Thursday, January 09, 2014

American Export Lines' CONSTITUTION and INDEPENDENCE

Lives of the Liners: Wedding in Monte Carlo (By Bill Miller): When, in early 1956, American Export Lines heard that Hollywood film queen Grace Kelly was flying to Nice for her fairytale wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco, my old friend, the late Fred Sarver was dispatched to Philadelphia to meet the mother of the bride & offer her 50 free tickets onboard the CONSTITUTION, which would be specially diverted for the bride & wedding party to a stop in Monte Carlo. 
Mrs Kelly hesitated, waited, took overnight and then wanted 100 free tickets. Fred and American Export settled on 75 and so Grace Kelly sailed off to her much publicized wedding that April. The 1,000-passenger CONSTITUTION was on the cover of every newspaper & magazine in the world.
“Grace Kelly was, of course, the most publicized passenger when she sailed on the CONSTITUTION for her wedding in Monaco to Prince Rainier in April 1956,” added Herb Maletz, a onetime comptroller in the Export main office along New York City’s Lower Broadway. “The ship was especially diverted to Monte Carlo just for her, her family and the American wedding party. Of course, we carried lots of reporters on that trip as well” John Scott remembered, “I was serving aboard a US battleship that made a courtesy call to Monte Carlo in 1957, the year after their much publicized wedding. “Prince Rainier & Princess Grace were coming aboard. Just before, the officer of the watch announced over the address system: ‘All hands on deck to welcome Princess Grace & Prince Reindeer’!”
“On several occasions, we also had Ibn Saud, the King of Saudi Arabia,” added Herb Maletz. “He would usually arrive or depart in Casablanca. He was an extraordinary passenger. He gave $1,000 tips and gold Rolex watches to the staff. Hassan II, the king of Morocco, crossed to New York in 1962 with an entourage of 100 aboard the CONSTITUTION. He and his party occupied all the suites and some first class staterooms. They had lots of trunks, gifts for the staff and were transporting a pony that to be a gift for little Caroline Kennedy. The captain was presented with a token of appreciation: a sword with a case emblazoned with hundreds of diamonds, rubies and emeralds.”
The Independence and CONSTITUTION also carried great numbers of Catholic clergy, businessmen, tourists and westbound immigrants. In 1962, tourist class rates for the 9 nights to Naples started at $289, in cabin class at $334 and in first class from $421. A 44-night mid-winter Mediterranean cruise was priced from $1245.
The Atlantic liner business began to collapse, however, soon after the first crossings on commercial jets in the fall of 1958. By the early ‘60s, the airlines had over 95% of all traffic. The INDEPENDENCE and her sister lost money, then lots of money. Even a last-ditch attempt at inexpensive cruising ($98 and up for a week to the Caribbean, but minus food in the dining room) failed. The two ships were laid-up in 1968 as American Export pulled out of the passenger ship business altogether. Amidst rumors that included sales to the Chandris as well as the Lauro lines, the two ships sat idle for six years before C. Y. Tung, a Taiwanese shipping tycoon and who liked older, out-of-work passenger ships, bought them but for uncertain roles. Fuel oil prices had tripled in 1973-74 and so it was not an especially good time for big, oil-hungry, steam turbine-driven liners. For the next six or so years, the Independence and CONSTITUTION were moored in quiet backwater bays near Hong Kong. By 1980, however, Tung had foresight. Filling a void left by the old Matson Line passenger ships, the INDEPENDENCE was refitted, re-flagged as an American ship (she had changed to Liberian registry in 1974 as the Oceanic Independence) and entered 7-day, inter-island service out of Honolulu. The CONSTITUTION followed two years later.
The INDEPENDENCE & CONSTITUTION sailed almost always at Noon ... and I can just "see" one of them coming down the Hudson as they passed Hoboken at about 12:15. They had a great stance, a sense of power, ocean liner majesty about them!
This photo, from January 1997, shows the CONSTITUTION laid-up at a Portland, Oregon shipyard; months later, in November, she would "mysteriously" sink while empty, under tow & on the way to Far Eastern scrappers.
Sometimes one of the Italian liners was sailing from the same berth, Pier 84, at the foot of West 44th St, or the UNITED STATES or the AMERICA was going from adjacent Pier 86. It was usually at 12 Noon -- and what a sight, memory, those thunderous whistles, the streamers, the happy crowds & of course the Moran tugs. Three liners at the same time! It was just magic!
Texto e imagens /Text and images copyright Bill Miller. Favor não piratear. Respeite o meu trabalho / No piracy, please. For other posts and images, check our archive at the right column of the main page. Click on the photos to see them enlarged. Thanks for your visit and comments. Luís Miguel Correia
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