SS United States E-Newsletter

July 3, 2011
The SS United States on her maiden voyage
SS United States is greeted by a flotilla of tugboats on her maiden voyage (courtesy of the Mark Perry Collection)

Latest News from the SS United States Conservancy

Greetings members and supporters!


July 3, 2011 marks the 59th anniversary of the SS United States' departure from New York on what was to be her record-breaking maiden voyage.  The ship was fully booked with 1,700 passengers, including Vincent Astor, Margaret Truman, and Sara Roosevelt. As the ship glided past Lower Manhattan, passengers standing on the decks could see a big banner hanging from a skyscraper at 21 West Street: "Good Luck. SS United States. Gibbs & Cox."  During the trip, Commodore Harry Manning steadily increased speed even as the ship steamed head on into a howling North Atlantic gale. Independence Day was celebrated at sea with a lavish gala dinner and ball.  Ship designer William Francis Gibbs stood a near-constant vigil on the bridge, carefully monitoring the ship's fuel consumption and speed. Down in the engine room, Chief Engineer Kaiser kept an eye on his four Westinghouse steam turbines, the most powerful engines ever installed on a passenger ship, capable of 240,000 horsepower.


When the ship tore past Bishop's Rock at 6:16am on the morning of July 7, 1952, she had captured the Blue Riband of the Atlantic from the Cunard liner Queen Mary with an average speed of 35.59 knots, and a sailing time of 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes.


The British journal Punch wrote in sadness: "After the loud and fantastic claims made in advance for the liner United comes as something of a disappointment to find them all true."


On the anniversary of the SS United States' triumphant maiden voyage, thank you so much for your ongoing support!  


In this issue:

cbsSS United States Featured on CBS News Sunday Morning

CBS Sunday Morning 


In celebration of the 59th anniversary of her maiden voyage, this Sunday, July 3, CBS Sunday Morning will be airing a short piece about the SS United States and her record-breaking trip. The show airs at 9:00 AM ET on CBS. Check your local listings.


In case you miss it, the Conservancy will be posting a link to the video in the upcoming days. 

 galaConservancy's Corinthian Yacht Club Event: Press and Photos!

Dancing at the SSUSC Gala

Dancing at the SS United States Conservancy's summer gala (photo credit Kyle Ober)  


On June 24, 2011, the SS United States Conservancy hosted a gala that took 150 Conservancy patrons and friends back to a special era in time.  "Relive an Evening Aboard the SS United States" was held at the Corinthian Yacht Club just outside of Philadelphia.  The honorary gala co-chairs were philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest and former NFL coach Richard Albert "Dick" Vermeil.  Alix Jacobs, the event planner, paid careful attention to capturing the spirit of the early 1950s: the food was from the ship's first class menu (and included such delicacies as Lobster Newberg), the dress was black tie/1950s festive, and the Albert Oehrle Orchestra played music that would have outdone the great Meyer Davis himself.  After dinner, the dance floor was packed with couples partying like it was July 7, 1952.  The color guard was provided by the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, founded in 1774 and the oldest military unit of its kind in America.  Guests were greeted by cadets from Valley Forge Military Academy.

Live and silent auction items were donated by top-notch partners such as Philadelphia Distilling, Brooks Brothers, The Curtis Institute of Music, Atlantic Logistics, and Luxury Liner Row.  Wine and beer were donated by Barrel Oak Winery and Narragansett Beer.   Barrel Oak Winery will be offering two new labels of wine for sale that will benefit the SS United States Conservancy: "Big U Red" and "Hales Trophy White."


The Steamship Historical Society of America presented the Conservancy with a plaque naming the SS United States as their "Ship of the Year."

Among the guests that evening was Jim Green, who had served as a deck steward on the maiden voyage.  He was recipient, along with Carl Wesch and Mario Alvarez-Garcillan, of the Conservancy's Blue Riband Award. According to his daughter Heidi McKenzie, Green was moved by the entire evening, and wished that he could board the ship one last time.  Wesch, and Alvarez-Garcillian, who traveled to the event all the way from Madrid, Spain, have been tireless champions of the SS United States and the Conservancy's outreach efforts.

The profit netted by the gala will be used fund a comprehensive historic preservation and museum plan for the ship.  The Conservancy is now planning similar fundraising events in New York City and Washington, D.C.  this fall to further our legacy and outreach development goals.

To see photographs of that fun and memorable evening at the Corinthian Yacht Club, please visit the following sites:


 "Social Circuit," The Philadelphia Inquirer, (See photos numbered 18 through 28): 


Susan Scovill on the Main Line: 


Greg Shutters' album on the Conservancy's Facebook page: 

More pictures will appear in Philadelphia Magazine in the coming weeks.


Kudos to the Gala Committee that supervised the production of this event with such energy, enthusiasm, and attention to detail: 


 Honorary Gala Co-Chairs

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest

Richard Albert "Dick" Vermeil


 Gala Co-Chairs

Steven B. Ujifusa

Richard L. Walkup, Jr.


Gala Committee

Andrew C. Colket  

Robert Foley and Mary Payne

Arlene Ingram

Alix Rockwell Jacobs

Jacqueline Lewis

Nicholas Manzi

Barbara Oehrle

John Reynolds

Jonathan and Bobbie Turner

Hon. Thomas and Penelope Watkins


The Conservancy would like to especially thank Wilmington Trust, the event's lead sponsor and one of the largest financial institutions in the Middle Atlantic region, for making this special evening possible.   We would also like to thank our 150 patrons, board members, and friends who attended the gala.


