In July 1956, the SS Andrea Doria sank on the last night of its voyage from Italy to New York City.
- With over 1,134 passengers aboard, including Hollywood movie stars Ruth Roman and Betsy Drake, barely 100 short of her passenger capacity of 1,241.
- There were 190 first-class passengers, 267 cabin class passengers and 677 tourist class passengers, which, along with her crew of 572, came to 1,706 people aboard.
- Ruth Roman traveled with her three-year-old son Dickie; a traveling companion, Janet Stewart, and her son’s nanny.
- Betsy Drake joined the voyage at Gibraltar, where she left her husband, Cary Grant, to make a movie in Spain.
- The voyage enjoyed clear weather and a peaceful crossing until its final night when it entered the notoriously fog-bound waters south of Nantucket off New England.
Watch the full story of the Andrea Doria
LAST NIGHT FOR THE ANDREA DORIA
Last night’s farewell festivities included champagne and streamers, a roast beef dinner, and “Arrivederci Roma,” played by Dino Massa and his orchestra.
- Many passengers cut the evening short to get some sleep before the early morning docking in New York.
- Betsy Drake was in her cabin, in bed and reading.
- Ruth Roman and Janet Stewart enjoyed a last drink in the Belvedere Observation Lounge while her son slept in the cabin on a lower deck with his nanny minding him.
- Some passengers watched the movie Foxfire (1955) starring Jeff Chandler and Jane Russell in the ship’s theater.
M.S, STOCKHOLM RAMS THE ANDREA DORIA
A little after 11 p.m., M.S. (Mortoship) Stockholm accidentally rammed the Andrea Doria, leaving New York for Sweden. Forty-six people on the Andrea Doria and five on the Stockholm were killed.
- Betsy Drake’s cabin on the Boat Deck shook. She dressed, grabbed a life vest, and headed for the upper deck.
- Ruth Roman ran from the lounge to get to her son and ripped her form-fitting dress up the back so she could move better on the stairs that were already lurching at a treacherous angle due to the listing of the ship. She took her son, nanny, and life vests and ditched her high heels to climb to the upper deck.
Distress signals went out.
- A commercial freighter arrived, naval ships, and another grand ocean liner, the Ile de France, had left New York City that morning for England and turned around at the Morse Code distress call.
The Doria was taking on water and threatening to roll over. Half the lifeboats could not be launched. Fortunately, the Stockholm, though it had sustained severe damage to its bow, was in no danger of sinking. Several of its lifeboats were sent to fetch passengers from the Andrea Doria.
- At about 2 a.m., Miss Roman and her party slid down the slanting deck, hoping to catch a rope to a lifeboat below. A young cadet sailor from the Andrea Doria strapped Dickie to himself and climbed down a rope ladder to a waiting lifeboat. The boat pulled away before Ruth could climb in. She, the nanny, and her companion waited for another opportunity to escape.
- Finally, the Ile de France approached. With sensitivity mixed with perhaps Gallic Elan, the captain ordered all the festive lights on the ship turned on so that the Doria survivors could see the name lit up between its two funnels, ILE DE FRANCE, suddenly piercing the black night. The ship managed to scoop up 753 of the Andrea Doria passengers, including Betsy Drake and Ruth Roman, but her little boy was not there. She could not find out to which ship among the seven rescue ships he had been taken.
- When the Ile De France entered New York Harbor on the 26th, other boats blew whistles in tribute, and cheers rose up from the crowds gathering on the piers.
Ruth Roman finally learned that her son had been taken to MS Stockholm, which had trouble leaving the collision scene because its anchor chains had become tangled. Late the next morning, Miss Roman finally reunited with her son when the Stockholm entered the harbor.
THOSE THAT DIED ONBOARD
The area of Andrea Doria’s hull where Stockholm’s bow penetrated encompassed five passenger decks.
- At least eight first-class cabins were destroyed on the uppermost of these decks, the Upper Deck. In all, six first-class passengers lost their lives. In cabin 46, Colonel Walter Carlin had been in the bathroom brushing his teeth at the time of the collision and miraculously survived, while his wife Jeanette was killed.
