SAVING THE BIG ‘U’- WHY IT’S IMPORTANT…..

SSUS

SS United States

If ever there was a determined band of people fighting to preserve something truly legendary against seemingly insuperable odds, then the good people of the SS. United States Conservancy must surely qualify for top marks. For years now, they have been struggling valiantly to rescue and restore one of the most totemic and important vessels ever built, in the face of a tsunami of apathy and ignorance in the land of her birth.

Firstly, a statement of fact. I am English, not American. But- that point made- a truly beautiful ship has an allure that transcends all national boundaries. And, make no bones, the SS. United States is still a beauty even now.

Ah, you might say; many beautiful ships have come and gone. Why should this one be any different?

And I would reply; yes, many beautiful ships have gone. Far too many, as it happens. The ocean liner was the supreme achievement of the twentieth century, until the arrival of the jet aircraft. Ships such as Queen Mary, Normandie and United States were nothing less than seagoing cathedrals; vast, swaggering statements of intent, built to awe, amaze and impress both rivals and the travelling public alike. They were front page news the world over in their day. Superstars whose reputations were built on style far more than hype.

Jets and cathedrals, eh? Look around, and you’ll find the petrified, preserved husks of practically every Concorde that ever flew. As for cathedrals, how many of the world’s great cities still showcase these vast, monolithic constructions from the middle ages- many of them built with wealth plundered from a string of ethnically cleansed civilisations? Yet there they stand, petrified and preserved at enormous expense, for future generations to gaze on in awe.

In the UK, we have a pitiful record of preserving our maritime heritage. In fact, a downright disgraceful one. But in America, so many of the famous battleships, carriers and cruisers of previous conflicts have been lovingly preserved. And how glad I am that they have been, too.

Yet if one ship stands head and shoulder above all of them in the pantheon of great twentieth century American icons, it is surely the United States. No other vessel ever exemplified speed, grace and style as much as the fabled Yankee Flyer. She had panache; in terms of technical and aesthetic excellence, she was-indeed, still is- a perfect ten.

The United States is every bit as iconic and instantly recognisable as the Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty. She is no less precious or disposable than either. And it is not as if she cannot be usefully repurposed.

The SS-US Conservancy has battled valiantly to put forward viable schemes for the restoration of this uniquely enduring piece of fifties Americana. And, knowing the ingenuity and love of history of the American people, I cannot conceive that they will just sit by and watch this gigantic, golden statement of past national glory slip quietly away to be butchered in some far off, foreign scrapyard.

The real problems seem to be lack of awareness, mixed with a kind of national apathy; a problem not confined solely to the USA by any means.

Surely she is worth saving? If people can still gaze in amazement at the petrified timbers of the proud old USS Constitution, the mighty, sixteen inch gun batteries of the Missouri, or even the gaunt, gallant remains of the Hunley, then why not also treasure and burnish that magnificent liner, with her twin, towering smokestacks that were the very apogee of American dash and style during the Fifties and Sixties?

The United States is like an emotional lightning rod; living history that reminds us of our past great achievements, and binds us to them. Such things amaze, inform and enthrall. They inspire respect, admiration and reverence; enviable qualities that any forward looking nation would surely wish to instill in the future generations to come.

The price of saving her is relatively small. The cost of losing her is incalculable. Her destruction would be an act of cultural vandalism right up there with the barely aborted demolition of the Art Deco region of South Beach back in the late eighties.

Food for thought, I hope. My sincere admiration for all concerned with this valiant effort. May the wind be at your back, and may your efforts not be in vain.

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12 comments

  1. This is one of the most eloquently and succinctly written articles that I have read in a long time. Thank you for putting into words so beautifully, the description of a great ocean liner and the perilous situation in which she has found herself just 61 years after her historic maiden voyage. Anyone who might have felt indifferent about a passé mode of transportation from a bygone era should certainly have a change of heart after reading your article.

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  2. The SS United Sttes wll be saved. But, sorry to say, it will be by business men with REAL business plans. Not with countless cocktail parties raising minimal amounts. While the folks at the Conservancy are very dedicated, they have not come forward with a plan to save the ship other than OPM. Other Peoples Money.
    Paying $80,000.00 a month to store and maintain the ship and letting weeds grow all about is also not the way to care for a ship that they claim to love.
    Plans are in the works. Have faith.

