Campaign launches to turn S. Philly’s SS United States ocean liner into a museum

Did you know the SS United States – that hulking ocean liner that’s been docked in a state of disrepair at Pier 82 in South Philadelphia for over 15 years – was the product of a secret Cold War program to build the country’s fastest ship?

The vessel was designed so it could be quickly transitioned from a luxury passenger vessel for celebrities and dignitaries to a “massive, high-speed troop carrier,” according to the SS United States Conservancy.

The Conservancy, which last year bought the historic ship, is hoping to publicize such historical nuggets with the launch of a campaign honoring the 60th anniversary of its maiden voyage, which shattered transatlantic crossing speeds and still holds the record for the fastest passage.

“The ‘Save the United States Campaign’ is as an exciting and inspiring project the entire nation can rally around,” executive director Susan Gibbs said in a statement. “…This campaign will allow people from the world over the chance to connect with the vessel online and participate in the ship’s restoration in a very personal way.”

The web platform, designed by Social Control in Los Angeles, allows visitors to take a virtual tour of the ship and click on different areas for historical facts about its passengers and crew.

“One of the many passenger entertainments aboard the SS United States
were the horse races in the First Class Lounge. … A canvas track was
laid out on the carpet and six wooden horses were lined up at the
starting gate. The ship’s purser, conducting the races, would roll a die
to determine

how much each horse advanced – and the first toy horse over the line won,” reads one tidbit.

Supporters can “save” the ship piece by piece at a cost of a $1 per square inch and add to its story by uploading their own anecdotes and tributes.

“He always told the story of one of his favorite couples who once sailed on the Sea Echo – the Duke and Duchess of Windsor,” donor Bill Magee posted about his grandfather, a former captain. “The Duke called him ‘Captain James.’ In 1944, the Duke and Duchess would have sailed to the United States on the Queen Mary. But later, in the 1950s and 1960s, their ocean liner of choice was the SS United States. Their suite of choice was ‘The Duck Suite.'”

Donors can also contribute $2 for a “passport photo,” $3 to post a tribute message on a section of the ship, $5 to upload a scrapbook photo, $10 to add to the ship’s log entry, $20 to “paint” part of the vessel, $30 to add a web link and $50 for a “wayfinder badge.”

“We’re creating a new online community of people who care about this great ship and who are eager to celebrate our common history,” Gibbs said. “The platform makes participating in the campaign fun and exciting while being accessible to all ages and income levels.”

Funds raised by the campaign will go toward transforming the SS United States into a “self-sustaining stationary waterfront destination” with a rehabbed exterior, a 20,000 square-foot museum and a Center for American Design and Discovery that will explore themes of history, science, technology and innovation.

The SS United States is what the Conservancy calls “one of the nation’s crowning technological achievements.” Made in America, it remains the largest passenger ship constructed entirely in its home nation.

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