Powerhouse in Purgatory: SS United States

She was once the pride of a nation. Now a floating behemoth of rusted, crusted metal, the once-grand vessel is moored at a forlorn Philadelphia port  beyond which rests a parking lot for the local IKEA. Many think of her as little more than a faded remnant of a long-dead era  that of the ocean liner. However, she is so much more than "just a ship".

She is the SS United States.

Once the fastest, grandest ocean liner afloat, the Big U, as she was affectionately known, was famous for carrying presidents, celebrities, and artists between continents. However, the age of jet travel spelled doom for her, like most other ocean liners. And so, for decades she has been placed in purgatory.

This ship is appealing and iconic in her stubborn determination to survive. She has been moored for decades at the same grimy Philadelphia dockside, the last remnants of a long-faded age clinging on for hope. Many are drawn to her shape, majesty, and grace that withstands the test of time  even right down to the chipped paint on her iconic funnels. Something about her remaining so visually impressive and imposing despite being coated in rust and grime bears testament to the age of ocean liners itself, and its determination to remain relevant in this digital, fast-paced, espresso-fuelled age. That is the most inspiring thing about her.

Above: Mark Strassmann of CBS News takes you on board the historic SS United States in this CBS Sunday Morning exclusive. Features interviews with Susan Gibbs, granddaughter of the ship's designer, William Francis Gibbs. Filmed in 2013.

In early October 2015, the SS United States Conservancy had the hull examined for how much income it would take in as scrap. If the Conservancy didn't gain enough funding and public interest to save the ship, then she would have been scrapped. Donations poured in during a fierce donation campaign, and over $600,000 was raised to protect the vessel for the foreseeable future. Still, she wasn't out of danger yet. With docking expenses costing $60,000 a month, it wouldn't have been long before the United States was endangered again. On top of this, many felt irked to have to continue shelling out donations when no progress appeared to be made.

Suddenly, there was a ray of hope - albeit in the form of tremendous change that is dividing admirers of the "Big U".

On February 4, 2016, Crystal Cruises and the SS United States Conservancy held an announcement that many never thought would occur. Not only were there plans to save the ship, but intentions to convert the iconic vessel into a modern cruise liner that would pay homage to the golden days of ocean travel. The revealed concept images of the ship showed a completely alien superstructure in place of the original, with only the funnels and hull appearing to be from the original ship. Needless to say, one approaches such plans with excitement, optimism, skepticism and concern at once. With a feasibility study currently being conducted, Crystal is determined to secure the vessel so long as the study concludes it is a viable endeavour. 

Above: The announcement of Crystal Cruises and the SS United States Conservancy's planned restoration of the iconic vessel.

The United States' future will be revealed by the end of 2016 - for better or for worse. Personally, I support rescuing her via the only offered plan at the moment. With the loss of such splendid vessels as the France/NorwayMauretania, Kungsholm and Ile De France, would admirers of the SS United States be comfortable with sending her to the welder's blowtorch? For the record, I respect and fully agree with the fact that the vessel deserves to be wholly restored, but logic must be applied in this instance. Crystal requires a profit - operating the vessel will not cost peanuts. They also require adhering to modern safety regulations, among other things. Sometimes, drastic change is essential to further progress. All things considered, simply cleaning up the vessel and refurbishing it might not be as viable as we wish it were. In turn, this is a bitter pill to swallow, but if we don't, there likely won't be another major company rushing to the aid of the Conservancy. I believe Crystal would benefit from conducting a poll on which aspects of the original superstructure the public would like to preserve in the finalized design. If the company meets those who have fought to save the ship as she is currently halfway in the form of fielding e-mail questionnaires to donors and members, the voices of those who have kept her alive might be heard, their inputs possibly influencing the redesign should the go-ahead be given.

Of course, not everyone has to agree; it would be foolish to assume we all would. But if those who collectively wish to save the United States are given a vote in the planning/redesign process, it would only further preserve the legacy of this majestic vessel. It would be more harmful if no public input was considered.

After all, isn't preserving history the purpose of this entire plan? There's more to this than just profit-seeking; Crystal would build their own modern vessel otherwise, even if it costs a little less to purchase the hull. 

Otherwise, take this tortured lady out and give her a viking funeral. Make it a spectacle and a glorious, solidified goodbye.

Her torture is what tortures us.

Click here to visit the SS United States Conservancy website. Donate today and save a legend.

Click here to join Lovers of the Ocean Liners, the most active group of ocean liner enthusiasts.

Also, consider visiting the website of Crystal Cruises to learn more about their plans.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.