My interest in the S.S. United States began a few years back during a visit to Penn’s Landing for Navy Week festivities. The ship’s two rusted stacks rose high above buildings which hid the body of it from view. Aside from the name of the ship, I knew nothing of its past. That and seeing not much more than the large stacks made it a mystery.
Back at home, I took to Google for info on the ship’s history and came across the S.S. United States Conservancy website. As someone who loves historic sites, I was all for efforts to save this classic vessel from becoming a scrap pile.
Wanting to get closer looks at the S.S. United States, I rode past it along S. Columbus Boulevard toward Penn’s Landing after another day in Philly. Time time around, the conservancy’s banner, reading SaveTheUnitedStates.org, was displayed over the bridge windows. Little did I know that one day, there would be the opportunity to board the ship for a photo tour.
I found out about doing so through the conservancy’s e-newsletter; the photo tour would be a small, private event for conservancy members. So I paid the fee for attending, as well as a separate amount for membership and waited to find out if I made it into the group of eight for the Dec. 14 excursion. Once that good news arrived via email, I grew curious as to what would be seen onboard.
The chilly day of the photo tour arrived with a forecast of snow on the way and the group met across the highway in the Champps parking lot. Moments later, we carpooled over to the dock and prior to boarding, read and signed paperwork regarding safety.
Boarding time. In single file, we stepped onto the S.S. United States and into an area of construction work. A forklift passed one way in front of us and then back again before we could continue on. I wish I had taken a photo of what came next, a narrow winding staircase. But I thought I should pack my camera gear away to allow for two free hands while climbing upward. A small landing followed and then it was up another staircase, this one being very steep and narrow, like a steel ladder, but not free-standing. After a cautious ascent, we were brought to the first onboard spot in which cameras were readied for capturing interior images of the ship.
Looking in either direction, it would be a good bit of walking toward the bow and stern from where we stood. As the tour moved on, we entered an area with a bar of curvy design and faded, worn color.
Shortly after, we came to the promenade. To me, this was one particular view that was like a step back in time. It wasn’t hard to imagine passengers walking here as the ship crossed the Atlantic.
When we began to make our way out toward the bow, I saw this intriguing old picture frame.
Someone asked if we could go up beyond this point and, allowed to do so, a few of us ventured on. In the background, there is the hatch-like doorway I ducked down for to get through along the way.
Taking a look back at the bridge and stacks gave way to another favorite view of the S.S. United States.
The group climbed upward again to explore the bridge; just below on the outside was this sign with the name of the ship’s architect. By the time I learned of the photo tour, I had finished reading Frank O. Braynard’s book, “The Big Ship.” It’s a great read for anyone who wants to learn of the work that went into building the S.S. United States, as well as its time in operation.
Following some photography in the bridge, we slowly made our way toward the stern over ice and snowfall on the deck. Seeing the stacks up close, they were even more impressive in size and I remembered some detail about their design in Braynard’s book as I snapped a few photos of them.
Another great spot was this theater. It was fairly dark and I wasn’t sure if I’d get a decent photo. But the light shining in from the opposite doorway helped. The view of the stage inspired a sense of the entertainment enjoyed by long-ago passengers.
Two more favorite views were of one of large propellers and looking back into the promenade. Our tour almost over, we began to retrace steps downward to exit the ship. We had a few moments afterward during which to take close-up photos of the rusting exterior. Check out more of my photos on Flickr.
The opportunity to tour the ship really gave an extra insight into how much help is needed for its preservation. I hope to board the S.S. United States sometime again in the future and that it will one day be restored into a museum. It is a maritime wonder worth saving.