Rest In Peace, Andrea Doria

Today is the anniversary of the final day of the Italian liner, Andrea Doria. She collided with another ship, the Swedish ship Stockholm in the fog off Nantucket at 11:10 PM on July 25, 1956. She sank a little under 12 hours later on July 26 1956.

This photo was my first Polaroid Image Transfer made from a slide my father took of the Andrea Doria coming into Naples, Italy (Genoa, maybe, I forget exactly) to pick up New York bound passengers. The four of us in my family- mother, father, brother and moi-were returning from Europe and boarded the ship on what would be its final complete trip to New York. We made it back to New York in June of 1956, but the next time passengers were picked up in Italy to go to New York, they ended up being rescued from the Atlantic, many by the French liner, Ile de France. It was a different era–the final years of truly great ships carrying transatlantic commercial passengers.

I was eleven years old and my brother was fourteen. My father was a lifelong hobbyist ham radio operator and had a radio next to his bed in our house in Buzzards Bay, about 50 miles from the crash site. He had heard the distress signals from the ship shortly after 11 PM and stayed up all night listening to the radio traffic. (There were no 24 hour news channels back then, of course.)

He woke us all up at dawn and we went downstairs to the television set which by now had some early morning black and white film shot by news station photographers in small planes who had made the quick flight from Cape Cod or Boston out to the crash site and then returned to bring the film to the TV station. This relay went on until the ship sank.

Recently, I wrote about “Where Were You?” a post about those memories of events, non family events, where you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news of some historical national or international event. I remember this as a family loss.

After the ship disappeared totally into the water with a final, sickening twist and roll that had the ship and its pool (where I had spent the entire trip when not eating spaghetti) facing the bottom of the Atlantic instead of the endless blue skies that I remembered, we all sat in total silence.

After a few minutes, my father got up and left the room. I looked out the window and saw him raising the flag on the flag pole but this time, raising it only half way. He explained to us what that meant when he came back inside. Someone had died, usually a national figure. But, in our case, he said, the way we are all feeling, a family member had just died.

He got it right back then. If I had a flag pole, I’d still be raising it half way today. (Those days are over, too!) The rest of my family and many of the survivors of the Andrea Doria (50+ died) are now dead, but some of us still pause hearing this date.

So, I post this photo on my blog, using my ID, W1KKP, the call letters that my father used for 65 years as a ham operator.

Sweet, people. Sweet sadness on this day fifty two years ago.

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9 comments on “Rest In Peace, Andrea Doria”

  1. A very poignant post. It’s a terrible tragedy of life that these kind of things happen. Thank you for sharing.

  2. A sadness fills me reading this memory of yours that is both beautifully written and gives true honour to those that went that day. That in reality is the true beauty that you may share with us today their truth, their reality, so that we all to can feel and remember. It gives me hope that not all is ever forgotten. I feel the sadness pull at my heart while a smile plays on my lips – they are truly blessed to be remembered such as this.

    The words aren’t really coming out right, it is more heart than thought, sorry.

  3. I was 10 when the Andrea Doria went down, living in Weathersfield, CT. Our next door neighbor was an Italian woman from Rome who was taking the news very badly. I was friends with her son and recall her crying most of the day over this tragedy.

  4. Welcome, Pen Me A Poem! What fun! I just went to your site based in England (Epicurienne are you listening?) and found out that Kay Ryan had been named US Poet Laureate! People, this young man writes poetry for whatever occasion you might have that needs a special witness. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment on my ship. Yes, I feel like it’s “my” ship.

    Sanity, a special place in heaven for those with more heart than thought. That is, if there is a heaven, of course.

    Paul, thanks for telling me that memory. If our family had lived next to your neighbor, the other neighbors would have listened to the sound of wailing that went for days. Thanks so much for commenting! I went to your site but there is nothing there. If this is a broken link or something, I thought you like to know!

  5. This is so beautifully and powerfully written, Pat. Thanks for sharing this story. I’ve ready news accounts of the sinking, but never any personal reflections like this one. Your father’s move to raise the flag to half-mast was so strong and sad. Really moving reading.

  6. Very interesting narrative. I’ve always known of the Andrea Doria, and fondly remember its Seinfeld connections, but this post gives me a more tangible understanding. Thank you.

  7. Starting with that vintage looking photo that appears frozen in the amber of an era so familiar to us, and finishing with the explanation of your blog name, everything inserted in between was a most personal and moving account of something so unimaginable.
    I wondered about the letters/numbers in your name but had no idea.
    You and your father have certainly shared some very significant times in history.
    Thank you for a very touching and poignant recollection.

    Each word you write is a brush stroke of emotional color that adds layers of feeling to your stories.

  8. Girlgriot, My Dad loved these ships. I think it broke his heart because he knew the future of these great ships was fading and so for it to simply roll over and disappear..so close to home, as well. It just got to him and obviously to all of us having just spent 9 days on it. My brother had his first little “flirt” with a girl on the ship, too!

    Mt. Brooks, I do not remember the Seinfeld connection! I can’t imagine. People, I was afraid of Mt. Brooks because of the name of his blog but because Razz recommended it, I gave it a try. As I told him, he may travel the internet with his shirt off but he writes fully clothed. It is an interesting place to visit.

    BonnieL, My father’s history on great ships was three: The French Liner, Normandie, which he took on his honeymoon and it had a sad ending during the war years docked in NYC. It was used as many of the commercial vessels were used during the war, for military purposes. While docked at a pier in NYC, it caught fire and all the tugboats converged and basically, unwittingly, sank it from all the water. It, too, rolled right over at the pier.
    My father said that was the most beautiful ship he’d ever seen, next to the Andrea Doria. Both ended up rolling over but for different reasons. I don’t think seeing my father’s name on a ships passenger list would be a good omen for the future of the ship. Thanks for your thoughts. Right directly to THE drawer they all go.

  9. Thanks for the reminder and the memory Pat.
    My Grandparent’s took a cruise on the Andrea Doria and I remember my Grandmother remarking how beautiful it was. As a kid, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that a ship my Grandparent’s were on was now at the bottom of the ocean.

    “My” ship, the Norway, is gone now too. They really do become like members of the family, don’t they.

    -Turkish Prawn


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