As readers of this issue's Correspondence columns may gather, the Ocean Liner Museum's Normandie Trek was an outstanding success, sitting-room only on the largest bus that Campus Coach could provide.
The weather was perfect--sunny but not oppressive--and throughout our Manhattan/Brooklyn peregrination, timing and traffic exquisite. In fact, the bus drew up in front of La Caravelle at 5:27 p.m., only minutes before the restaurant opened for pre-theater dinner.
Andre Jammet, proprietor of the enchanting French restaurant at 33 West 55th Street, had set aside the Museum's dinner selection at the back so that all dined within easy and commodious reach of each other, a fitting Gallic conclusion to a day spent in pursuit of that great French Line flagship. For the occasion, Wayne Mazzotta designed and printed stunning souvenir menus, one cover of which is included in the illustrative section of this article en face.
The visit to Mario Pulice's apartment was perhaps the glittering highlight of the day. Mario has amassed a perfectly stunning collection Normandie memorabilia, including a fauteuil from the grand salon, some of Jean Dupas's splendid glass paneling, a huge selection of silver and glassware and, not yet mounted in place, a pair of handsome bronze doors that gave into one of the vessel's private dining rooms.
At the next stop, the Normandie Court, the bus party admired the huge ferrous enameled Chevalier Normand mural as well as two large arcadian tapestries in an adjacent building, their shipboard location unknown but clearly of Normandie provenance. Does any reader know where they hung?
After a quick trip into the Metropolitan Museum's restaurant to
glimpse the largest assemblage of grand salon Dupas glass panels in existence, the party re-embarked onto the bus and crossed Manhattan to view the slip between Piers 88 and 90, site of Normandie's tragic fire and capsize in February 1942.
The Day's Only Hiccup
By irritating co-incidence, this was the only stop of the afternoon where uncomprehending bureaucracy raised its adamantine head. A sentry at the entrance to the pier's uptown roadway refused permission for the bus to enter, site of dozens of bus arrivals each weekend afternoon throughout spring, summer and fall, carrying passengers embarking on cruise ship to Bermuda. So the bus had to be driven south on 12th Avenue to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum's entrance, necessitating that members walk back up north to view the slip. On the north interior wall of the pier shed on Pier 88, the association of Normandie divers--still convening annually--who had helped salvage the wreck of USS Lafayette, have hung their memorial plaque.
Then it was on to deepest Brooklyn, effected across the Manhattan Bridge because the Brooklyn Bridge does not tolerate the weight of large busses. A swift jaunt down Henry Street to Remson Street brought the bus to Our Lady of Lebanon Church and Raimond Sube's unmistakable salle a manger doors.
Suddenly, there they were, remarkably well preserved, in their cut down state. Chor Bishop Mansour, the original purchaser, had compressed six of the original ten round bronze medallions onto one set of doors; the remaining four decorated a shorter doorway around the corner. Inexplicably, the Chor Bishop had seen fit to fill the round disc's interstices with a banal vine-and-grape-leaf applique which
would clearly have appalled M. Sube. But never mind, those ten, incomparable bas reliefs have been preserved and are visitable today for all New Yorkers.
The bus carried the trekkers back through the Brooklyn/Battery Tunnel, pulling up at South Street Seaport for the penultimate stop of the day. In one of the Seaport Galleries was the wheel of the Normandie. Your Editor had rescued it from the divers who stole it back in 1942, restored it and presented it to the South Street Seaport Museum long before, alas, the Ocean Liner Museum was in existence.
Bells and Whistles
Just a block or two further north, the party called in at the Seamen's Church Institute for a glimpse of two final Normandie relics, her great ship's bell and the other, on exhibition at the Institute, the triple-chime whistle from the after side of the vessel's number two funnel, on loan from the Ocean Liner Museum.
After a pause for some Seaport shopping, the party reboarded the bus for the last time, heading uptown to West 55th Street. All that remained was for Mary Maxtone Graham to draw the number of the lucky recipient (David Bergstein) of a large lithograph of Normandie departing New York harbor, made from a painting by Lawrence Blumenthal and recently donated to the Museum by the artist.
The Normandie Trek represented, apart from its historical riches, a perfect weekend outing sponsored by the Museum--affordable, educational and extremely popular. If there is sufficient interest, the Museum may well undertake a repeat; an influx of supportive postcards to this publication would serve as appropriate bellewether. Then too, another bus trek, involving a different, New York-related ship, may be mounted instead.