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Drive under way to restore relic ocean liner to former glory

ship images
Take a tour of the S.S. United States by clicking « and » below
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CNN's Frank Buckley reports on the efforts to save the ship
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S.S. United States bigger than Titanic

From Correspondent Frank Buckley

June 2, 1999
Web posted at: 9:49 p.m. EDT (0149 GMT)

PHILADELPHIA (CNN) -- On Pier 82 in Philadelphia, a ship that was once the fastest on the seas sits rusted and faded, stripped of her glory, gutted and empty.

But in the 1950s and 1960s, the S.S. United States was a symbol of America, an engineering marvel that was a monument to bold thinking.

Made of aluminum and other non-flammable materials, the ship was five city blocks long -- longer than the Titanic -- and taller than any passenger ship -- 17 stories from keel to funnel.

She was also fast, achieving a top speed of 44 knots. In the ship's first trans-Atlantic crossing, she set a record, besting the Queen Mary's time by 10 hours.

The ship's hull design, propulsion system and fast speed remained top secret information until the late 1970s, because the civilian ocean liner was also a potential troop transport ship.

Now, a campaign is underway to save and restore the United States, headed by Robert Westover.

"If we lose her, she's irreplaceable. There was never another United States built. This is the only one, and if she goes, that's it," he said.

Frank Braynard, curator of the American Merchant Marine Museum, said losing the ship would mean losing "our heritage, our maritime heritage."

"It would be criminal to scrap it, absolutely terrible," said Braynard who, as a young maritime reporter traveled aboard "Big U," as she was called, and wrote a book about the ship.

For now, the ship is in the hands of a New Jersey real estate developer who envisions commercial uses for the ship, such a retail space, a theater or a museum.

And this week, the National Register of Historic Places is expected to announce whether the S.S. United States will make its list. Supporters of preserving the ship believe getting historic status will help their quest to save the ship.

American Merchant Marine
U.S. Navy History
 •   USS United States (1797-1861)
National Register of Historic Places
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