As the SS United States Conservancy works to secure the future of the nation's greatest and sole remaining ocean liner, we're also busy building the world's largest collection of artifacts, art and historical documents from the SS United States.
Today we're giving you a peek behind the scenes, as we speak with a Conservancy staff member who plays a key role in advancing our curatorial mission and protecting the legacy of America's Flagship: Outreach and Preservation Director, Allee Davis.
Allee Davis, SS United States Conservancy Outreach and Preservation Director. Photograph by Lara Hetzel.
How did you get involved with the SS United States Conservancy?
Growing up in and around Philadelphia, I was aware of the ship's presence and in awe of her story. Shortly after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania's Historic Preservation graduate program, I had the opportunity to join the SS United States Conservancy, and a little over four years later, I remain humbled and excited to be a part of this tremendous effort to save and preserve one of our nation's most irreplaceable pieces of history.
What is your role as the Conservancy's Outreach and Preservation Director?
As Outreach and Preservation Director for the SS United States Conservancy, I oversee communications with our amazing, far-reaching network of members and supporters, as well as our curatorial efforts — including managing the organization's growing permanent collections and engaging in key preservation-related issues surrounding the vessel's present condition and potential future uses.
A curatorial highlight: United States Lines playing cards donated by Paul T. Allen. Photograph by Allee Davis and Michael Wolfe.
What is the most exciting thing about working with the Conservancy's curatorial collections?
Of the many exciting aspects of working with the Conservancy's curatorial collections, one of my favorites is learning the provenance of each treasure as it is added to our permanent collections. Donors often share compelling stories highlighting their personal connections to the ship, and these accounts truly bring the SS United States to life. Whether sharing memories of drinking whisky with Marlon Brando or clarifying the operation of the ship's watertight doors, these stories combine to convey the unparalleled significance and unique history of the Big U!
One of my favorite stories from the ship's service years occurred on the ship's 256th voyage in September and October of 1963, one of several crossings made by actress Rita Hayworth. Residing in cabin M69 during this particular voyage, Ms. Hayworth submitted a complaint after discovering her toilet seat was stolen, likely by a crew member. Although the allegation was denied by all crew at the time, many years later, at one of the Conservancy's events, the mystery was solved. A few crew members smitten by Ms. Hayworth did, indeed, take her toilet seat from her cabin. It's fun connections such as these that help to build the complex, layered history of the SS United States.
What are your goals for the future of the Conservancy's curatorial collections and programs?
My efforts in managing the Conservancy's permanent collections and curatorial programs are inspired by the innovation deeply enmeshed in the ship's history and significance as a post-war technological marvel. In keeping with the spirit of the ship, and the excitement around which she was designed and built, we hope to make the history of the SS United States available to the public in similar, innovative ways.
As we lay the groundwork for our future, permanent display, we're at work building a searchable database of former passenger and crew members as we continue to amass passenger lists and similar rosters from the ship's service years. Once a basic database is finalized and circulated, an incredible network of historical connections will emerge! We're also supporting exciting temporary exhibitions: next up is a partnership with the Norman Rockwell Museum, in tandem with the release of renowned author-illustrator David Macaulay’s forthcoming book about the SS United States.
We're so grateful to Davis for all that she does to ensure a safe future for the Conservancy's curatorial collections and for the largest item in our care — America's Flagship, the SS United States! Help us continue this important work by making your tax-deductible donation today.
The Conservancy's curatorial collections continue to expand, thanks to our many generous supporters and donors. These collections will eventually find a home in our planned museum, the SS United States Center for Design and Discovery, ensuring that the unique history of the SS United States, and the stories of those that traveled and worked aboard her, will never be forgotten.
Do you own artwork, objects or photographs from America's Flagship? Click HERE to find out how you can make a donation, or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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