The spirit of the great ship lives on in the people whose lives she touched, and we are eager to share that spirt and her story with countless others in the coming months.   

   currentsSS United States Conservancy Profiled in Currents Cover Story 

Currents Magazine


The SS United States was the subject of Currents magazine's cover story in their June 2011 issue. The article, written by Conservancy President Susan Gibbs, outlines the ship's colorful history as well as the Conservancy's efforts to save her. Currents is the official magazine of the American Steamship Owners Mutual Protection and Indemnity Association. 

  thebigshipBraynard's The Big Ship Now Avaialable from Turner Publishing 

The Big Ship

In THE BIG SHIP: The Story of the S.S. United States by legendary maritime historian Frank O. Braynard is now available!  The classic text reveals the fascinating behind-the-scenes story of the design, construction and career of the SS United States


Now residing in a dry dock in Philadelphia, the "Big U" was once the most glamorous ship in the world. Dignitaries, politicians, and celebrities such as JFK and Jackie, Grace Kelly, Charlton Heston, Judy Garland, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor regularly graced the decks of the United States. Not only was the SS United States beautiful, she was-and is-an incredible feat of engineering. The ship still holds the North Atlantic westbound speed record.


A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this reissued edition of Braynard's definitive history-which now includes a gorgeous photo insert of the ship's many celebrity passengers-will go to the Conservancy and their efforts to preserve and restore this great ship.


The volume is now available for purchase via Turner Publishing


The Conservancy would like to once again thank Advisory Council member Noelle Hollander for her generous support of this effort! 

luisLuis Fuentes' Love Letter to the Big U 

Luis Feuntes

Luis Fuentes, center, at Conservancy's National Flagship Celebration, July 2010 


 Well Stacked and Still Waiting (A Love Story)

by Luis Alfonso Fuentes


She's been waiting a long time.  Too long.  Her make-up has started to run, and wrinkles have started to replace her once smooth skin.  This lady of majestic beauty now appears gaunt and alone.


As I stood there, having difficulty looking at her, my thoughts went back to the day when we first met.  We were both young.  She a maiden, I just a boy.  But it was love at first sight.


She was beautiful, well-stacked, and just looking good, like any lady should.  I boarded several times that day, until it was finally time to say goodbye and go my way.


I can still hear and see the imaginary sounds and sights of fireworks, bells and whistles, and fog horns in the night.  Or were they?


Knowing I would never see her again, I turned for the last time, but she was gone. 


And now, after all these years, I stand here looking at her, all tattered and torn.


What happened, where did she go? What was her name, what did she do?  My questions were answered when she left me that day in 1952.


All stacked in red, white, and blue, little did I know she would go full steam ahead and make her maiden voyage true...


She was built for pleasure and speed.  Her beauty and performance became stuff that was hard to believe.  Her name was the SS United States.  The fastest ocean liner ever built...


After years in dry dock and not knowing what to do, she was moved to the Delaware River in South Philadelphia and docked at her new resting place at Pier 82.


Yes, her wait has been long, her patience virtuous.  Still well-stacked, her condition functional.  And now, at age 59, the stately lady is seeking new suitors and new ground, that is, if one can be found...


This time things will be different when I board her again, not to deliver tokens of warm wishes as back in 1952, but to set sail with her anew.


I want you to remember, dear lady, that when new partners and mates are eventually found, wherever you go, whatever you do, that I was once yours, and you will be forever be mine. 


Editor's Note: Luis Fuentes worked as a courier for a confectioner located across from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan and delivered a number of bon voyage gifts to passengers on the day of the SS United States' maiden voyage departure.  His essay has been edited slightly due to space constraints.  The Conservancy continues to collect oral histories, photographs, film footage, and testimonials from passengers, crewmembers and others with personal connections to the SS United States.


dc_chapterConservancy's Washington DC Chapter Lanched

 DC Chapter Meeting

One of the working groups that formed during the recent launch of the Conservancy's DC Chapter discusses potential activities and impacts for the organization in Washington.  Visitors attended from as far afield as San Francisco and as near as one of DC's prominent lobbying firms.


The Conservancy inaugurated a chapter in the nation's capital in June by welcoming supporters to a gathering at the Caucus Room, a restaurant near Capitol Hill. Under the guidance of board member Sue Caccavale and the organizing efforts of Conservancy member Seth Levey, the event offered opportunities to plan for significant efforts in support of the ship at the federal level.

 forbesDr. Sarah Forbes, former Windmill Point Owner, Dies

It is with deep sorrow that the Conservancy learned of the passing of Dr. Sarah Forbes, an early supporter of the Conservancy who hosted the organization's inaugural event, the fondly remembered 2004 SS United States passenger and crew reunion, at her Windmill Point Restaurant in Nags Head, North Carolina.  She also conributed an interview to the film, SS United States: Lady in Waiting.  Dr. Forbes' impressive collection of fittings and memorabilia from the Big U included the ship's bell.  She graciously donated the bell to Christopher Newport University and the rest of her collection to the Mariners Museum in Newport News when the restaurant closed.


Her passion and generosity will always be remembered as we keep her and her family and friends in our thoughts and prayers.


You can read her obituary from Hampton Roads, Virginia's WAVY-TV.

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SS United States Conservancy

P.O. Box 32115

Washington, DC 20007



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