Facing the Breakers’ Torch
Around the world, nations have chosen to preserve artifacts of significant historical meaning to their heritage. America is no different. There are museums of every kind in every state of our union. This comes as no surprise to me, because I understand the importance of learning about important people, places and events from our past. I believe that to truly understand ourselves and the direction human beings are headed for in the future, we must learn about our past. However, it seems that this is not important to very many other Americans. We seem to be living in a time of indifference.
Anyone who really knows me personally knows that I am a vocal advocate for the preservation of our nation’s flagship, the S.S. United States. They understand my obsession with ocean liners and maritime history, and how this obsession arose. They most likely tire of hearing me go on and on about the fastest ocean liner ever built, and roll their eyes when they see me post links pictures and videos. What I really want to convey to everyone is why I am championing the preservation of a specific group of ships that are in danger of becoming the next victims of the beaches of ship breakers.
Why should we care? What real good can come from restoring a bunch of old rusty boats? If people understood the real purpose that these vessels were built to perform and the world-changing events that they participated in, I don’t believe they would question their importance.
With the establishment of 13 British colonies along the North American seaboard, the need for transatlantic sea travel was also established. After the Industrial Revolution and the advent of steam engine technology, a period of immigration ensued. The ships built to cross the ocean between Europe and this growing nation began to get larger and more grand. They also got faster. The North Atlantic is one of the most violent oceans in the world. Travel between continents was dangerous and required the evolution of a type of ship we now know as an ocean liner. These ships had to be strong and swift. With each innovation came more and more immigrants. Even after the gradual end of the immigration period, the only way to cross an ocean was by ship. A transatlantic crossing was an event for the passengers. In the 1950s, the ocean liner everyone wanted to be seen on was the S.S. United States. She was not the biggest, but she was bigger than Titanic. She was very modern. Her interiors were fashionable. She carried movie stars, American Presidents, Princes, and even the world-famous painting Mona Lisa. She was safe and she was the fastest transatlantic passenger ship ever built. She was named for the nation that grew to adore her. The S.S. United States was designed by William Francis Gibbs using military technology. Her underwater and engine configurations were held top-secret for decades. She was a Cold War weapon disguised as a luxury ocean liner. The S.S. United States fell victim of the speed of the jet airliner and was retired from service in 1969. Since then, her future has been uncertain. Several attempts to refit her and return her to service failed and she has been sitting abandoned in Philadelphia, PA on the Delaware River since 1996. A non-profit group known as the SS United States Conservancy has been rallying to purchase our national flagship before she is sent to the scrapyard beaches. This crowning achievement of passenger liner technology must not be allowed to be destroyed. For more information about how to help save the S.S. United States, please click HERE.
Every seafaring nation on planet Earth has built vessels for war, since ancient times. Many of these nations, including our own, have realized the importance of preserving these ships after they have become obsolete. These warships become floating museums open for public viewing. I have personally toured the WWII battleship U.S.S. Alabama and the submarine U.S.S. Drum. The U.S.S. Olympia is currently located on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as part of the Independence Seaport Museum at Penn’s Landing. This historic cruiser was launched in 1892. She had no sister ships, so she was unique from the very beginning. She is the sole surviving ship from the Spanish-American War and the oldest surviving steel warship in the world. She is not just an American treasure, she is a world treasure. U.S.S. Olympia was Admiral Dewey’s flagship in the Battle of Manila Bay which marked the U.S. becoming a major naval military world power. This alone should mark the U.S.S. Olympia a treasure. Indeed, we have showered this floating history book with honors. She is designated a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. She is also on the National Register of Historic Places and part of the Save America’s Treasures program. So why has this ship that has changed the way the world looks at our country in danger of being destroyed? Recession. Money. Lack of maintenance funds. She has not been out of the water in almost 70 years, and her structural integrity has been compromised by decay. If the money is not raised to repair this damage, she will eventually sink right where she sits. The museum may be forced to sell her to the scrappers if they cannot raise the money needed for her drydocking. The US Navy has turned their backs on her. We as American citizens should not do the same. For more information about how to help save the U.S.S. Olympia, please click HERE.
The American river steamboat evolved out of necessity. With the advent of steam engine technology and the discovery of gold in California in the mid-1800s, a way needed to be established to transport goods and people along the river highways. During this same time, the steamboat was introduced along the mighty Mississippi and Ohio rivers in the American South and Midwest. Mark Twain wrote about them. Children rushed out of their homes to see the riverboats make their way up and down the waterways. These steamboats made the building of river towns possible, and America grew by leaps and bounds. Towns such as Baton Rouge, Memphis, St. Louis and New Orleans were founded as a result of these riverboats. Today, there are a handful of classic riverboats still operating as tourist attractions, but with the passing of new SOLAS regulations, many had to be retired and re-purposed. The oldest fully-operational overnight antique riverboat is currently moored alongside Coolidge Park on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, TN. She was forced from service in 2008 by the new SOLAS laws and has been docked as a boutique hotel. Here, the curious can tour her public areas and take in her history. Chattanooga has grown to love her, but she is in danger of falling victim to the scrappers’ torch herself. Her name is Delta Queen. She has served in wartime as a hospital and troop transport. She carried the dignitaries that eventually founded the United Nations. She was even towed out to the open ocean when she traveled through the Panama Canal to her new home in the South. She survived for decades through congressional pardons and has become a legend along the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers. As Delta Queen is only on lease from her Ohio based owners, she has been put up for sale. Chattanoogans have rallied around Delta Queen in an attempt to purchase her. So far, they have been unsuccessful. Hopefully there will be good news in the months to come. For information on how to help us save the Delta Queen, please click HERE.
As 2010 comes to a close, we cannot deny that this new year will be vitally important in the quest to save our national maritime treasures. The world recession has taken its toll on charity organizations and citizens are now more concerned with their own plights. Few people can afford to donate time or money to the preservation of history. However, if one million people simply donated ten dollars to each of these causes, I believe we can save these vessels from destruction. Just as pennies from children saved the U.S.S. Constitution from destruction, a few dollars from concerned Americans can breathe new life into these endangered feats of naval architecture. Spread the word of awareness. The safety of our national treasures depends on it.