New exhibit, book tout the SS United States

PHOTO: KYLE OBER Author David Macaulay takes a look around from the aft funnel of the SS United States, which brought him to this country as a boy.
PHOTO: KYLE OBER Author David Macaulay takes a look around from the aft funnel of the SS United States, which brought him to this country as a boy.
Posted: March 06, 2014

CHRISTMAS is coming a little early this year for local history buffs and nautical fanatics.

Starting Friday, the SS United States is going to be the focus of an engaging six-month exhibition at the Independence Seaport Museum.

Best-selling British author and illustrator David Macaulay also will be at the Free Library of Philadelphia's central branch, at 19th and Vine streets, tomorrow to discuss the ship, which will be featured heavily in a book by Macaulay that's expected to be released later this year.

The SS United States Conservancy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that has served as the ship's caretaker since 2011, hopes that the events will attract new interest in and support for the historic vessel, which has been docked in South Philadelphia since the mid-1990s.

Susan Gibbs, the conservancy's executive director, said yesterday that the events are occurring at a "crucial time" in the life of the once-glorious ocean liner.

"The ship's long-term status remains precarious," she said. "We're still searching for a permanent home for the SS United States. We just hope she's still with us when [Macaulay's] book hits the stands."

Macaulay immigrated to the U.S. onboard the ship when he was a child. His lecture at the library will run from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and is open to the public.

He also is expected to attend a preview of the exhibition at the Independence Seaport Museum from 6 to 9 p.m. tomorrow.

Gibbs said the exhibition, "Charting a Course for America's Flagship," will feature a number of artifacts from the ship and an "idea pod" where attendees can share thoughts on how the ship could be repurposed.

It also will offer glimpses into the lives of local folks who had ties to the ship, including Gibbs' grandfather, William Francis Gibbs, who designed the SS United States.

"The attempt is to bring the ship to life," she said. "We've been thrilled with the reception so far. We're expecting 350 people on Thursday night."

The conservancy purchased the SS United States with a $5.8 million donation from H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, a chairman and co-owner of Interstate General Media, the parent company of the Daily News.

The group has been scrambling since then to raise enough money to cover the steep costs of docking the ship on the waterfront, while simultaneously trying to find a developer willing to redevelop the vessel.

"We're still working furiously behind the scenes to get something done," Gibbs said.


For more information on the exhibition, visit www.phillyseaport.org/ssunitedstates.


On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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