Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sailing Into History

South Philadelphia's favorite (and only) rusting ocean liner made the news again this week.

The S.S. United States Conservancy, the group working to save the ship from the scrapyard, hosted a screening of a documentary about the ship's history at the Independence Seaport Museum. You can watch a trailer for the film, "S.S. United States: Lady in Waiting," here.

The conservancy hopes to turn the ship into a floating museum like Battleship New Jersey or the U.S.S. Olympia, or find another use for it, as was done with the tall ship (and now restaurant) Moshulu.

They face an uphill battle.

I'll admit that I love catching a glimpse of the S.S. United States, hulking unexpectedly across from the Ikea on Columbus Boulevard.

But I'm not convinced that this massive ship -- with its gutted interior -- is worth preserving. Sure, I'd be thrilled if someone found a use for it. But do we need to preserve the physical ship to remember its speed records, or the fact that it carried a young Bill Clinton to his Rhodes Scholarship in England? I shudder to imagine the price-tag for recreating its former interior.

Inquirer reporter Inga Saffron agrees with me; she calls the conservancy group "a boatload of romantics."

(Another group, the S.S. United States Foundation, is also trying to save the ship. You can watch a trailer for a different documentary about the ship and its maker here.)

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