My High School Trip to Europe Aboard the TSS New York in 1959

 

Liz Bradford Cunningham was a 16-year-old teenager from Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1959. It was a year that she will never forget.

She was part of a group of Albuquerque high school students who were fortunate to have traveled to Europe that summer. The TSS New York became her home for several weeks, and those two trans Atlantic voyages have become some of her most treasured memories.

Those crossings were also the last for the TSS New York. Her life as a passenger ship was ending. She returned to Piraeus Greece where she remained anchored for two years. In 1961 she was sold to a Japanese firm and broken up for scrap.

 

Liz was kind enough to share her recollections and photos of that Summer 45 years ago.

Liz, thank you for your generosity and adding to this grand old ship's legacy in cyberspace.

 

 

 

View from the back of the New York looking towards the front

 

"In June of 1959, I was a 16 year old teen age girl traveling with a group of high school students from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our group was headed for a two month tour of Europe. My maiden name was Elizabeth Bradford. There were about 22 of us in our group. 17 girls and 5 boys, all between the age of 14 to 17. We were all from three different high schools. There were two groups of us. One group had about 25 students. My group had 22. The group leaders were high school teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Stumpff.

We left Albuquerque by Greyhound bus and traveled non stop to New York City. We spent two nights and one day in New York. I think the date we boarded The T.S.S. New York was around the 10th of June

 

The 'New York' at pier side in N.Y.C

The name of our travel group was called simply A Pre College Study Tour Of Europe. I think it was connected with a Dutch tour company in Rotterdam and was called the Council of International Studies.
For our formal dress, we had to wear (girls ) Fiesta Dresses, a native dress of New Mexico of Spanish - Mexican design and brightly colored.

( Funny we never wore them much at home ) The boys were required to look like a cowboy with western shirts and blue jeans. This is what we wore to the captains dinner instead of formal wear. It was the thing to do I guess. We were certainly noticed. (stuck out like a sore thumb we thought) This is what were wore to most formal functions in Europe as well.
When in Europe we traveled to Paris, down to Rome, then up to Austria and Germany. It was in Austria and Germany we stayed in Youth Hostels. We met a number of German Students and even some from East Germany. ( East Germany was at that time under the Iron Curtain .) Most of these German Teenagers had the idea that all American teenagers were like the ones they had seen in American Movies, always partying ...We did indeed get a cold shoulder sometimes, but we never left a place until we convinced them that the American teenagers were not like that at all. Most of us are hard working and went to school to study hard as well. We were at a young age excellent diplomats I think.....I hope we left good impressions. After Germany we went to Holland and Belgium, crossed the English Channel to England. After England we again boarded the ship at Southampton for our return crossing.

I was suppose to bring home with me the images of the old churches, etc. of the Old World, instead I brought home with me the memories of all the people I met along the way. Even though we spoke different languages and some of our customs were different, and after we got to know one another, we found that we did have a lot in common. That was great and worth more than gold or silver.

Life aboard the T.S.S New York

We boarded the T.S.S. New York in New York City. I was very excited, but a bit nervous as well. We were greeted warmly as we boarded the ship, and escorted to our room. Our room was located in the front of the ship and on the bottom deck. There were 8 of us girls in one room with bunk beds. The bathroom and showers were down the hall and around the corner. This was not a luxury liner for sure. I was worried about how 8 girls will fit in one room. I was also worried that the ship was too small to cross such a big ocean. We were only allowed one suitcase for the two- month trip. This would be an experience for sure. After we left our one suitcase in our room, we went out on the deck to depart and waved goodbye to people we did not know. We sailed in an hour into the open ocean and I took a deep breath and said "OK here we go.
The very next thing we had to do was to go to a lifeboat drill. Why did we have to do this? Was there or will there be something wrong? Do they think this little ship will have trouble crossing the big Atlantic? But then we met Peter. He was our lifeboat instructor. He was so handsome and we were in awe of him. We tried to concentrate on what he was saying, but it was hard. I remember one of us ask him if he would be in the boat with us? He answered "No", it was his duty to see that we all got in safe. It then became one of those moments that you had to be there to appreciate what happened next. We all said " we have no idea how to row a boat, we are from New Mexico and have never been in a rowboat, and we could never leave him behind, he had to go with us....Poor Peter lost his train of thought as we all burst out laughing, including Peter. From that moment on, I began to feel more at ease. I remember our chaperone scolding us for paying more attention to the instructor rather than the instructions.
After the drill we met our bell boys. Peter (another Pete ) and Karl that for some reason we called Charlie.

 

Karl would later be our little alarm clock to see that we got to our dinning room in time. For example, the first two mornings we were late for breakfast. We had first setting and it was early. Our chaperone had told us that we must be on time and that it was rude of us not to be on time.

" DON'T BE AN UGLY AMERICAN ", so we convinced Karl to wake us 30 minutes earlier. He would come early in the morning and bang on our door, fling the door open, flip on the light and yell in a military manner " GET UP NOW "...Well you never saw 8 teen age girls move so fast! We ran to the bathroom and showers and ran back to our rooms, dressed and ready when Karl ( Charlie ) came back ringing the
bells on the xylophone. Now about the showers- Most of the time the water was warm to cold. When the ship would rock and the bow would rise, there would hardly be any
water, then when the bow went down and the stern came up, there would be a blast of water...cold water! The first time it happened we girls screamed so loud that we woke up all the folks that were sleeping on our deck...Again our chaperon had to scold us. We did get use to this and instead of screaming we just laugh out loud. It really got to be where we could time it just right. We later learned if you wanted hot water you
had to get there before 6 AM. A little secret that Karl our bellboy told us.

