Monday, November 2, 2015


When I was a child, two ocean liners, the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm collided in the Atlantic Ocean. What followed was one of the most dramatic and successful sea rescues in history.

The Andrea Doria was mortally wounded in the collision. It immediately sent an SOS. It needed assistance because minutes after the collision she lay on her side taking on water. Many of her lifeboats were difficult to reach because of the tilt of the decks.

According to several books on the subject the Stockholm’s first reaction: “Was it really the Andrea Doria we hit?”

The Andrea Doria was a famous ship. Hollywood movie stars and European royalty sailed on the Andrea Doria. When the boat was in New York, people came just to gawk at it. In fact, my dad’s brother and his wife saw the great ship, rumored to be the most beautiful ship in the world, when they were in New York.

Though her bow was seriously damaged, the Stockholm was able to return to New York and she remained on the seas until recently. She was at one time the oldest passenger ship still in service.

The Andrea Doria sank.

Maybe I was a stupid child, but before hearing about the two ships and their accident. I didn’t know ships sank. I didn’t think there was anything under the world’s oceans except fish. The Andrea Doria’s death opened up a whole new world of nightmares for me.

Television news coverage was much different in 1956 than it is today. While photographers were on the scene taking pictures of both the dramatically injured Swedish ship the Stockholm and the sinking Andrea Doria,I didn’t see most of those pictures until “Life” magazine came out about a week later.

We always had the latest issue of “Life” in our living room. I today question my mother’s wisdom of letting me see some of the published pictures. I remember the picture of badly burned child from a school fire. That picture gave me nightmares for a long time. After the first time I saw the picture of the burned, dying child, I wouldn’t look at it again.

The magazine often had graphic pictures that disturbed me.

When the issue about the Andrea Doria came out, it contained pictures not only of the ship as it lay in the water during it’s last moments, but also pictures of it under the waves. I couldn’t put the magazine down. I read every word; I glared at every picture.

The Andrea Doria settled into a dark, deep part of the ocean, where only the most experienced divers dared to go. Over the years, I read many books about the Andrea Doria. Then I slept with the night light on for several days. The story of the ship and it’s grave terrified me. Still I read everything I could about the ship and its last voyage.

Occasionally a television documentary would show divers down in the Andrea Doria. The bravest divers admitted it was a spooky place. Several divers died exploring the ship.

Of course, there was another similar story of an even more famous ship. The Titanic hit an ice berg, not another ship. Both ships, the Titanic and the Andrea Doria claimed to be designed to stay afloat. The Titanic claimed to be unsinkable. They were designed to stay afloat with two water tight compartments flooded.

According to “Titanic the History and legacy of the Most Famous Ship from 1912 until Today,” the book I read on Halloween night, The Titanic had five watertight compartments flooded.

The Stockholm ripped open three water tight compartments when she collided with the Andrea Doria. We all have our nightmares. It would have been wise of me to never read a book about the Andrea Doria or the Titanic, but their stories still fascinate me. They scare me too.

I could have looked away from the ship wrecks as I looked away and refused to look at the severely burned child long ago. But I chose to look. Every time a new book about the Andrea Doria was published, I bought that book, I read it. The story didn’t change much.

Over the years it became more about the divers, but the ship itself was always central to the story. Several Divers, most of them probably not superstitious, claimed they had an eerie feeling as they floated through the first class dining room on the Andrea Doria. They said it was haunted. A chill went through me.

I spent this Halloween reading about the Titanic. Remember the story is so much like the one about the Andrea Doria. It is the same story of human hubris.

The Titanic’s story is in many ways much spookier. The loss of life was much greater on this ship than on the Andrea Doria, where most passengers were rescued. The casualties occurred in the collision itself.

Divers began exploring the Andrea Doria hours after she went under the waves. The Titanic was lost for decades, and today lies in even deeper water than the Andrea Doria.

Still I find sunken ships and downed airplanes the spookiest things on earth. I shivered as I read about the Titanic on Halloween night.

But I have obtained some maturity since 1956. I didn’t have to sleep with the light on.

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