Saturday, June 29, 2019

Aquarama, June 1959

Does this post look familiar to you? Then you must be an early riser. I accidentally published this post many weeks ago (there were two posts that day), and some of you saw it.

Looking through boxes of old slides can be an education, if one is curious enough. I have two photos from June of 1959 showing a large, unnamed vessel docked... somewhere. The only note made on the slide's cardboard mount was "Boat with Italian cars".  Can anybody tell what make they are from here?


The boat has a distinctive red bridge (at first I thought it was a smokestack, but it has windows!), which I was sure would help in identifying it. And it did; this is the 160 meter (500 foot), 7 story high S.S. Aquarama.

It began as a troop carrier in 1945, and was called the "S.S. Marine Star" - it only crossed the Atlantic once before the war ended. In 1952 it was converted (at a cost of 8 million dollars) to a luxury liner for the Great Lakes. In '57 it began ferrying passengers and  their cars between Cleveland and Detroit.


Here's a nice vintage postcard featuring the Aquarama. Apparently the ship was popular, but there were no overnight accommodations, and costs were high. It was also involved in several costly collisions.


You know they did things right if there's a nice color souvenir program for its inaugural cruise!


The Aquarama made its last trip in 1962. There were several plans that would have given the ship another chance - one proposal wanted it to ferry between Muskegon to Milwaukee (but the channels would have needed to be dredged, an expensive proposition), and as late as 1995 there were plans to refit it (at a cost of $30 million to $50 million) as a luxurious casino ship "...with 250,000 square feet of floor space... the ship--pure white, looking like a sleek, new cruise ship--will be the largest casino ship in North America. It will employ 1,400 people and generate a gross income of between $150 million and $330 million annually". Sadly, this never came to pass.


In 2007, the rusting, derelict ship was finally towed to Turkey, where it was cut up for scrap. A sad end to a grand old boat. We miss you, Aquarama!

The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal website has a wonderful article (which I used for this post) all about the Aquarama, including some fun photos of the onboard amenities. Check it out!

19 comments:

Nanook said...

Major-

I'm uncertain what all those foreign cars are, making their best attempt to look like an early 1950's Rambler of some sort. But, in the second image, we quite-clearly have a 1956 Mercury Custom, sitting just this side of a 1951 or 1952 Chevrolet.

Ahhh, another opportunity for a floating gambling ship dashed-! (I guess we'll just have to settle for a terra firma-bound Indian reservation casino).

Five dollars on black, please. Thanks, Major.

Nanook said...

Major-

Okay - I was perusing the article of the Illinois History Journal, and THIS IMAGE caught my eye. SO, just what exactly is the nurse doing to that gal's hair... Checking for lice-? Giving her a shipboard home perm-? Probably doesn't matter, as the Aquarama is clearly in good hands with "junior" piloting the vessel through the Great Lakes. If that, and all the other images don't scream 1950's-!, I don't know what does.

Thanks again, Major.

MIKE COZART said...

MAJOR and NANOOK : those “Italian cars” are American Nash Metropolitans - without a doubt. The car was in production from 1953 to 1961 and are considered the first American sub-compact car.

Melissa said...

My, she was yar.

TokyoMagic! said...

I remember this post! I'm not an early riser, I just stay up really late....when I'm able to, that is. I couldn't remember what my original comment was on this post, until I saw Melissa's comment!

Melissa....."Easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, bright! Everything a boat should be, until she develops dry rot!" ;-)

Andrew said...

I like how I can expect to learn about more than just Disneyland history on this blog!
Looking at the souvenir program graphics, I can't help but wish that there were still little sketches like that on brochures. It just has a certain charm to it.

stu29573 said...

The Aquarama! Could they have named her anything MORE late '50s? She was certainly of her time! As an interesting aside, red pant girl from yesterday wouldn't be caught dead anywhere near it (what with all the hating aqua and all...ok, you had to be there...)

