Joseph Herrin (10-07-2015)
A brother in Christ (thank you Roger) alerted me to a recent news article about the SS United States, the once proud ocean liner that bears the name of the nation which boasts of being the world’s only remaining superpower. I have on a number of occasions written articles about this ship, for her history and current status serve as a remarkable parable of the nation whose name she bears. Following are a few excerpts from past articles.
Mayday! (Written May 1, 2013)
The SS United States is viewed by many as America’s flagship. This once grand ocean liner was built in 1952 at a princely sum for the period of $78 million dollars. In many ways this ship serves as a type, or symbol, of the nation whose name she bears.
The SS United States is 990 feet in length. For comparison, the HMS Titanic was 882 feet in length. One of the design goals of the shipbuilders was to make the SS United States fast. The Blue Riband is a maritime trophy awarded to the passenger liner with the fastest Atlantic crossing time. Of the 35 Atlantic liners to hold the Blue Riband, 25 of them have been British, and 5 German. The United States had only held the trophy twice prior to 1952 when the SS United States was built. Since the late 1930s the Atlantic crossing record was held by Great Britain’s HMS Queen Mary. In a parallel to Britain’s waning power, and America’s ascendancy, the SS United States smashed the record set by the Queen Mary, making the crossing from New York to England, while slicing more than ten hours off of the previous record…
By utilizing this lighter weight metal, many tons of weight were removed from the ship, allowing it to ride higher in the water and attain a greater speed. The ship also utilized the most powerful steam turbines to be found in any merchant marine vessel. She had four turbines that produced a combined 240,000 SHP (Shaft Horse Power). This gave the ship the greatest power to weight ratio of any passenger ship before, or since, her construction.
There is much in these details that parallel aspects of America as a nation. America is a superpower. The United States has ridden higher than any other nation on earth. She has used technological innovation to advance far beyond the scope of other nations. Even as America has remained ascendant over the nations since World War II, so too has the Blue Riband trophy remained with the SS United States. No other Atlantic liner has ever broken her crossing record…
SS United States – Former Glory
The U.S. government underwrote $50 million of the $78 million cost of construction for this ship, reserving the right to commandeer the ship in a time of war. In its heyday the ship transported the rich and famous. President John F. Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Salvador Dali, Prince Ranier of Monaco, and many others crossed the Atlantic on this vessel. Yet, its design was such that in a single day it could be converted from its normal passenger capacity of 2,000 to military use to transport 14,000 servicemen at a time.
The United States in the 20th century has been renowned the world over for her prosperity. She has been known as the land of opportunity where a man could change his fortunes quickly, arising from poverty and obscurity to fortune and fame at record speed. America has been viewed as the land where a Horatio Alger story could come true. At the same time, she has become famous for her ability to quickly transform into a military might whose power was awesome to behold…
Wikipedia provides the following information on the ship.
By the late 1960s, the market for Transatlantic travel by ship had dwindled. Queen Mary had been retired in 1967 and Queen Elizabeth in 1968. United States was no longer profitable. While United States was at Newport News for annual overhaul in 1969, the shipping line decided to withdraw her from service, docking the ship there. After a few years, the ship was relocated to Norfolk, Virginia. Subsequently, ownership passed between several companies. In 1978, the vessel was sold to private interests who hoped to revitalize the liner in a time share cruise ship format. Financing failed and the ship was put up for auction by MARAD. In 1979, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) was reportedly interested in purchasing the ship and converting her into a cruise ship for the Caribbean, but decided on purchasing the former SS France instead. During the 1980s, United States was considered by the US Navy as a troop ship or a hospital ship, to be called the USS United States, but this plan never materialized.
In 1984, the ship’s remaining fittings and furniture were sold at auction in Norfolk. Some of the furniture was installed in Windmill Point, a restaurant in Nags Head, North Carolina. Following the closure of the restaurant in 2007, the items were donated to the Mariners’ Museum and to Christopher Newport University, both in Newport News, Virginia. One of the ship’s propellers is mounted at the entrance to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City. Another propeller is mounted on a platform near the waterfront at SUNY Maritime College at Fort Schuyler, New York. Across the Long Island Sound from SUNY Maritime College, a third propeller is mounted at the United States Merchant Marine Academy and is used as a teaching aid for merchant mariners. The fourth propeller is mounted at the entrance of the Newport News Mariner’s Museum. In 1992, a new consortium of owners purchased the vessel and had her towed to Turkey and then Ukraine, where she underwent asbestos removal in 1994. The interior of the ship was almost completely stripped during this time. No viable agreements were reached in the US for a reworking of the vessel, and in 1996 United States was towed to her current location at Pier 84 in South Philadelphia.
