© Mark Lowey 2022. All rights reserved.
Having just graduated from a small Ohio university in 1951, three sorority sisters embarked on a memorable trans-Atlantic journey that would shape their lives. In this photo essay, Mark Lowey shares the experiences and photos from a family photo album that has collected dust for more than half a century. The photos, taken by Mark’s mother, Suzanne “Susie” Olin (later Lowey), reveal memories from a bygone post-WWII era.
Susie Lowey’s photo album.
Two weeks after graduating from Denison University, Suzanne Olin received a letter from the City National Bank of Columbus, Ohio. The letter detailed a magnanimous graduation present from her parents—a European tour complete with a roundtrip ocean crossing and a six-week tour of Europe. Susie’s parents had coordinated with the parents of two of Susie’s sorority sisters who would join her. The Thomas Cook & Son travel agency was hired to make all the arrangements for the land portion of the trip. The eight-week itinerary was set and paid for.
Susie, and her Delta Gamma sorority sisters, Carolee (“Lee”), and Shirley, all age 21, were thrilled at the prospect and began preparations. Sensible shoes and layered apparel would be needed for varied weather as summer would turn to autumn. Passport pictures and birth certificates were gathered for their passport applications.
In August 1951, Susie, Lee, and Shirley set sail from New York Harbor on the steam turbine, twin-screw ocean liner S.S. America, on a five-day voyage that would take them across the Atlantic to France. Adventure ahoy!
Susie and her parents prior to departure.
Susie, Lee and Shirley on day one of their voyage.
When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt christened the S.S. America on the last day of August in 1939, the 723-foot vessel was the largest, fastest, and most luxurious American-built passenger liner afloat. But Hitler’s invasion of Poland on the following day resulted in the US Navy’s appropriation of the vessel. It was renamed the U.S.S. West Point and used as a troop carrier until the end of World War II. 
The U.S.S. West Point traveled to Italian and French ports. Its mission was to take part in the “Magic Carpet” voyages, bringing home American troops from the European battlefronts. During her Naval service, she would carry over 350,000 troops – the most of any Navy troopship in service during World War II.
The West Point would also carry Red Cross workers, United Nations officials, children, civilians, prisoners of war, and U.S.O. entertainers.
After the war, in 1946, the America was back to steaming from New York to Le Havre in “five gay days,” quartering a who’s who of celebrities and power brokers in its spacious staterooms and who feasted on such fine fare as Roast Philadelphia Capon in its two-story dining salon. For nearly two decades, the America promised “no finer food and service afloat.” 
The High Seas
In the 1940s and 1950s crossing the Atlantic by ship was considered glamorous and exotic. Commercial flights were beginning to gain popularity as TWA, Pan American, and American Airlines began transatlantic services in 1945, but the journey was difficult. Aramco employees and their families relocating to Saudi Arabia would typically “puddle-jump” in Aramco aircraft, making several stops along the way.
Safely aboard the S.S. America, Susie, Lee, and Shirley were shown to their shared second-class cabin that included two sets of bunk beds accessed by a vertical ladder. After unpacking it was time for lunch and they made their way to the Dining Room to receive their table assignment, which would be their dining table for the duration of the voyage. Joining them for each meal were an American woman named Peggy, fifteen years their elder, and two charming young men around their age, Carlos and Henri.
The “Gala Dinner” Menu, August 13, 1951. The final night of their transatlantic crossing.
Dressed and seated for Dinner. L to R: Shirley, Henri, Peggy, Susie, Carlos, Lee. Each autographed the photo, which is dated August 13, 1951.
Italian American Don Carlos Francisco de Lima Luria was heir to the Luria Steel & Trading Corporation fortune. Henri Edgard Joseph Dopchie of Obbelare lived near Amsterdam. Though their suspicions were never confirmed, my mother and her friends speculated that Henri’s parents may have been Nazi sympathizers owing to his current lifestyle in post-war Holland. Finally, Peggy O’Donnell, a cheerful tablemate, probably wondered how she ended up at a table with five twenty-somethings.
Deck Games and Dancing
The trio from Denison was enchanted with the myriad activities aboard the S.S. America. They played shuffleboard, enjoyed the swimming pool, and relaxed in deck chaise lounges, reading, and writing letters as the long, warm August afternoons slipped by.
Prior to the trip, Susie was “pinned” by her sweetheart. Being pinned was the collegiate precursor to being engaged, and so, deeply in love and determined to be faithful, the tall, blond beauty had eyes for no other during the entire trip. Nonetheless, there were nightly parties with a live orchestra, and the girls found Carlos and Henri to be excellent dance partners.
