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THE GREAT GATSBY STYLE – a 1929 cruise aboard the Swedish America Line’s MS KUNGSHOLM…


Brooks Bros. collection for the new film The Great Gatsby – very 1929 cruising fashion… 

The First Class Lounge on board MS Kungsholm – by many regarded as one of the most beautiful rooms afloat.

The MS Kungsholm (II)/Italia – 1928 – 1965

The MS KUNGSHOLM was built in Hamburg, Germany in 1928.

Her gross registered tonnage was 21,256 and her passenger capacity 1,544.

The Kungsholm inaugurated cruises for SAL on January 19, 1929, when she first visited the Caribbean.

The chic liner made many trans-Atlantic crossings and cruises out of New York.  Exceptional Swedish service, cuisine and atmosphere helped propel SAL to a first class operation until it went out of business in the 1970s.

On January 20, 1940, the Kungsholm made the first South Seas Cruise.

In February 1941, J. D. Salinger (the famous author – Catcher In The Rye) took a position on the entertainment staff of the M.S. Kungsholm, touring the Caribbean for nineteen days.   Upon leaving the ship, Salinger attempts to join the army but is deferred due to a minor heart irregularity.  During the summer, he begins a romantic relationship with Oona O’Neill, daughter of the playwright Eugene O’Neill.

The Kungsholm was taken over by the U.S. government on December 12, 1941. On January 2, 1942, the Swedish flag was lowered and the American flag was raised as the vessel was named John Ericsson.

During World War II John Ericsson served with distinction as a troop transport in the Pacific, the Mediterranean, as well as during the invasion of France in 1944.

She was repurchased by SAL in 1947 and operated by the Home Lines as the Italia. While in Swedish American Line service, the Kungsholm carried 82,745 transatlantic passengers and 58,779 cruise passengers.

In 1941, the position of entertainment director for the M.S, Kungsholm of 1928 was held by J. D. Salinger.  Mr. Salinger would go on to become a world-renown author with the publication of “The Catcher in the Rye” in 1952. Undoubtedly the Kungsholm’s most famous crew member. No doubt he used this experience when writing his short story “Teddy” (republished in his collection Nine Stories) which takes place on an ocean liner.

A Masterpiece of Art Decó Design

Although the Kungsholm of 1928 was a masterpiece of Art Decó design, and the architect Carl Bergsten was a Swede, Art Decó was not a typically Swedish style at that period. The style was primarily chosen to suit the American market. A similar design can be found in the Empire State Building.

MS Kungsholm in Curacao – 1935.

At this period there were two different trends in Swedish design. Carl Bergsten had designed the Swedish pavillion at the 1925 Paris Exhibition, and the Swedish participation had been a great success, especially the display of exclusive Orrefors chrystal glassware. At the same time the Swedish welfare state was evolving, favoring a functional, but attractive, design at a price range the workers could afford. The Kungsholm was a combination of both these trends.

First Class Stairway and Entrance to Public Room

The Art Decó interior was primarily to be found in the first class sections. The first class public rooms were decorated in black, grey, red and gold, with geometrical patterns and Egyptian details. There was a red grand piano in the first class lounge. Grey seal skin was used in some of the tapestry and carpets. The first class smoking room was inspired by the Orient. In the main embarkation hall, there was a round table with an Orrefors glass top, decorated with astrology symbols. The furniture was mostly manufactured at the NK factories in Nyköping, Sweden.

The First Class smoking room.

As a contrast, and a special feature of the first Kungsholm, was the general upgrading of the third class sections. The dining room had bright colors and tables for four or six persons, instead of the long tables that were customary in third class dining rooms at that period. The public rooms were inspired by Swedish rural life, with much influence from Carl Larsson paintings.

When the ship was seized by the US Government in December 1941 (soon to be purchased) and converted into a troup transport ship, all the furniture was thrown on to the pier in New York. None of it has been found, with the exception of a mirror that appeared at an auction in New York some years ago.

The lovely profile of Sweden’s Kungsholm.  See the pool at the bottom of the ship – pictured below.

The first class swimming pool.

We wish to thank Lars Hemingstam and his excellent website on the Swedish American Line – click here to visit.

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