Southampton. Oh so very civilized.
There were going away parties in your stateroom for those visitors who came to see you off. I joined forces with my parents for our party held in their stateroom that had both a bedroom and a sitting room so was much larger than mine. But I had many more flowers in my stateroom which was an important part of sailing. Until I entered the stateroom and saw flowers everywhere I confess I was apprehensive that maybe no one would send me flowers. But all my beaux came through! My parents received mainly bottles of champagne and large baskets of exotic fresh fruits and special chocolates wishing them bon voyage. Among my friends in New York who came to see me off were an interesting couple from Pakistan, Amir and Anar Fancy. Amir, the son of the major tycoon of Pakistan, was and possibly still is a close associate of the Aga Khan. Sadly through the years I have lost contact with them. But I have happy memories of our friendship and their last visit to me in Los Angeles.
Then came the time when the party must end. “All Ashore Who Are Going Ashore” blasted over the loud speaker. Hugs and kisses and good wishes and requests of things to please bring back, and off the visitors went down the gangplank. While we stood at the railing looking down they were now on firm land waving up at us. The orchestra was playing (interesting now while none of these farewell visits and parties aboard ship are possible due to strict security measures, whenever a Crystal Cruise ship sails from a port over the loud speaker they play Louis Armstrong singing What A Wonderful World — I cannot hear that song any more without reliving sailing out of places like Elba, Cartagena, Yokohama, Santorini, Shanghai and best of all Istanbul at midnight under a full moon. Sing on Louis!)
Back on the SS United States about to sail. Steam was now billowing out of the two red funnels, the band was playing, everyone was waving and shouting last minute words you really couldn’t hear and there was a veritable net of brightly colored paper serpentine thrown by us at the railing to the waving friends below. It was rather a bond between us and those we were leaving behind. Then one heard the grinding of the anchor being hauled up, the churning of machinery deep within the ship in full action and soon we were sailing past the Statue of Liberty with the skyline of New York City fading fast from our view.
Kathleen Fetner, Technical Advisor and Friend