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STAR POWER & GRACE: A modern encounter with the SS United States

When my wife Krista and I moved to Philadelphia in 2015, we started our city exploration by locating the basic services: the grocery store, the home improvement centers, and the IKEA.

On a hazy fall day I drove down to the IKEA store in South Philly, overly intent on my phone’s vocal directions and without much awareness of my general surroundings. When I parked and got out of my car I experienced one of a handful of jaw-drop moments in my life: there was the SS United States, right in front of me, the day’s haziness adding to the Kodachrome cast. I had the distinct sensation of stepping into a postcard in 1969.

Photo courtesy of Mike Zecchino

I knew of the ship from an article I’d read in Invention & Technology magazine, but that was decades ago, in the early 1990s. I had no idea the ship was still intact, let alone in a berth in Philadelphia, and let alone across from an IKEA parking lot.

I have to say, I was struck. I stood there cartoonishly for a few minutes, trying to make sense of the surrealness—and feeling immediately connected. People who sailed with her talk about this kind of connection, but here I was, coming onto the scene years after the fact, and still feeling instantly awed, inspired, and drawn in.

I immediately wanted to find a way to get involved with the ship. I started following the Conservancy on Facebook and Instagram and finally got up the gumption this year to get involved as a volunteer.

The ship has a dignity and immediacy that makes her decay seem irrelevant. She impacts on some fundamental level. Far from a wreck, she flaunts star power and seems to be moving fast while standing still. I would love to see her properly dignified and serving a role for the current generation, and those to follow. I’d go as far as to say she deserves it, having weathered so much with such grace.

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