Fact, as they say, is often stranger than fiction. But this one really takes some beating….
After more than five decades of immersion some two hundred and fifty feet below the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, the original ship’s bell from the MV Stockholm has now been returned to the vessel, now trading as the Azores of Cruise and Maritime Voyages.
You literally could not make this one up….
The ship was originally built as the Stockholm, a small, 12,000 ton Swedish ocean liner that went into service in 1948. As was traditional back then, the brand new, bronze ship’s bell was duly installed on the liner’s forward bow.
Late on the foggy evening of July 26th, 1956, the ice stengthened bow of the Stockhom skewered into the forward, starboard side of the 29,000 ton Andrea Doria. The Italian liner was just hours from docking in Manhattan after a thus far routine crossing from Genoa.
The bow of the Stockholm acted like a dagger; crumpled and ruined, and with five dead crewmen trapped inside it, it still held and the smaller, Swedish ship was never in any real danger of sinking.
Fifty six passengers and crew died in the gaping wound inflicted on the Andrea Doria. But the Italian liner’s brave, lonely struggle against the encroaching ocean bought enough time to evacuate more than 1600 passengers and crew to the rapidly gathering fleet of rescue ships.
The Andrea Doria, wounded beyond salvation, sagged unde the ocean some eleven hours later. And, with her went the bell from the Stockholm, somehow trapped in the gaping wound in the hull of the Italian beauty. No one ever thought to see it again.
As the years went by, the wreck of the Andrea Doria became one of the most appealing of all dive sites, as well as one of the most inherently dangerous. More than one life has been lost by overly careless divers, caught by vicious currents in and around the wreck.
But slowly, a conga line of mostly small, yet highly evocative artefacts of everday life aboard the legendary fifties liner began to see daylight once more, brought aloft by triumphant divers. But no one ever expected that one of them would be the actual bell from the Stockholm herself.
After it’s improbable recovery, the bell was passed around in the USA, in exchange for a series of different boat parts.
But when it went back on the market again recently, Cruise and Maritime Voyages got in first. And now, after all this time, the bell has been reunited with the ship that it left so abruptly on the night of July 26th, 1956.
Go see it aboard the Azores while you can; in due course it will leave the ship again, to go on display at the Swedish maritime museum in Gothenburg.
And, while no one can doubt that it is amazing that the bell has been rediscovered after all these years, what is truly astounding is that the ship originally built to carry it is still sailing, as well.
Worth a thought, no?