Friday Arts

Art and the SS United States




Produced by Michael O’Reilly

When her father died, Susan Gibbs remembered looking through the years of magazines saved in his garage. Seeing her grandfather on the cover of TIME magazine with a picture of the SS United States naturally made her wonder why. It turns out her grandfather was William Francis Gibbs, the visionary nautical designer who ushered the SS United States into existence, at a time when shipbuilding was like spaceship building. While she is now Executive Director of the SS United States Conservancy (the organization credited with keeping the ship from ending up on the scrap heap), growing up, her father never talked about his father’s connection to the ship. Luisa Meshekoff has much the same story. Her father, Edward, was an artist who worked with the top design firms in New York City but she never knew that he had designed artwork for the vaunted ocean liner until he was contacted by the Conservancy about murals he had painted. He was never able to come aboard, but was honored for his contribution before he passed away. Luisa, an accomplished dancer, strives to continue to honor him by conducting what is almost a musical and terpsichorean seance: dancing tango to a live quartet in a decaying ballroom on the SS United States. A ship which has not seen that kind of dancing nor heard that kind of music in almost 50 years. On that very dance floor, a former passenger, Caroline Savage, tells us, her sister danced with a movie star’s son. Caroline brings to this segment archival footage from 1959 that her father shot, that is composited onto present day views of the ship in the exact same locations. During the writing of A MAN AND HIS SHIP, author Steven Ujifusa expressed surprise at how many people started coming forward when they found out he was writing about the ship that still holds the world record for the fastest Atlantic crossing. People cared about this ship, he says, in a spirit that is not often generated by inanimate objects. After 20 years on the Philadelphia waterfront, Crystal Cruises has come forward to study whether she might be pressed into service to sail once more for an entirely new generation of passenger. If that happens, the “seance” we captured could well be considered a christening.


Tango on the SS United States

Produced and edited by Michael O’Reilly

Luisa Meshekoff and Sidney Grant dance an improvised tango to the music of the Oscuro Quintet on the decaying ballroom floor of the SS United States. Launched in 1952, this ship transported dignitaries, celebrities, and people from all over the world during her service career, which ended when she was decommissioned in 1969. Even in retirement, she retains the Blue Riband, the accolade given to the passenger liner that makes the fastest transatlantic crossing.


Saving the SS United States

Produced by Michael O’Reilly
Edited by Ben Soffer

Susan Gibbs, Executive Director of the SS United States Conservancy, details the steps necessary to get the “Big U” out of dock and onto the high seas. Gibbs is working with Crystal Cruises to determine the feasibility of refurbishing the rusting ocean liner.


 |  Comment »