She lives at the edge of a grimy stretch of a city boulevard, overlooking in one direction an Ikea parking lot, and in the other a strip club that promises all nude dancing.
She’s fading and forlorn and old, but if you squint just so in the right light you can imagine how grand the SS United States once was.
Majestic, the fastest liner afloat, when that mattered before Boeing came along with a jet plane that crossed the Atlantic in hours, not days.
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A couple of generations of you might well drive past the rusting hulk docked in the Delaware River, and ask yourself, “What the hell is that?’
Acting on that hunch, we took an informal survey of several 20-somethings we know, and asked each if they knew what that big ship is on Columbus Boulevard, Pier 82.
Offered an explanation, that little focus group pretty much collectively said,“Oh.”
Putting it another way, you would have to be well into your 40s or more to remember the glory days of a ship that is 990 feet long, that hosted the rich and the famous on their way to Europe, that was built to double as a troop ship if needed, and that lives on in the hearts of many as representing the glory days of American power.
That would certainly include Susan Gibbs, who is the executive director of the SS United States Conservancy, an organization that doesn’t want the old lady to die.
Gibbs holds some emotional ties to the United States. She is the granddaughter of the famed William Francis Gibbs, the Philadelphian who was the designer of the big ship.
“From my perspective, certainly this ship symbolizes the post war nation,” Gibbs told Metro. The ship was in service from 1952 to 1969.
“There’s American pride, American symbolism that is kind of an exclamation point after World War II, where this nation had the ability to produce amazing things,” she said.
So far, so good.
But know that the ship has been docked on the Delaware River for 19 years, waiting for somebody to rescue her.
No life preservers are in public sight, though, and there is talk that it could cost some $300 million to turn the ship into – something.
Gibbs says somewhat enigmatically the $300 million could be too high, or too low.
She is also somewhat vague about what the ship could become.
A hotel, maybe, a museum, perhaps, office space is a possibility, hospitality area maybe.
But it won’t be a ship again, in the sense of setting sail upon the oceans, Gibbs said. The cost, she said, would be daunting.
There’s another issue too: where would the great ship live permanently?
New York is an “attractive option,” she said, but it’s not a done deal.
If you’re 20-something you may not miss it.
If you’re older than that, the romance of it all might sing to you.