Interior Decay of Ship
What a parallel we see in the stripping and gutting of this ship in recent decades. Even as America has shipped her once vaunted manufacturing industry overseas, so too did the SS United States have her massive engine and propellers removed. Even as the world’s greatest creditor nation has become history’s greatest debtor nation, so too do we see the stripping of all the signs of wealth and opulence from this once glorious ship. A ship that once possessed the world speed record had to be towed like a derelict barge to her present berth in Philadelphia where she has languished, rusting away, and falling into a further state of decline.
Corridor Inside the SS United States
It seems part of the parable that this ship, bearing the name of the nation that was born in Philadelphia, should come to rest there. Philadelphia is itself a city in decline. Poverty and crime are rampant. The city’s infrastructure is falling into decay. A recent article online bears the following headline:
Philadelphia, 5th Largest City in US is Effectively Bankrupt; Mayor Holds Closed Meeting With Wall Street to Discuss Asset Sales
[End of Article]
Even as the city of Philadelphia, the location of the birth of the United States where her seminal documents were written, has been selling off assets to stay afloat, so too has the SS United States been gutted of everything of value. She has been stripped bear, and her external visage belies a far worse internal state of affairs. For years now, a conservancy has struggled to keep the SS United States from experiencing the fate of many a once proud ship, being sold for scrap.
A year ago this week I posted another article that made reference to the SS United States.
Late Bloomers and the Fall of America
The ship SS United States, which has been berthed in Philadelphia along the waterfront for the past 18 years (6+6+6) has reached a critical state. The Conservancy which has been seeking to find someone to restore the ship to its past glory are facing the prospect of having to sell her for scrap. The news article I read was based on a release posted to the website of the SS United States Conservancy that was dated September 24, 2014. It reads as follows.
SEPTEMBER 24 – MEDIA ADVISORY: SHORT ON TIME, FAMED SS UNITED STATES MAKES FINAL PUSH TO RETURN HOME TO NEW YORK
• Without Additional Charitable Support or Development Deal, A Decision To Scrap or Sell the Historic Vessel Must be Made at End of Month
• As Discussions with Developers andCity and State Officials Continue Conservancy Urgently Needs Additional Support
• 650,000 sq ft Mixed-Use Development and Museum Complex Would Create 2000 Jobs, Revitalize Manhattan or Brooklyn Waterfront
NEW YORK, NY — Time is nearly up to save America’s Flagship. With 2,000 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity hanging in the balance, America’s Flagship, the SS United States, is making her final push to return home to New York in time to avoid being sold for scrap. The SS United States Conservancy, the non-profit organization that owns the legendary 990-foot-long liner, has announced it will need to make a determination about the ship’s future by the end of this month unless resources are found in short order to help cover the vessel’s ongoing maintenance costs…
“We need someone with vision to step in and save the United States…”
The ship has faced its end several times before. Most recently in 2011, the SS United States was just days away from being scrapped when a major gift to the Conservancy helped the grassroots organization purchase the vessel. Gibbs and her team are working overtime to generate another 11th-hour save.
The ship languished for years, and eventually began the process of being stripped. It was sent to Ukraine for asbestos removal, and at other locations it had all of its furnishings removed, as well as its huge turbine engines and its four massive propellers. The conservancy sold one of the propellers made of 61,000 pounds of expensive manganese-bronze to help pay her monthly fees.
Today the ship appears as a rusting hulk along the Philadelphia waterfront. It is a fitting parable of the moral, financial, political, and social condition of the nation whose government began in this same city.
SS United States
You may ask, “What was the verdict regarding the ship, since September 30th has now come and gone?” The conservancy posted the following E-mail Update.
September 30th Ship Status and Steps Away From a Key Goal
As previously reported, today was a key deadline for the SS United States. While negotiations are ongoing, we can report that today’s developments were encouraging, and we’ll be releasing further information in the days to come.
