Her coat is worn and faded. Her skin is chapped and raw. She has clearly been out in the elements for far too long, with little or no attention paid to her. She looks forlorn and lonely.
|Photo courtesy of Greg Shutters
In fact, it is amazing she’s still around at all.
But if you look closer, underneath that tattered coat and weathered skin, you see something far different. You see confidence. You see determination. You see majesty. You see pride. You see hope. And you realize that this lady has the heart of a lion.
This lady is the SS United States, America’s flagship, the largest ocean liner ever built in the United States and our country’s greatest maritime achievement. As you may remember from my column just a little over a year ago, “Lady in Waiting”, this majestic ocean liner is moored in Philadelphia, where she’s been for the last 15 years, awaiting restoration. In this last year, there have been some new developments I’d like to share.
As you may remember, the ship is owned by the SS United States Conservancy, a non-profit group 100% dedicated to her preservation. The ship was taken out of service in 1969 and, after bouncing around the world, has been languishing in Philadelphia for the last 15 years. A number of people and organizations have been tirelessly working to save her, but the Conservancy is the first group dedicated to her preservation to actually own the ship, purchasing her in 2010.
The Conservancy’s objective is to restore the SS United States as a multi-use stationary attraction, possibly in New York or Miami, as of this writing.
The redevelopment process has begun, sort of. Metal that will not be used in the ship’s reconfiguration is being removed for recycling as we speak, prepping her for the start of the true restoration process.
The problem is that a contract for the restoration has not yet been signed. More funds are needed to find a partner and make that a reality.
The Conservancy has been hard at work to raise money and get a redevelopment contract signed. You can read more, and find out how to help, here. There is an initiative in place called the SS United States Redevelopment Project, under the auspices of Atlantic Logistics, an organization that has been taking care of the ship since 2003 and with whom the Conservancy has been working closely to make this happen.
Even though there are some who feel this effort is folly, I beg you to consider how important the ship is to the heritage of the country. She is designated as one of America’s historic places, and is clearly a tribute to American ingenuity and perseverance that cannot be forgotten.
The SS United States is the largest ocean liner ever constructed in the US. She is the fastest ship to ever cross the Atlantic, a record she set on her maiden voyage. And despite being taken out of service in 1969, when the demand for Transatlantic travel by ship had significantly dwindled, her hull and superstructure are surprisingly sound, an attestation of the care and expertise demonstrated by her designers and builders.
And now she sits, rusting, in Philadelphia harbor, awaiting redemption.
As the Conservancy says on their web site, “The tremendous red, white and blue funnels, while somewhat faded, still stand strong and are a testament to the ingenuity, vision, determination and pride that represent the American dream.”
You know I’ve had a love affair with this great ship since I was five, having watched her steam out into the Atlantic on her maiden voyage in 1952. She has the best lines of any ship ever built. To be in her presence is as awe-inspiring as any experience I’ve ever had, even to this day.
|Photo courtesy of Katherine Fairhead and the SSUS Conservancy
So let’s get her a new coat, some revitalizing skin conditioner and fresh make-up. And get her on her way to a new life. Where she can look like her old self again.
I’m convinced. We can save the SS United States.
*H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest is a Philadelphia philanthropist who has donated over $6 million towards the restoration of the SS United States, including $5.8 million that allowed the SS United States Conservancy to purchase the ship and maintain her at her current berth while funds are raised for her redevelopment.