It was July 25, 1956. Elizabeth Hanson, six months pregnant, was returning to the U.S. with her three young children after her husband’s Fulbright professorship in Italy. He had flown ahead to retrieve the family car while they came across the Atlantic on a fine liner, the Andrea Doria. Here is an excerpt from the story as Elizabeth wrote it.
Andy (12), Ardith (7) and I woke up when the Stockholm plowed into the side of their ship, just a few cabins forward from our cabin as we later learned. The sensation was what one might feel sitting in a row boat as it bumped several times against a dock. Andy instinctively slammed shut the porthole cover beside him, as he saw lights flash by. We were instantly aware that our cabin floor was tilting. My mind was sort of blank. I just knew that something very serious was wrong. I went to the row of four metal lockers, in the bottom of which the life jackets were stowed, and I yank them out, one after the other, throwing them on the floor and noting with alarm that they slid across the tilted floor toward the outer wall, as I did so.
Our steward was in the hall, calling “Signore, signori, andate fuori! Signore, signori, andate su!” Essentially, “Ladies and gentlemen, come out of your cabins and go up on deck.” There seemed to be a smoky haze in the hall. (I believe now that it was exhaust from an engine that must have ruptured by the Stockholm). All I wanted to do was to get my kids and myself above deck. It didn’t occur to me to get dressed, although and he had the presence of mind to slip on his shorts. I put Ardith’s life jacket on her over her slip, but I forgot to tie it. I sent her and Andy out in the hall to go above deck. Then, I had to awaken Donnie (10). A sound sleeper, he had slept through it all! I had to urge and urge him to come right away. I got his life jacket on him, but he was conservative and wanted to get dressed.
In retrospect, there would have been plenty of time for him to address. But all I knew then, the ship could sync with us trapped below deck. I urged him, “You have to come now. Your life may depend on it.”