July 25th will mark the 54th anniversary of the sinking of the Andrea Doria off the coast of Nantucket. This luxury cruise liner was the most beautiful ship of it’s time with magnificent paintings in its dining rooms and expansive deck promenades. It was Italy’s pride and joy, and a way for Italy to begin the process of rebuilding its tarnished reputation after WWII. The ship was engineered with all the most advanced systems available, including a radar system. But this radar system did little to help them during the evening of July 25th while it was advancing towards its destination of New York City after an 8 day voyage across the Atlantic from Genoa and found itself in dense fog. The ship was carrying over 1100 passengers and 500 crew members when it collided with the Swedish passenger ship, the MS Stockholm, around 11 pm. Both ships had noticed each other on their radar systems, but due to pilot error on both sides, they misinterpreted the radar readings and ended up colliding into each other. The MS Stockholm, a ship constructed with a bow prepared to tackle ice in the North Seas, rammed into the starboard side of the Andrea Doria and sliced open the ocean liner like a can opener. Those passengers that were unfortunate enough to have their cabins at the point of impact were killed instantly, while others died when the sea water began flooding the lower decks. 49 poor souls lost their lives that infamous night. Fortunately, the majority of the passengers were saved due to the quick thinking of the crew and the response by other ships in the area. The Andrea Doria took 11 hours before it disappeared into the sea. Gone forever was this luxury hotel on the sea, and the lives of the passengers and crew were changed forever.
The story of the Andrea Doria is one close to my heart because this is the ship my father sailed when he came to the United States in 1955. Fortunately, he was not on that infamous voyage but instead sailed one year prior to the ship’s sinking. And sadly, he is not here today in order for me to ask him all the questions I now have of this famous ship. But I will relay some of the stories he told me about his voyage. I’m not sure what class he travelled in, but I’m sure it was tourist class. After all, he was taking this ship as an immigrant coming to America to find his fortune. Even though he was a professional soccer player in Italy, athletes in the 1950’s were not paid nearly as well as they are today and so therefore, I’m sure he did not travel as a celebrity. Irregardless, he recounted stories of the glamour of the ship and how much fun he had on board while the ship sailed through the Mediterranean before going through the Straits of Gibralter. But once out in the open seas of the Atlantic, he got desperately sea sick and spent the rest of the voyage in his cabin. That was the last I heard about his voyage on the Andrea Doria. He wrote letters to his fiance, my mother, stating how sick he was and how he wished to die. He was miserable on the voyage and could not wait to hit landfall. All the glamour of this beautiful boat was lost to him because he felt so horrible. Evidently, the Atlantic in March is notoriously rough, and I’m sure if he had known this, he would have picked another time of year to go. My father returned to Italy 9 months later to marry my mother, but he took an airplane and never again set foot aboard a ship or, for that matter, any kind of boat! Just the thought of it was too much for him to bear. But….I would love to have known his reaction and thoughts when he heard of the sinking of the Andrea Doria and how, I’m sure, he realized that it could have been him aboard that fateful trip.