Our dinner steward was Dieter. He was like a mother hen making sure we ate the right foods and scolded us (in a teasing matter) if we were late. When we were late, he would give us a slice of bread and no butter or sometimes we would just get a slab of butter...All this was done in fun of course, but he did make sure we finally got our meal.

Dieter was 25 years old and very handsome and all of us were in " puppy love" with him. If I remember, on the second day, I was feeling sea sick and missed lunch and teatime. There was a knock at my door and there was Dieter and Karl, instructing that I must go to teatime. I was escorted up the steps to the deck where I was served tea and cookies. Dieter told me the best thing for seasickness was lots of fresh air and food. My stomach was in flip-flops and did not believe him, but I did what I was told and sure enough he was correct, I felt better. After that I was either out on the deck or eating to my hearts content. I must have gained 5 lbs. while on board, but never got seasick after that.

Here are some pictures on deck.


This one I got in trouble...I had to crawl over ropes to get to this place...It is the very front of the ship. After the picture was snapped two crewmembers removed me, explaining that this was very dangerous. At dinner Dieter had heard about it and said in a loud voice " What were you thinking" In the small dining room every one was looking at us, so I answered him by telling him that I was only doing what he told me to do and
that " I was getting fresh air. Another one of those moments you had to be there because of the timing etc. Everyone was laughing, and Dieter vowed to get even with me.
Then there was the talent contest. Dieter an Karl double dared us not to enter, so we made a bet and three of us put together a dance routine as another girl played the ukulele and sung a song as we danced. The routine was so awful and of course we did not win the contest, but we did win the bet.

 

 

Here is a picture of our room.

We were a messy bunch of girls. We were a problem to our sweet Cabin Steward. He did not know what to do with us, so we told him not to worry about our room. I think he was relieved, but he always made sure we had a bunch of clean towels for the whole trip.

 



Here is a picture of our Cabin Stewart. I think his name was Fritz. Notice his big broom as he promised to really clean up after us. What a great sport he was and a wonderful since of humor. I will tell you more about him later. We called him Grandpa.

 

 


Here is where Dieter gets even with me. We were just leaving Ireland. Our ship could not go all the way in to tiny inlet, as it was too shallow, so a smaller boat met our ship to take off passengers getting off at Ireland. As we began to pull away, Dieter picked me up and held me over board, yelling at the passenger boat that they forgot a passenger. I hung on for dear life (and loved every minute of it)!

These are just a few examples of all the tricks and stunts that we played on each other. We had so much fun. It was sad to leave the ship when we landed at LeHavre, but we would return to the same ship in two months for our trip home.

We reboarded the T.S.S, New York in Southampton. It was wonderful to see everyone again. But some of the crew we had met before were not there. They had transferred to another ship. It was then we learned that this was the last Atlantic voyage of this wonderful ship. It was so sad. We also learned that our Grandpa Fritz (our Cabin Steward had died at sea while we were in Europe. I cried for several days.

The weather was not to good on that voyage. Staying out on deck was not fun as it rained most of the time. But I have to tell you Karl and another fellow crewmember Nick made us forget our sorrows. The tricks and pranks started all over again. Then came the issue of the Talent Contest again. We looked for a bet for us to enter again, but one of the crewmembers said that he would give up his month's salary for us not to EVER to that routine again! He said if we did that routine again, he would jump over board, so we backed out. It was then Karl had developed a crush on Kay, my best friend on the trip. There was so much teasing and joking going on. (Read Karl's personal memories on the T.S.S. New York elsewhere on this website).

The crewmembers were always speaking in German. We did not know German well enough to get what they were saying, so we started speaking a form of PIG LATIN...not really pig latin, but something called HOBBLE GOBBLE. If you wanted to say " How are you", it would sound like something like "Ha Ba R Ba Yaboo" Well, close enough anyway. So as they spoke German we did our thing, thus leaving all us in a mass of confusion, which was very funny to say the least. Well to make matters worse, we called our language Span a Ho, a lost language of Spanish and Navajo mixed together. Of course there is no such language, but we did make a lot of folks believe it.

We would often sit out on the deck singing songs to pass the time away. One of those songs was " Tom Dooley". When we got to the part of "Poor boy you are gonna die", we would point to one of the crewmembers. They would hang down their heads and fall over and play dead. (Another moment where you had to be there.).... What is so funny is that Karl E-mailed me that one of his first American Records that he bought was the "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley." As many times as we song that one, one would think that one would have had enough of TOM DOOLEY, but then we were pretty silly back then.

Now I have to tell you that the crew was not supposed to fraternize with the passengers. This was not the LOVE BOAT as seen on TV, but there was a lot of good old fashion harmless fun and a lot of memories too.
They say old sailors never die, they just fade away. Well old ships never fade away either -they just sail away with wonderful memories. Most of us who sailed on her are old and living in our senior moments, but as we hold on to some of these fun times in our lives, this little ship will never be forgotten.

That trip was an experience of a lifetime!"

 



Liz Bradford Cunningham

May 2004