- In the direct line of Stockholm’s bow on the upper deck were cabins 52 and 54, which were occupied by Camille Cianfarra, a longtime foreign correspondent for The New York Times, his wife Jane, their eight-year-old daughter Joan and 14-year-old Linda Morgan, Jane’s daughter from her previous marriage to American journalist Edward P. Morgan. Joan was killed instantly, while Camille died from severe injuries moments after the collision. Jane was seriously injured but rescued by some other passengers, Dr. Thure Peterson, who had been next door in cabin 56. He sustained only minor injuries, while his wife Martha was gravely wounded and was trapped along with Jane Cianfarra. After a long struggle to free her, mainly on the part of her husband, Martha succumbed to her injuries a few hours after the collision.
- One deck below on the Foyer Deck, near the first class entrance, Ferdinand Melly Thieriot, circulation director of The San Francisco Chronicle, and his wife Frances, were killed, as their suite was in direct line of Stockholm’s bow. Their 13-year-old son Peter, who occupied a cabin further down the corridor, survived.
- On the decks below, titled A, B, and C Decks, the loss of life was greater, as it was the location of several sections of tourist-class cabins. On A-Deck, eleven passengers, consisting of ten women and one elderly clergyman, were all killed.
- Andrea Doria’s 50-car garage was penetrated on B Deck, but with no reported loss of life as no passenger cabins on that deck were penetrated.
- On C Deck, the worst loss of life occurred. A total of 26 people were killed in the collision section there, mostly Italian immigrant families.
- Among the most heart-wrenching of the losses was that of Maria Sergio and her four children, 13-year-old Giuseppe, 10-year-old Anna Maria, seven-year-old Domenica, and four-year-old Rocco, who occupied a cabin on the starboard side of C Deck which was in direct line of the collision.
- She was traveling aboard Andrea Doria with her children on her way to South Bend, Indiana, where her husband, Ross Sergio, and their 17-year-old son, Anthony, were waiting for them. Anthony Sergio had, in fact, sailed to the United States from Italy aboard Andrea Doria the previous April. Also traveling with them were Maria’s sister Margaret and her husband Paul Sergio, who also happened to be Ross Sergio’s brother. Paul and Margaret had emigrated to the U.S. before the voyage and had returned to Italy for a visit and to accompany Maria and the children back to Indiana. Both Paul and Margaret survived the sinking, and for years after the disaster, Paul was haunted by the memory of his four-year-old nephew Rocco, the youngest of his brother’s children, who just hours before the collision, had asked if he could spend the night with his uncle.
THE INJURED AND THOSE THAT DIED DURING THE RESCUE
In addition to the lives lost in the collision, three more of Andrea Doria’s passengers died from injuries and ailments during and after the evacuation.
- Norma Di Sandro, a four-year-old Italian girl traveling in tourist class with her parents, Tullio and Filomena Di Sandro, was dropped on her head into a lifeboat by her panicked father. She was taken to Stockholm and subsequently airlifted to Brighton Marine Hospital in Boston, where she died from a fractured cranium without ever regaining consciousness.
- Carl Waters, a businessman from Manasquan, New Jersey, traveling in cabin class aboard Andrea Doria with his wife Lillian, died from a sudden heart attack en route to New York aboard Stockholm.
- Angelina Grego, a 48-year-old, broke her back after falling into one of Ile de France’s lifeboats. She was taken to St. Claire’s Hospital in New York City, where she lingered in immense pain until her death six months later.
THE SHIPS ARE SEPARATED
After the ships had separated, a miraculous discovery was made as Stockholm crew members were beginning to survey the damage.
- On the top deck of Stockholm, one of the crew came across Linda Morgan, who had been thrown from her bed on Andrea Doria as the two ships collided and landed on Stockholm’s deck, suffering moderate but not life-threatening injuries. Others, unfortunately, were not as lucky, as five of Stockholm’s crew perished in the collision.
END OF AN ERA
In a way, the Andrea Doria tragedy seemed a portent to the end of elegant travel.
The jet age was on the horizon, as was the age of instant media coverage for such events, with all its sensationalism and cruel lack of privacy for victims.
Some notable celebrities who had sailed on her were Tennessee Williams, Anna Magnani, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Christine Jorgensen (the world’s first transsexual woman), Clark Gable, and comedian Gracie Fields.