Eyewitness Report: SS UNITED STATES Celebration by Byron Huart

An eyewitness report from the SS United States Conservancy Event, July 1st 2010: National Flagship Celebration from Byron Huart, in his own words.


All photos and video copyright Byron Huart 2010

On the afternoon of July 1st , I had just arrived at a pier off Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing where, at aproximately 3:35pm, I was escorted by security along with other guests of the SS United States Conservancy. I was not able to get aboard for a full tour due to insurance issues and remaining PCBs on board the storied vessel. As I approached America’s most powerful merchant vessel ever built, she was a sight to behold. From the distance behind the gates and barbed wire I could not gauge her true condition.

With my camera snapping away pierside, I had a chance to see her in full detail.  Though her hull is intact and in good condition, her exterior is in evident decay. The funnels are sun-bleached and paint is chipping off her sides and her hull is rusting from many years of neglect. Cobwebs and spiders take residence in her portholes.

I proceeded to her stern, which I had never before seen in person — my gosh it was amazing to see her full profile! Her name was still intact on her stern, yet on the top deck, a guard rail is damaged. Indeed, this full survey of the condition of the ship was very helpful for I got to see how she is in dire need of repairs. One of her caretakers said that the lead paint on her hull needs to be sandblasted and all the remaining traces of PCBs and asbestos from her trip to Turkey need to be removed. The ship is in serious decay, indeed, but even in her decayed state she still looks powerful. When you look up at her mighty bow you can see she still has life in her and a soul waiting to be resurrected and reborn. After my documentation of the stern, I proceeded to the bow where I got many spectacular shots of her bow and full profile.

After 3 1/2 hours alongside the UNITED STATES, I left to attend the festivities across the street at Ikea where many members of the Conservancy dined at an exclusive VIP event while the general public gathered in the parking lot where the band assembled for their show for the night.

Later in the evening, Dan Mc Sweeney and Susan Gibbs made public the extraordinary news of Philadelphia philanthropist H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest, who has pledged up to $5.8 million to the SS United States Conservancy.  These funds will be used to purchase the vessel from its current owner, Norwegian Cruise Line/Genting Hong Kong, and maintain the ship in its current berth for up to 20 months while redevelopment plans are solidified. Amazing news for everyone in the room — it provided us all a huge sigh of relief, for this gesture has given the UNITED STATES a stay of execution. We are one giant step closer to making our dream of preserving her for future generations a reality. The whole room was filled with tears of joy as Mr. Lenfest talked of the plan.  After the speech, the band Jimmy & the Parrots rocked the stage while attendees took to the parking lot and celebrated. Mr. Lenfield was hounded by reporters and attendees alike. It was a beautiful moment as the sun set upon the SS UNITED STATES.

I looked upon the people gathering at the edge of the parking lot waiting to see the ship’s funnels lit. It was beautiful to behold those who had never even heard of the SS UNITED STATES, watch and support our cause. This was a gathering of not just conservancy members and ocean liner buffs but the general public supporting a valiant and just cause and an appreciation for a lost, forgotten piece of American history that was ahead of it’s time. All were united as one. It was one of the biggest gatherings the ship has seen since it’s maiden voyage 58 years ago, and boy did we give her a party!

As the night fell, the UNITED STATES was lit up five minutes after 9pm. When the bridge and then the funnels were illuminated, everyone cheered and many crossed the street to get a closer look. Photographers lined up to get shots of her in her reborn glory as the flag on her mast flew in the wind with pride.

Majestic she was, in the night reborn to her former glory! Even in her current state the UNITED STATES is still beautiful. With her massive twin funnels lit, she could be seen for miles as she graced the Philadelphia nightscape on this 4th of July weekend.

I took as much video footage and photos as I could. Some attendees left and others stayed to watch the screening of “Lady in Waiting” as the celebration closed up. After the event was over, the ship remained lit until 11pm and then went dark.

The end of a beautiful night came. In all, it was a great success. With over 500 people in attendance, it was a hit.

Special thanks to Dan McSweeny & Susan Gibbs for making this report all possible.

Article assembled for Byron by Martin Cox


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