The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                             PAGE FOUR
Le Normandie Disaster in New York:  What a Then-Four-Year-Old Remembers
by Arthur Gillette

I grew up in suburban New Jersey, and one of my earliest and most striking (indeed shocking) memories stems from 1942 and seeing the French luxury liner Le Normandie completely tipped onto her port (left) side between two Manhattan wharfs.   The immediate explanation was 'sabotage', but my Dad doubted that a German spy or an American Nazi could have pulled off such a major coup in the heart of New York city.  This is what I saw at the age of four:

La Normandie.  Credit Wikimedia.

The capsized Normandie at a Hudson River wharf

Whatever the explanation (and I’ll come back to that below), this was a major blow to French prestige and a ship known as a symbol of France in the 1930s ~ a pinnacle of luxury and raffinement à la française.

Begun in 1931, Le Normandie’s construction was delayed by shipyard strikes. Then,La Normandie Poster.  Courtesy French Line although she was launched in 1932, the Depression delayed commercial navigation until October 29th 1935.

Postcard of La Normandie departure.  Courtesy French Line.

A French Line postcard of the period shows the grand liner's  departure.

And her maiden crossing to New York arrived – after skimming across the Atlantic at speeds reaching an amazing rate of 30 knots, about 35 land mph – on October 26, 1936.

On board, passengers were treated to incredibly luxurious surroundings. Here, for example, is a first class stateroom.  The ship also boasted a swimming pool, beauty parlor, exercise room and movie theatre among other amenities for the passengers to enjoy.

La Normandie first class stateroom.  Photo courtesy Wikipedia.



SS_Normandie_Grande_Salle_à_Manger.jpg - Wikipedia.

Anyone hungry ? Here is the main dining room with furnishings by no less than René Lalique.

After Pearl Harbor, Le Normandie was requisitioned by the U.S. government, which renamed her S.S. Lafayette (recalling that Marquis’ support for the American Revolution) and planned to turn her into a troopship. The catastrophe that sank the ship happened during her conversion. Today the general consensus is that my Dad was right: not sabotage but a terrible accidental fire caused by sparks from a welding torch that raged throughout the structure largely via kapok life vests.

Reconstruction proved impossible, and the ship was scrapped in 1946.

Remnants of her decoration are exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Carnegie Museum.  Her whole image remains steadfastly in the doubtless tiny four-year-old's corner of my brain.

Editor's Note:  The SS Normandie was built in Saint-Nazaire, France, for the French Line Campagnie Général Transatlantique.
She entered service in 1935 as the largest and fastest passenger ship and is still the most powerful ever built.
She made 139 westbound crossings from her home port of Le Havre to New York.  Seized by US authorities in New York
 when France was occupied in World War II, the ship was renamed the USS Lafayette after the French general who aided in the
American Revolution.  It was in 1942 that the ship caught fire and capsized and came to rest at Pier 88 in the Hudson River.
This is the current site of the New York Passenger Ship terminal.  In addition to the gilt panels salvaged from the ship, artist and
decorator Jean Dupas decorated the Grand Salle of the Normandie with 400 panels of painted and frosted glass which, along with
 the Chariot of Poseidon, are now at New York's Metropolitan museum.  Lalique's fountains can be found at
Miami's Fontainebleau Hotel, and a set of bronze doors once decorated the home of actor James Garner.
 The Normandie was the most luxurious of Transatlantique liners and was a veritable treasure of Art Déco design.

[Editor's Sources of photos and information: Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Ellen T. White]

Contact Arthur Gillette to take advantage of his amazing knowledge of Paris (and France)
 by enjoying one or more of his Paris Through the Ages Strolls.

Visit our Marketplace page for a complete list of strolls and information about Arthur.



Château Robert.  Copyright M. et Madame Van de Hoeven.  All righs reserved.
Dreams do come true!  You can rent this spectacular château in France's
wonderful southwest ~ not far from Biarritz on the Atlantic, Bordeaux wine country
and the attractions of northern Spain.  Best of all, for those booking their 2015 week
or weeks by January 31, 2015, there is a 15% discount on the rental rate.
Click on the photo to visit this full-service luxury château to see all it has to offer.
Contact us soon to get your reservation in before the deadline!


When in France, we always opt to stay in bed and breakfasts in French châteaux in the countryside rather than hotels for many reasons:  security, privacy, historic significance, secure parking for our car, lovely times spent with the owners, grand rooms and grounds, and, let's not forget, cleanliness.  We have always found our quarters, including the en suite bathrooms, to be exceptionally clean - even immaculate.  But, in cities it is not always possible to stay in such places.  Hotels are the option.

A recent survey by has revealed myriad complaints by travelers about hotels around the world.  The survey was taken in Australia and offered interesting insight into what bothered people about hotel stays and the difference in complaints between men and women.  Here are some of the results:

o  Females were most likely to list dirty rooms as their most important issue (48%) compared to males (29%).  However, men were more likely to list inexperienced staff and hidden extras as major issues compared to women.

o  Dated décor and lack of amenities were not a major concern.  Most ranked dated décor as the least annoying factor when staying at a hotel.  A lack of in-room amenities was the second least annoying factor.

The survey highlights the need for hoteliers to focus on the basics such as clean rooms and friendly, attentive service before addressing guest facilities and room décor.

o  Summarizing the results of the survey, the average net response (with the higher ranking issues most important) was:
-   dirty and/or untidy rooms    + 76%                                      
-  uncomfortable bed/poor sleep    + 42%
-  poor service/inexperienced staff     + 28%
-  hidden extras (pay for WiFi, etc.)    +   6%  
-  expectations vs. reality     +   2%
-  poor guest facilities     +   2%
-  difficulty of poor location   -   2%
-  lack of in-room amenities     -  18%
-  dated décor and ambiance     -  36%

As mentioned in our last newsletter, it is a good idea to have sanitizing wipes with you to wipe down the TV remote control, the bedside phone or alarm clock buttons, doorknobs, toilet flush handles, etc. when staying in a hotel.  We do stay in hotels in cities, before we can head for that wonderful bed and breakfast in the countryside, and we've never had a problem with cleanliness. But, if lack of cleanliness is so high on the above survey, it must be a common issue for travelers around the world.

This survey information was provided by, a
 distribution service  of news and announcements to the travel press.

Let us know:  We'd  like to hear from any of you out there who bought TSA's PreCheck option (good at domestic airports only), and how it worked for you.  We'll tell you about our recent experiences at one US airport (both upon departure and return) in our next issue.  Send your story or comments to  Merci!

            page 2  previous page                        next page page 4