With transatlantic crossings in less than three and a half days, the incomparable SS United States was the Concorde of its time. It was also the largest passenger liner built in the United States; it had central air, state-of-the-art fireproofing, a battleship’s horsepower, and the handsome mid-century lines that made spectators gasp as it entered port—it was in a word…spectacular — a true symbol of made-in-America when that really meant something.
As you know, we here at WIJW aren’t into small fantasies—in fact we think the bigger the dream the better, so we were particularly impressed that the ship’s architect, William Francis Gibbs, as a child of eight, already had wild fantasies of building such a ship! Turns out those fantasies were not so wild!
From the 1950’s right into the 1960’s the SS United States was the way to cross the Atlantic in style. Take for instance, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s preferred “Duck Suite.” Named for its lovely gilt Constance Smith murals (of ducks, as one might surmise), it was one of fourteen luxury suits onboard, and consisted of a large living room, two bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a trunk room (to accommodate the 80 odd pieces of luggage they were known to bring).
Needless to say the first class dining was made to match, serving great torrents of champagne, mountains of Beluga, Lobster Newburg, Dover Sole and perhaps Baked Alaska for dessert. Oh, and there was even a more exclusive dining (VIP) area reserved for the most important passengers like our Duke and Duchess, or, say, Cary Grant.
Would that the glamour and elegance of this fabulous era could have continued, but sadly, due to the advent of air travel and increased operating costs, the SS United States made her last voyage in November 1969. Much befell the grand old ship between now and then, but to make a long story short, the SS United States, once the pride of America, now rests as a faded relic at a Philadelphia pier awaiting her fate. It is quite hard to accept that this spectacular icon of American style has been stripped to its shell. But all is not lost. Remarkably the SS United States has heretofore escaped the fate of so many of the grand dames of the ocean liner era, and now her stay from the breakers yard can be credited to the noble SS United States Conservancy. Their multi-part mission on behalf of this historic vessel, is to establish a public/private partnership in order to refurbish and repurpose the ship as a waterfront attraction and to conduct educational and advocacy programs.
Scott McBee and I recently had the great pleasure of touring this legendary liner. It was fascinating to see the space where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor once stayed, as well as the first class dining room, private dining room, ballroom, theatre, and Navajo Room bar. Although she has utterly been stripped of her former glory one gets the sense that so much of this could be restored, and there are indeed handfuls of collectors ready to come forward and donate items they have acquired from the SS United States. How amazing would it be to see the SS United States docked at her old home, New York City, looking as she once did!
McBee and I are so fired up to see this happen, that we are reaching out to our global audience for your help to save the SS United States! The Conservancy has made it quite easy for everyone to help. A digital model of the ship has been created, and donors can purchase sections to restore for only one dollar per square inch—a very grass roots movement, saving the SS United States inch by inch!
McBee will be donating two of his large-scale paintings, the SS United States and her sister ship, SS America, to be auctioned at an upcoming event to help raise funds for the SS United States Conservancy. As for me, I think I may have to buy a piece of the Duke and Duchess’ “Duck Suite!” Why not write to tell us that you’ve bought a piece as well – at a minimum donation of only a single dollar, there is little excuse not to be a part of this truly wonderful undertaking!
For our tour, I’m sporting a Tom Ford era Gucci navy velvet jacket, Dolce & Gabbana cerulean blue cashmere turtleneck sweater, J Brand – Kane jean, Charvet Paris navy and royal blue silk pocket square, Lanvin cerulean blue suede sneakers, vintage Rolex watch, Tom Ford “Marco” sunglasses and for my fragrance, celebrating the Duke of Windsor: Creed Windsor.