A Family's Passion for the SS United States: Joseph and Dennis Belanger
The SS United States endures to this day thanks to her many generous friends and supporters across the nation and around the globe, all of whom understand the urgent need to protect and revitalize this incredible vessel.
This week we're highlighting one steadfast supporter's special connection to America's Flagship, and his extraordinary collection of SS United States memorabilia and art!
Dennis Belanger's father, Joseph L.A. Belanger, served aboard the SS United States from the vessel's maiden voyage until her 1969 retirement. Images courtesy of Dennis and Joseph Belanger.
Joseph L.A. Belanger served aboard the SS America as an engineer from 1948, before joining the SS United States in 1952 for "Pre-voyage 1," the vessel's delivery from Newport News, VA to New York for her official launch. Joseph diligently saved every discharge certificate from his prolific career as a merchant mariner, collecting the signed certificates in booklets which follow his promotion from Third to Second Engineer and finally conclude with "Voyage 399" in 1969, shortly before the SS United States' permanent retirement.
A diligent documentarian and committed seaman, these booklets also trace important moments in Joseph's life; any time the engineer took a voyage off, he would include a blank piece of paper with an explanation of the missed trip. His son, Dennis Belanger, writes: "If my mother wanted him to take off the next trip she would send him a telegram that he would put into the booklet as well, which are all still in there. For instance when her father, my grandfather, died, she sent him a telegram saying, 'Pop died, need you home next trip.'"
Dennis himself has always had an affinity for the SS United States — the two are even the same age! He shares: "I was born March 7, 1952 and even though I don't remember it, I was on the dock on July 3 when she left on her record breaking maiden voyage." Dennis does however recall proudly carrying his father's commemorative maiden voyage medallion to show-and-tell as a child, and says: "I would give a little speech about the ship, things like how long she was, how fast she could go, things like that." Although now a zealous collector of SS United States memorabilia, Dennis also notes: "[The medallion] is obviously the most important thing in my collection to me."
Dennis Belanger shares his extraordinary collection of SS United States memorabilia and prints.
Images courtesy of Dennis Belanger.
The images above, generously shared by Dennis, represent a small portion of what the dedicated collector has acquired over the last thirty years. He estimates that he has fifty or more prints featuring the SS United States — including stunning works by Robert G. Lloyd, Robert C. Semler and Thomas C. Skinner — and over fifty postcards from around the world depicting the vessel.
We are so excited to see the ways that America's Flagship continues to inspire, and thank Dennis for reaching out to share his father's story and his extraordinary collection! Interested in starting your own SS United States art collection? Check out prints available now on the Conservancy's website!
The stories of the passengers and crew members who traveled aboard the SS United States are vital to the ship's incredible history. Today, the Conservancy is preserving those memories through our Legacy Project, documenting the intangible history of America's Flagship.
Do you or a family member have your own SS United States story to share? CLICK HERE to learn how, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you own SS United States memorabilia? We're cataloguing the location and ownership of items from the vessel in advance of future exhibitions. Fill out our object loan survey HERE.