“When Does This Place Get to New York?”


The Queen Elizabeth, too, was magnificent, but she lacked the Mary’s cachet. Although she had been sailing the world’s waters throughout the war, she did not make her official maiden voyage until the war ended, and had no prewar tradition to call on; until her dying day she was always somewhat new, the eternal bridesmaid, never the bride.

Three years after the war the North Atlantic run was just as crowded as it had been before the fighting began. Great new liners were being built in the United States, France, and Britain. Thirty thousand feet above, adventurous red-eyed travelers flew in propeller-driven airplanes, disembarking into Quonset huts at Heathrow, outside London, or into the flaking stucco pavilion at Le Bourget, Paris. They returned to the Art Deco Marine Terminal at New York’s La Guardia, which looked as though Amelia Earhart or Amy Johnson might arrive any moment in leather helmet and goggles. But the air-passenger load was tiny compared with that carried in ships. As late as 1952, the year of the maiden voyage of the majestic United States , nearly twice as many people crossed the Atlantic by sea as by air.

But just six years later it all began to change. In 1958, for the first time, more people flew than sailed across the Atlantic—1,200,000 to 937,000. From then on the graph never ceased to plummet for the shipping lines. The Queens kept sailing for another nine years. The Mary started her five-hundredth and last round-trip voyage on September 17,1967, arriving back at Southampton on September 27. On October 31, about ten thousand Southamptonians, many weeping, saw her leave her traditional No. 107 berth for the last time. A band of the Royal Marines played “Auld Lang Syne.” Helicopters forming the shape of an anchor gave her an aerial salute. Her buyer was the City of Long Beach, California, which paid $3.45 million. Too big for the Panama Canal, she arrived in California by way of Cape Horn on December 9, just in time. After more than thirty years of steaming, her funnels were reduced to rust, and chunks could be crumbled in the hand like corn flakes. They were replaced by aluminum replicas, and the Mary became a Hyatt hotel with shops, restaurants, pizza parlors.

Some years later, a cleaning woman pulled out a drawer from one of the staterooms. On the underside she found written the names of a score or so of GIs, perhaps the last artifacts of the American boys the Queen Mary transported to Europe during the war, and the sadly fewer she brought back.