The Conservancy remains cautiously optimistic about the ship’s prospects as we head into October. Needless to say, we thank everyone for your patience and ongoing support while we continue to work through details.
Brothers and sisters, I believe what certain members of this Conservancy describe as cautious optimism is in fact nothing more than delusional hope. It is estimated by the Conservancy that it will take upwards of $300 million dollars to renovate the ship and convert it to usage as a museum/entertainment/restaurant/retail complex which they envision being located along the New York City waterfront. One article on the subject quoted a number of nay-sayers who are declaring that the Conservancy’s mission is doomed to fail.
“I think the conservancy has had its shot,” said Irvin Richter, founder, chairman, and chief executive of Hill International, a global construction-consulting firm based in Marlton. “They haven’t done anything with it…”
It seemed destined for scrap when its owner, Norwegian Cruise Line, offered it for sale in 2009. The conservancy was offered the first chance to buy but lacked the money.
The next year, a savior emerged: Philadelphia philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, now owner and publisher of The Inquirer, said he would donate up to $5.8 million to save the ship. The money allowed the conservancy to buy the vessel and keep it docked near Columbus Boulevard while redevelopment plans went forward.
Few doubt the conservancy has worked zealously – staging exhibits about the ship, publicizing its history, and raising money – or that those efforts might be for naught.
“I think they’ve done the best they can,” Lenfest said. “It’s a monumental task to raise that money to restore the vessel. They’ve tried with integrity, and they’ve tried very hard.”
He said he did not plan to put more money into the project.
The conservancy said that it had considered sites in Philadelphia, Chester, Miami, Baltimore, and Boston, but that New York offered the best option for rebirth.
Henwood rejected that argument.
“It’s not going to New York. It’s not going to happen,” said the head of Binnacle Group L.L.C. in Media. “New York is the most expensive, risky place in the world to do business.”
The language of these various articles lends itself readily to interpretation as a parable. There is great symbolism in speaking of the “rebirth” of the United States, and the statement “We need someone with vision to step in and save the United States.” Yet, even if a “savior” with “vision” does appear, the SS United States will not return to its former function or glory. It will be completely re-purposed. So too will America never return to her previous form of government, or once more be a nation that provided so much opportunity for men and women to strive for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” America’s future is both draconian and dystopian.
When I read the news article about this “deadline” for saving the SS United States I perceived that even now America is being weighed in the balance. Her fate is being discussed.
[End of Article Excerpts]
This article above which I posted a year ago segues perfectly into a phrase that has been on my heart. The statement “America is being weighed in the balance” contains a Biblical reference to the fall of Babylon to the Medo-Persian Empire. In one night, the great city of Babylon was breached. An enemy army entered the city and the ruling king Belshazzar, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, was slain. This pagan king had insulted the God of Israel by taking the holy vessels from the Temple of Solomon and using them to serve wine to his dinner guests. That night a hand appeared without a body, writing a message on the wall where all the dinner guests had gathered. The message said that Babylon and her king had been weighed in the balance and were found wanting.
An unusual “coincidence” is observed in the fact that what is sure to be the next blockbuster James Bond movie is to be released on November 6th, one month from now. The lead actor’s first name in the James Bond movie is Daniel Craig. Daniel, the same name as the prophet of Israel whose book provides the history of the fall of Babylon. The coincidences do not end there, however. The theme song for this installment of the James Bond franchise is titled Writing’s On the Wall.
The song contains the following lyrics.
I’m prepared for this
I never shoot to miss
But I feel like a storm is coming
If I’m gonna make it through the day
Then there’s no more use in running
This is something I gotta face
A million shards of glass
That haunt me from my past
As the stars begin to gather
And the light begins to fade
When all hope begins to shatter
Know that I won’t be afraid
How do I live? How do I breathe?
When you’re not here I’m suffocating
I want to feel love, run through my blood
Tell me is this where I give it all up?
How do I live? How do I breathe?
When you’re not here I’m suffocating
I want to feel love, run through my blood
Tell me is this where I give it all up?
For you I have to risk it all
Cause the writing’s on the wall.
