Historical Reminiscing with Robert B. Hitchings
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The Sinking of the Andrea Doria
July 26, 1956

The ship is sinking and we all have to get out. I wonder if there are enough life boats about that are able to take us safely to the distance shore, where we may live happily for a while once more. George Krokos

On July 27, 1956, news of two great ships SS Andria Doria and the MS Stockholm colliding off of Nantucket, Massachusetts, in dense fog in the Atlantic Ocean seemed impossible, yet it happened. It was a nightmare to all who were onboard this passenger liner called the Andria Doria. And the news media was there to report every detail.

The loss of the Andrea Doria off of Nantucket in the summer of 1956 seemed so long ago. However, I remember this event quite well. It has been etched into my brain. The Andrea Doria was considered one of the fastest and the most beautiful ship of its day. She was named after the 16th century admiral of Genoese, Prince of Melfi, and his large statue stood in the first class lounge with great pride.

Newspapers, radio and television were carrying the news of the sinking of the Andrea Doria. It was sensational news all over the world, labeled one of the worst sea disasters of all time. Not since the Titanic went down was so much excitement and publicity. Everyone was spellbound by this sea disaster and it was the talk of the town here in Norfolk, Virginia. Newspaper men and reporters from all over the world were on hand to get the latest news of this human saga.

The Andrea Doria made her maiden voyage in January 1953. She was the Queen of the Italian lines and some said she was unsinkable.

I remembered my Dad talking to my Mom about the Andrea Doria. All the neighbors were talking about this news. Grandma Hitchings was comparing it to the Titanic. My father could not understand where the radar men were on both ships that night. Maybe, as he said, “The last night out at sea many were intoxicated. They were not watching that radar scope.” So many unanswered questions were circulating concerning the death of this famous Italian liner and the 50 people who died in this collision. In all the excitement, the Doria’s crew denied any charges of negligence.

The Virginia-Pilot newspaper carried stories with pictures and the television was full of film coverage capturing the human suffering. As a kid, I saved the newspaper and clippings for my scrapbook, which I still have. Ruth Roman, movie actress from Hollywood, was on board with her son Dicky. They were separated in the collision, like so many other passengers. People were not sure if their loved ones had made it to safety.

A Virginia woman whose sister was on board the Andria Doria gave her account of the panic, screams, yelling, crying on board the sinking ship. Mrs. Daniel Dean of Baltimore, whose sister lives in Richmond, VA., was traveling with her husband and her mother Mrs. Joseph Torre. In a telephone interview with a Richmond reporter, Mrs. Dean gave a full account, "I was at the last night out party when suddenly the crash came, the ship rocked, and heaved with a jolt. I looked out the window and saw a gleaming white ship zipping past us like a speeding train. The ship rocked and rolled, then came to a stop. My mother was at the movies onboard and I could not reach her due to the panic." Her mother Mrs. Torre slipped off a ladder trying to abandon the Doria and fell into the water and an Italian waiter helped pull her to safety into a life boat and she was later taken to the hospital with a broken leg. There was lots emotional stories with lots of sobbing people who had been reunited with their loved ones.

The next day another story of came out in the Virginian-Pilot, “Norfolk, Home to Andrea Doria Survivor.” Mrs. Maria Lopez of 313 Westover Avenue, a young Italian bride was to join her husband Mr. Luis Lopez, a third class steward who worked aboard the USS Newport News. This was her first sea voyage, one she will never forget. A native of Naples, she too was at a farewell celebration party in the ship’s ballroom when she felt the ship rock, and later was told to get into a life boat. She did not return to her cabin and lost all her personal effects, visa, passport, etc. She quickly entered one of the small boats and was taken to the passenger liner, Ile de France which was picking up passengers. This young Italian bride who was unable to speak much English was quite frightened when telling her story of being a passenger on board the ill-fated ship. She was one of 1,700 passengers on board the Andrea Doria.

However, the most sensational news was a young 14 year old girl, Linda Morgan, who when the Stockholm plowed into the Andrea Doria broadside, somehow after the two ships separated was lifted out of her bed and ended up on the crushed bow of the Stockholm. No one knows how this could have happened. In the confusion a crewman heard her calling out to her mother in Spanish. Another crewman who spoke Spanish was able to translate. Her sister in the next bed was killed. She was frightened and crying and calling for her mother. However, she was able to grasp what had happened. “I was on the Andrea Doria. Where am I now?" Linda Morgan was known and dubbed, the “Miracle Girl.” She was catapulted from one ship to another, not to mention a celebrity overnight following the collision. Linda suffered a broken arm and she remained on board the crippled Stockholm until the ship reached New York. Her father Edward P. Morgan was a news commentator based in New York City and on his daily broadcast he reported the memorable account of the collision of the two ships. However, he did not tell his many listeners that his daughter had been onboard the Andrea Doria and was believed dead.

As a young teenage, Linda Morgan suffered from survivor’s guilt as her stepfather and younger half-sister had been killed, not to mention her mother who was seriously injured. Yet her life was spared. Later as a young woman she moved to San Antonia, Texas, and married a young lawyer, Phil Hardberger, who in 2002 became the mayor of San Antonio.

The Stockholm lost five crewmen in this collision. The bow of this Swedish ship crashed through passenger cabins of the Andrea Doria killing 46 passengers and crewmen. One passenger watched his wife being dragged away forever on the retreating bow of the Stockholm.

This was the biggest news story of the century. After the sinking, many salvage companies and individuals were visiting the ship and trying to decide how to salvage the Andrea Doria. All sorts of people were quick to come up ways to salvage and bring the Andrea Doria up from her watery grave. Interestingly, she is still on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, 250 feet down, deteriorating at a rapid pace for over 65 years. All attempts have failed to bring her up to the surface. And many men have lost their lives in the attempt.

This was indeed one of the worst sea disasters of all time. It was sensational news in 1956, two ill-fated ships in dense fog running into each other in a collision off of Nantucket. It was a nightmare for those who were on board. But for the newspapers, television and radio it was sensational news, especially for me as a young fellow. It was truly a day to remember.

MS Stockholm

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Robert B. Hitchings is a seventh generation Norfolk resident, graduating with an Associate's Degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and BA in history from Virginia Wesleyan University. During his studies he was awarded a scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, and he was an exchange student at Brooks-Westminster College, Oxford, England. From 1999-2014 he worked as head of the Sargeant Memorial History Room at Norfolk Public Library, and since then has headed the Wallace History Room at Chesapeake Public Library. He is also the President of the Norfolk County Historical Society, and for six years was a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Robert may be reached at nchs.wallaceroom@gmail.com