The Passage to America: Photographs by Erich Hartmann

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The Independent Culture
IN THE summer of 1960, the photographer Erich Hartmann had almost come to the end of his few months in Europe: a good variety of assignments completed, it was time to fly back to New York. Then a German magazine, Praline, proposed he go instead by ship, photographing those who couldn't afford, or brave, the new jet travel, but preferred the four-day passage by liner.

'This was not a cruise,' Hartmann stresses. 'People had business to deal with on the other side of the Atlantic. But it was a nice way to get home.'

Both the Queen Elizabeth (two funnels) and the Queen Mary (three) travelled fast. But on board, passengers were in their own little universe: one which mirrored the traditional divisions of English life. As Hartmann noted, watching his fellow passengers, first-class, cabin-class and tourist-class echoed 'those rather clear divisions which are always obvious in Britain.' And in the Upstairs Downstairs world of Cunard, those passengers who attempted to cross this divide upwards - trying to get a drink in the first class bar, for example - were frowned upon not so much by the respective passengers of each class, who regarded it as something of a game, but by their respective staffs.

The Queen Elizabeth included facilities those in tourist-class might not always have enjoyed on land: a gymnasium, an operating theatre, a fully equipped laundry, and acres of deck to stretch out on and take the air. But as a means of travel for the businessman crossing the Atlantic, it was nearing its end. Air travel was already transforming the role of the Queen Elizabeth and her successor, the QE2, launched in 1967, into luxury cruise ships filled with well-heeled retirees. -

OPPOSITE PAGE, TOP: the first thing all passengers were required to do, once on board, was line up on deck for life-jacket drill. They were directed to their appropriate lifeboat stations, and given a reassuring message from the captain. Even so, there were a few anxious looks. OPPOSITE PAGE, BELOW: the passengers boarded through their special canopied gangways, through lines of immaculately uniformed stewards and stewardesses, who would be their escorts to staterooms. Luggage was trundled aboard. All-ashore gongs sounded, whistles blew, commands were shouted, tugs went to work and finally the great ship slid away and it was time to wave handkerchiefs in farewell to friends on the pier. ABOVE: as long as the crossing was relatively smooth, life could be one long party, beginning with the send-off. This cabin class cocktail party was one of many hosted in a different cabin each afternoon or evening. LEFT: in the first class, deck-chairs could be placed on the enclosed Promenade Deck for those whose health, sensibilities, attire or coiffure were not up to the rigours of the open deck. Tea in one's deck-chair was a splendid ritual, as was the steaming cup of bouillon served on deck at eleven in the morning THIS PAGE, RIGHT: the special excitement of a transatlantic voyage began at Waterloo Station where the 'The Ocean Liner Express' awaited passengers and their often mountainous luggage for the two-hour journey to Southampton Docks. The boat train, like the Queen Elizabeth herself, was divided into first class, cabin class and tourist class, with appropriate amenities. NEXT RIGHT: the boat train went directly into Ocean Terminal at Southampton Docks where the Waiting Rooms were also designated by class. Embarkation dress for all classes, even for little girls, included hat and gloves RIGHT: behind the scenes, below the decks, the small army of room stewards, dining stewards, messenger boys, deck stewards, shopkeepers, seamen, hairdressers, officers had their quarters and took their recreation, free of the restrictions of uniforms. NEXT RIGHT: the fact that exercise and fitness were not high priorities at the turn of the Sixties is reflected in the size of this gymnasium. There was in addition a squash court and a first class swimming-pool far down in the bowels of the ship amidships. Smaller cabin class and tourist class pools were equally far below deck RIGHT: valets and ladies' maids, laundresses and dog-walkers were available in the first and cabin classes, but in tourist class provision was made for passengers to do their own laundry. NEXT RIGHT: the best part of the crossing - lying out on deck in the salt air in a splendidly designed Cunard deck-chair. Each time you arrived on deck, the steward would arrange your chair and mattress and then cover you carefully with the splendid dark blue and red Cunard blanket RIGHT: a ship's officers' meeting, held each day in the first class Main Square. These immaculately uniformed men, occasionally seen strolling the passenger decks and lounges, carry the burden of responsibilty for providing a safe and smooth passage through the perilous North Atlantic for what is a huge luxury hotel containing thousands of people LEFT: knowledgeable passengers, on boarding the ship, made straight for the deck steward. Early application to this important person would ensure perfect placement for your deck-chair: out of the wind, in the sun, if any; at one side for privacy, in the middle if you wanted to socialise. NEXT LEFT: each stateroom had an assigned steward and stewardess, here turning down beds for the night in first class, available at the touch of a bell for a drink, or to run a bath. (In tourist class, one had to sign up with the bath steward or stewardess for a bath down the hall) LEFT: the first class radio officer's station could perform all the functions of a travel service, telephone switchboard and telegraph office for those who wanted to contact those left behind or waiting in New York. NEXT LEFT: the first class Verandah Grill was on the sun deck, with a view over the open decks of the stern and the ship's wake in the distance. Food, wine and service in first class were sumptuous, on a par with the greatest restaurants in the world. However, to eat that food one paid a surcharge on the meal to avoid the crowd in the first class restaurant LEFT: by the time the New York skyline was in sight the Queen Elizabeth was progressing extremely slowly, with harbour pilot on board to navigate the huge vessel through the ship channel, up the bay and into the North River. NEXT LEFT: all through the night before landing, baggage was collected from the hold and from outside stateroom doors so that by morning suitcases, boxes and trunks were piled high near the gangways. Once on the pier, it was piled up again alphabetically according to the letter sticker included with the passenger's ticket and embarkation card LEFT: after a turnaround time of usually 24 hours, the Queen Elizabeth was on her way back to Southampton with another set of passengers. Through the night fuel and water had been pumped in, used linen taken off and replaced with clean, and food supplies loaded on. Then she was off, with fresh flowers and cool champagne. NEXT LEFT: after the majestic arrival through the Narrows and past the Statue of Liberty came the noisy drama of tugs docking the ship. Then down the gangway to the clamour of the baggage hall and, with customs cleared, back to the real world of searching for a New York taxi

(Photographs omitted)

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