The song speaks of a storm coming. It is something that is unavoidable, so the speaker concludes there is no more running. He must face what is coming. He says, “When all hope begins to shatter, know that I won’t be afraid.” The song speaks of a time of hopelessness coming. As with Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, the writing is on the wall. The coming events are foretold and they are inevitable. Belshazzar, however, was far from fearless.
Then the king’s face grew pale, and his thoughts alarmed him; and his hip joints went slack, and his knees began knocking together.
The name of the movie is Spectre. The definition for the word “spectre” (American spelling is “specter”) is: something widely feared as a possible unpleasant or dangerous occurrence.
How does this tie in to the SS United States? Recent articles in the major media, and posts to the Conservancy’s website, have spoken of dire times for the SS United States.
The New York Times
October 7, 2015
Friends of the S.S. United States Send Out a Last S.O.S.
A Titanic-sized supership that once ferried presidents, Hollywood royalty, actual royalty and even the Mona Lisa has a place in the history books as the fastest oceanliner in the world. The owners are now racing to avoid having the ship, the S.S. United States, relegated to the junk heap.
A preservationist group, the S.S. United States Conservancy, saved the vessel from being scrapped a few years ago. Its members are working with a developer to give the mothballed vessel a new life as a stationary waterfront real-estate development in New York City, the ship’s home port in her heyday.
Their big dreams, however, now face a financial crisis: Short of money, the conservancy in recent days formally authorized a ship broker to explore the potential sale to a recycler. In other words, the preservationists might have to scrap their vessel.
It came down to hard numbers. The preservationists have struggled for years to raise the $60,000 a month it costs to dock and maintain the ship, known as the Big U, which is longer than three football fields and once sailed the Atlantic with three orchestras on board. A developer only recently started shaping plans to fill the ship with tenants, an undertaking of the kind that can stretch for years even when it is not this unusual….
The conservancy continues to seek out donors, investors or a buyer to preserve the ship and press forward with development. But unless something happens by Oct. 31, the group said in a statement, “We will have no choice but to negotiate the sale of the ship to a responsible recycler.”
The decision to seek bids from scrappers was “excruciating,” said Ms. Gibbs, particularly since the development plan emerged in the last year. “We’ve never been closer to saving the S.S. United States, and we’ve never been closer to losing her,” she said.
In recent days, as the board considered its dwindling finances, Hurricane Joaquin was threatening the East Coast, forcing the conservancy to take precautions to make sure their ship stayed safe. “A hurricane struck me as a perfect metaphor for what we were confronting,” Ms. Gibbs said.
October 7, 2015
S.S. United States – Docked In Philly — May Be Headed To Scrapheap
The group working to save the ocean liner — the S.S. United States — says without a buyer or development plan by the end of the month, it will have no choice but to sell the ship for scrap.
The S.S. United States Conservancy says it costs $60,000 a month to maintain the rusting hulk docked along Columbus Boulevard across from Ikea in South Philadelphia. Conservancy spokesman Tom Basile says the cash is running out:
“The financial burden of having to pay the $60,000 has just become unsustainable for the conservancy.”
The board, in a statement, says without a buyer or an infusion of cash by October 31, it will have no option but to sell the onetime world’s fastest ocean liner to a recycling firm.
Basile says talks continue to relocate the United States to one of two possible New York locations:
“Despite the progress on redevelopment negotiation, the timing of that additional financial support from our partners just may come too late.”
The Conservancy has scheduled an October 29th fundraiser at the Union League, in a last-ditch effort to keep its dream afloat.
It is not difficult to discern a parable in these events. The words spoken about this great ship could equally be spoken of the nation that bears the same name. “A last-ditch effort to keep (the American) dream afloat.” “Their big dreams… now face a financial crisis.” “The financial burden… has just become unsustainable.” “We’ve never been closer to losing her (the United States).”“A hurricane struck me as a perfect metaphor for what we were confronting.”
Are these words mere hyperbole to encourage increased charitable giving at the upcoming fund-raising gala scheduled for the 29th of this month? No doubt there is an element of calculation in these articles being released at this time. Yet there is a definite progression of the urgency of the situation year over year. Never before have the leaders of the Conservancy voted to begin taking bids from recyclers to scrap the great ship. Such actions are not taken lightly, for it is costly to work up bids on such a large project as scrapping the SS United States. It would be fraudulent to solicit bids merely as a public relations’ ploy. There is a seriousness to what is being reported.
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