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I knew you would know the foreground cars! I like the various colors on those little “Italian” cars, whatever they may be. I love to gamble all of my money away, so the loss of this gambling ship is a true tragedy.

Nanook, huh, it DOES sort of look like the girl is being checked for lice - to the amusement of the nearby adults. Parasites are funny!

Mike Cozart, I wonder why the photographer thought that those were Italian cars??

Melissa, are you a pirate?

TokyoMagic!, people who stay up late are crazy and should be institutionalized. It’s one of my many rules. Between you and Melissa, I have the feeling I am missing something.

Penna. Andrew, to be a well-rounded person, you need to know about Disneyland, but you also need to know about Knott’s Berry Farm and the 1964 New York World’s Fair. And maybe a random ship in Detroit!

stu29573, I can only assume that they were inspired by “Cinerama”, which was BIG. “Hey, our boat is big too! What can we call it? Mr. Big Boaty?”. I’d like to think that red pants girl eventually had a change of heart about aqua. We can all learn and grow!

JC Shannon said...

Wow, what a cool ship. She was a beauty back in her day. It is always sad to me, when a ship or an aircraft are simply scrapped or left to rust away. Every vessel has a story to tell. The Aquarama, I love that name, is no exception. Perhaps the ship is docked in Kenosha, WI. That is where Nash and Rambler were made. Ahoy all! Thanks Major.

Chuck said...

Neat photos today, Major. Thank you!

I feel the same way about aircraft and ships, Jonathan. Factories, too. Sometimes, they get a chance at a second life, like the old Nash factory in El Segundo, which is now where Boeing builds satellites. And I guess the same can happen with airplanes and ships, too. Next time you pick up a can of soda, you could be holding part of a B-24 that was part of the "Aluminum Overcast" over Nazi-occupied Europe, and that can of beans might have once been part of USS California.

Nanook said...

@ Mike Cozart-

Of course they are Nash Metropolitan's, but are most-likely seen here as all Metropolitan's were made by Austin Motor Co. in England, and perhaps just arrived by boat from "across the pond"-?

Thanks.

Melissa said...

"Between you and Melissa, I have the feeling I am missing something."

Just quoting from The Philadelphia Story,

Major Pepperidge said...

Jonathan, I agree, especially when it’s such a beautiful craft. It reminds me of the Kalakala, a beautiful art deco ferry that was scrapped.

Chuck, your comment about the aluminum in your soda can potentially being from a B-24 reminds me of when Charlie Brown said that Pig Pen’s dust might have been trod upon by Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar (yes, I had to look up how to spell Nebuchadnezzar).

Nanook, interesting, I had no idea that Nash Metropolitans were made in England! Your theory sounds very likely.

Melissa, I think I saw that movie when I was eleven years old! I remember very little about it.

MIKE COZART said...

MAJOR and NANOOK . Most likely. The Nash was an American designed car built in England ... but finished with hubcaps and other small details in Kenosha Wisconsin to be prepared for American and Canadian dealers. The same cares were labeled for Hudson, Nash and Rambler and a few AMC . These car brands all became Rambler. My grand father had 22 of these cars up until the mid 90’s . As a kid my first car I got to drive was an Autopia - but second was a Metropolitan

MIKE COZART said...

Correction : the car brands became AMC . ( not rambler)

Nanook said...

@ MIKE COZART-
Again, thanks.

"As a kid my first car I got to drive was an Autopia - but second was a Metropolitan". But, isn't that true for all of us-??

stu29573 said...

I totally remember that Peanuts! Of course, as a kid I memorized every Peanuts book there was, so....Ok, I just realized how much of a nerd I was (am)!

Chuck said...

Major, it's funny - I thought of the same thing after I wrote it. Great minds think alike (and us, too, apparently).

Stu, I used to ride my bike to the City Library to read the Peanuts collections. I can still remember exactly where they were on the shelves and remember so many of the strips. I love the way they would re-arrange the panels to fit the book format. And I think we're all nerds here. You're in good company. :-)

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