Today is Independence Day in the United States. We refer to it as the Fourth of July. 241 years ago the United States declared its independence as a sovereign nation from the British Empire. As we know, the United Kingdom has been one of our strongest allies for over a century and is referred to as the “special relationship” between the two countries.
As for the United States and United Kingdom, this past weekend I traveled to the Maritime Museum in Fall River, MA (the museum is now part of Battleship Cove). After seeing the 1953 movie Titanic, I learned that the model from the movie was on display at the museum. And as Battleship Cove had some new exhibits, it was time for another visit.
It’s impossible not to learn about the many joint cooperative efforts between our countries over the centuries. The United States connection to the Belfast built RMS Titanic is well known along with the numerous campaigns during World War I and World War II. The USS Massachusetts participation in Operation Torch in November 1942 was a joint United States-United Kingdom invasion of French North Africa. And, yet, for all the reasons our countries have fought side by side for democracy against tyranny, both nations are facing internal political turmoil that is testing the very fabric of our respective constitutions.
As an American citizen I won’t opine on events across the pond, but here in this country today it is as much a celebration as it is a contradiction. Oh sure there’s the requisite barbeque or the spirited trips to the beach, but top of mind of the majority of Americans is the direction in which this country is going. Like the RMS Titanic’s inferior rudder that made the ship very hard to turn in a crisis, the United States is most certainly heading towards an iceberg that represents the internal strife we are experiencing. While on the surface it looks like we can avoid it, like an iceberg, the menace is what lies below the waterline.
As I have been a member of both parties, I consider myself a moderate. Put simply, I believe in equal rights, not special rights. I believe in a strong military administered by the federal government, but that government has no business regulating my personal life. The current crisis isn’t so much about political party but extremists on both sides that are locked in a tug of war to win. In earlier years, it was the moderates that kept the ship on an even keel. Sadly extremists often don’t want to understand the other side. But understanding is the first step in diplomacy in reaching an accord. A democracy is not about winning your point, it is about moderating it.
Perhaps the time has come to look at our friends across the pond for some lessons. In the United Kingdom, France and Germany they have a multi-party political system. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But for too long in the United States there has only had two choices (this one or that one). Sure we have a nascent third party in this country, but it has about as much direction as the SS Californian did the night the RMS Titanic sank.
But the one thing we do know is the United States is built on a solid foundation of laws and guiding principles. Sometimes we waiver and falter, but at the end of the day we know what this nation stands for and what it represents. Today is a tribute to the founding fathers of this country and what they laid down over two centuries ago that resonates even more today.
Ever since my mother introduced me to the story of the RMS Titanic and Titanic Historical Society, I have always been interested in the world of ocean liners. I have toured the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA twice (the second time they had a Titanic exhibit) and have sailed on the RMS Queen Mary 2. One of my projects SOS United States is based around the story of an ocean liner. Of course it was the international premiere of Justice Is Mind on the MS Queen Elizabeth that has been a career highlight. Thus, you can imagine my excitement when I learned about the Ocean Liners exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.
Last Tuesday, on my birthday, I drove to the museum to check out this exhibit and could not have been more impressed with the level of detail and information. The exhibit starts with how the cruise lines advertised and promoted their ships before moving on to engineering, artifacts and life on board during those heyday times of travel by ocean liner. The 1947 model of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, which once adorned the New York offices of Cunard, was a featured display.
For me I was particularly interested in learning more about the SS United States. As some of you may know, in my story SOS United States the fictional SS Leviathan is based on the SS United States. As she was partially funded by the United States government, she was designed for speed and conversion to a troop ship in times of conflict. The tank and plating models were fascinating. Then there were select pieces of her fittings that were truly spectacular. But seeing the Blue Riband trophy on display really illustrated her place in history. The trophy was won by the SS United States in 1952 for recording the highest speed for westbound service in the Atlantic Ocean. She still holds that title today.
But for all the glitz and glamour of those days, there were those ocean liners that met unfortunate times. No story is more tragic and sad than that of the RMS Titanic. When I entered one of the galleries I saw a piece of beautifully sculpted wood on one of the walls. It was from her first class lounge. Apparently it had washed up in Nova Scotia after her tragic sinking on April 15, 1912. I found myself just staring at it and imagining the pomp and circumstance of those entering the lounge to enjoy a festive evening only to then picture the sheer horror as they tried to escape a doomed ship. We will never know what that was like, but this piece of living history is a reminder of those days long gone.
Another highlight was from Titanic’s sister ship RMS Olympic (known as “old reliable” as she was in service until 1935). Seeing the clock from her Grand Staircase was truly something. Considering this panel was identical on Titanic, it just makes that time in history all the more real when you see artifacts like this. There was other unique area of the exhibit that featured the entertainment industry. Select scenes from movies that took place on ocean liners; one of my favorites starring Bette Davis and Paul Henried in Now, Voyager.
But voyages by sea are still, in my view, the best way to travel. You arrive at the port of embarkation with your ship looming up in the near distance calling for attention. Soon you find yourself on board as your luggage is brought to you. And before you know it, you sail into your holiday. However, if your holiday is a New England one, visit the Peabody Essex Museum’s Ocean Liners exhibit. You’ll be glad you boarded.