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  3. Beautifuly worded Anthony. I agree 100% with EVERYTHING you say here. When I think of all the historicaly critical ships that we as a nation have stood by and watched go to the scrap yard, I dont just feel ashamed, I feel downright angry. Wish I was one of those secret millionaire types!

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  4. Agree with you Anthony that the price to save the SS United States isn’t impossible and must be undertaken to preserve this great ship and American Icon.

    I suspect that there is a bit of apathy towards the “Big U” since some may say “Who cares” or “So What”, especially if they have no Maritime Historical interests. That is the sad fact of life. Tend to agree with Alex that it will take Business People with a structured, viable plan to save her.

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  5. Reblogged this on Liners of The Ocean Blog and commented:
    Save the SS United States! glad to see that people care. Yes, it would be good value to save this ship. I firmly believe that she could pay her way as a memorial and museum, through service as a hotel or maybe a Google data center http://t.co/6vLyj1LiVh.
    She has as much space as any of the office blocks in Mid Town Manhattan and if situated at Pier 92 or near there, she could fill a void as very few hotels are near. Hells Kitchen lies between the Hudson and the concentration of hotels in Mid Town. There’s sufficient parking on the pier and she would compliment the Pier 92/94 Convention Center nicely.
    Management could be handled by one of a range of companies that specialize in unique attractions and New York City has the highest demand for travel/convention/tourist in the world. One major draw back is that to get the ship in a condition to serve these roles would cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars, likely $200 million or more.
    Still, for the roles she could play and the cost of real estate in Manhattan, I strongly believe it could work. What a Sight she would be, now not seen for over forty years.

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  6. I think you have captured the Reason for saving The United States Most Eloquently. I have never seen it put so perfectly. But You Yourself say that her Biggest Problem is ” AWARENESS”. She has been written up in almost every Major Newspaper and Publication, as well as being featured on CBS’s Nation wide show ” SUNDAY MORNING!” Yet the awareness has not grown. I have reached out to Local T.V. stations in N.Y. to try to get a Reporter to do a story on her to no avail. While I have spoken to reporters, most themselves never heard of her. One even said, the story wasn’t news worthy. What then would you propose?

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    • Sadly, I just don’t have the answer. All I can do is try and raise awareness with a piece such as this. Once done, it’s up to others to put it around. But you’re spot on when you say that the REAL problem is one of raising awareness. That’s the biggest obstacle.

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  7. Anthony: I enjoyed your article and admire your passion for this project. I am in total agreement about the need to preserve maritime heritage and have personally made pilgrimages to Queen Mary, Rotterdam, even Great Britain. After visiting ssUS last year I have come to the realization that aside from a spectacular profile that would indeed contribute once again to the NYC skyline, there is nothing to preserve on the Big U. Her interior has been totally gutted and all her furnishings sold off. Real estate developers could care less about restoring her to her “former glory” Even if part of the ship were used as a hotel, it would not be like sailing on the real thing. Have you ever seen one of the new rooms addred to Queen Mary carved out of tourist class space during her restoration……..a Holiday Inn with a porthole. If I had a few extra million dollars to spare, I would spend it on Kungsholm where there really is a ship left to restore I have attened a few Conservancy events and they remind me of those old Mickey Rooney / Judy Garland movies….”come on kids, let’s put on a show!” They have no expertise where they need it; it’s strictly amateur hour. They are good at cocktail parties and press releases but I am afraid their efforts will leave them perpetually, to use their much overused phrase, “closer than we have ever been before.”

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  8. Why can’t we get Carnival Corporation, NCL, RCI…. and put themselves together and put a plan together. It can be worth the biggest cruise advertisement ever! What $250 million? Shared for them it is not ‘painful’. They have made BILLIONS of money on cruising… and have BILLIONS of taxes. Why not give something back to the maritime history… and give something back to the people that have made cruising. Can’t you see one of the decks…. as hotel….Cunard Deck. Carnival Deck, NCL Deck, RCI Deck. I think it could work. Too much for one person but shared all of those cruise lines…. what $50 million each? That would be easy.

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    • Stephen- thank you so much for reading this and sharing your thoughts. I couldn’t agree more with your premise. The sums involved per line would, indeed, be negligible. But it would need to be done quickly with the way things currently stand.

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