The SS AMERICA Library


Dedicated June 17, 2005

New York Harbor ~ Pier 88

By Bill Lee

The Pride of America is the largest American-flagged cruise ship ever built and has an all-American crew. This cruise ship has a passenger capacity of 2,100 and is lavishly and impeccably decorated throughout in a Best of America theme that highlights and celebrates the richness and diversity of the United States. She was christened on June 17, 2005; the culmination of an extremely patriotic ceremony.

But the REAL highlight of the day came hours earlier. As a part of the celebrations, a private dedication ceremony was held in the SS AMERICA Library; which honors the luxury liner that once was the pride of maritime America - the SS AMERICA.

It all began in May of 2003, when I became aware that NCL-America was going to build a huge new cruise ship. I thought this was an opportunity to share the rich maritime history of the SS AMERICA with future generations.

Trevor Young, NCL's senior director in charge of the Pride of America project, liked the idea and we agreed the ship's library was the ideal location to honor the AMERICA. He introduced me (via email) to the London-based firm responsible for the ship's décor. I provided copies of numerous photos, artwork and some artifacts, which they utilized to fill three display cases.

The displays are arranged in rough chronological order. The nearest cabinet in the following picture covers the 1940's, when AMERICA's peacetime service was interrupted when she went to war as the USS WEST POINT. The second cabinet covers her glory years as a transatlantic luxury liner in the late 40's, the 50's and the early 60's. The cabinet furthest forward illustrates her life as the SS AUSTRALIS, from 1965 until 1977.

With little modesty, I will tell you that the idea of having a formal dedication for the SS AMERICA Library, as well as the program details, were largely my doing. Unable to do it alone, I suggested involving the SS UNITED STATES CONSERVANCY; knowing that NCL-America, the current owners of this famous ship were already working with this unique group on ideas for restoring the Big U to service. This concept was readily accepted by both organizations.

also suggested that Susan Gibbs (granddaughter of the designer of both the AMERICA and the UNITED STATES) do the actual dedication. She, in turn, insisted that I speak to the ship's history, which required condensing over four decades of AMERICA's three separate and distinctly different periods of service into a relatively small, single page for use in the dedication program.

Trevor Young (left) and I met at the dedication, face-to-face for the first time. Afterwards, we posed beneath a replica of the AMERICA's nameboards that was created by Steve Tacey, a former AUSTRALIS passenger, using a piece of teak decking which he salvaged from the shipwreck site.

My comments largely consisted of briefly summarizing the highlights of the ship's service record, with heavy emphasis on AMERICA's wartime service as the USS WEST POINT. I also recalled, to the delight of those in attendance, what was almost certainly AMERICA's most emotional arrival in her peacetime homeport of New York ... almost 60 years ago.

On July 11, 1945, in her WEST POINT warpaint, she steamed past the Statue of Liberty, accompanied by numerous waterborne and airborne escorts. Her signal flags were displayed in 'dress ship' fashion, and her twin, deep throated steam whistles proudly and repeatedly announced her arrival. Her decks were packed with over 7,000 wildly cheering servicemen returning from European battlefields.

She tied up at Pier 88 - in Berth 2; exactly where the Pride of America was berthed on June 17, 2005! Just a

coincidence? Perhaps...

The climax of our ceremonies came when Susan Gibbs spoke briefly and then unveiled the library's stunning centerpiece. This highly accurate model is almost four feet long and depicts how the AMERICA appeared in her post-World War II glory years of transatlantic luxury liner service.

A nearby plaque says it best:

This appropriately quiet and reflective space is dedicated to the memory - not only of the SS AMERICA, the nation's first true transatlantic luxury liner - but also to her skilled shipbuilders and competent crewmembers in both war and peace. Collectively, she - and they - are a big part of Pride of America's heritage.

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