“Our table of six.”
Shirley on deck.
After five days at sea and a brief stop in La Havre, France, the trio disembarked at the British port of Southampton. They were met by a representative of Thomas Cook Bros. who had arranged their onward train travel to London and hotel accommodations. During the ensuing six weeks, a Thomas Cook representative met them at every station and guided them to their hotels and activities.
Today, Susie laughs when she thinks about those beleaguered Thomas Cook representatives. “If we were told to meet a tour bus at 7:30 a.m. sharp, we would be late. We were always late. It drove them crazy!”
Their first event was the Festival of Britain on London’s Southbank.
In 1951, just six years after World War II, Britain’s towns and cities still showed the scars of war that remained a constant reminder of the turmoil of the previous years. With the aim of promoting the feeling of recovery, the Festival of Britain opened to the public on 4th May 1951, celebrating British industry, arts and science and inspiring the thought of a better Britain. 
Lee and Susie at the Festival of London.
The following few days were spent on “full-day sightseeing drives” by motorcoach. They toured the famous destinations in and around London, from The Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral to Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace. Farther afield, they were taken by train to Warwick Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford.
Statue of Shakespeare, Leicester Square, London.
After a short KLM flight from London to Schiphol Airport, they were off to meet their former shipmate, Carlos Luria. He had kindly invited them for a day of sailing on a lake near Amsterdam.
Lee and Shirley prepare to board Carlos’ sloop.
Learning to sail with Carlos.
Next was a train to Cologne. It was here that their mood darkened somewhat. Cologne had been bombed and severely damaged by the U.S and Allies during WWII. Susie, Lee, and Shirley wandered the streets of broken buildings and rubble. The Germans carried on with everyday life and reconstruction was underway. “It was shocking. We felt bad – it was terrible what we did to them,” recalls Susie on the toll of war.
Postwar Cologne, Germany, six years after WWII.
After Cologne, their spirits were lifted by a spectacular day voyage down the River Rhine from Bonn to Wiesbaden.
They passed the fabled Loreley (Lorelei), a steep, slate rock hill beside a sharp bend of the River Rhine in the Rhine Gorge.
Germanic mythology has it that a beautiful maiden threw herself into the Rhine River in despair over a faithless lover and was transformed into a siren who sat on a rock over the river and lured fishermen to their destruction. Over the centuries Loreley became the subject of a number of literary works and songs; the poem “Die Loreley” (1824) by Heinrich Heine was set to music by more than 25 composers. 
The Loreley at the Rhine Gorge.
Church across from Boppard on the Rhine.
Burg Maus castle and vineyards.
Children jump off a boat on the River Neckar at Heidelberg.
The ladies spent two nights in Berne and were captivated by the city’s famous Great Clock. For centuries, since 1530, at three minutes to the hour a large, gaily colored mechanical cock emerges, flaps his wings, opens his beak and crows – his voice coming from bellows worked by a ten-pound stone attached the original clock’s mechanism. Subsequent robotic characters make their appearance in the hourly performance: a red-costumed jester, a group of marching bears, a drummer and a piper, followed by a knight in golden armor who strikes the great bell with a hammer to toll the hour. 
Locals and tourists assemble below the clock to enjoy the hourly spectacle.
Our trio are fascinated by the bears who reside in deep pits at the Berne Zoo.
Lucerne to Interlaken
A picturesque train ride through the mountains brought them to Interlaken. The early September weather was warm, and in the afternoon they relaxed and swam at a beach on Lake Thun (Thunersee). While there, they encountered several American GIs on leave from their posts in Germany. After some friendly conversation, Susie agreed to be a pen pal with one of the soldiers and politely corresponded with him several times.
The journey, by rail, from Lucerne to Interlaken, via the Brunig Pass, yielded breathtaking views from the train’s windows.
Lee and Susie rented bicycles and peddled around lake Thunersee. (A 30-mile loop that took over three hours!)
From Interlaken the group traveled by train, via the Simplon Route, to Milan and then continued to Venice. This is the last leg of the famous London-Venice Orient Express.
On their one full day in Venice, Susie and her pals started with a guided morning of sightseeing, on foot, to the Doge’s Palace, the Dungeons, and the Bridge of Sighs. In the afternoon they joined an organized party for sightseeing by Gondola to the Ca’d’Oro Palace, Rialto Bridge, Church of Frari (visit) and the Church of Santa Maria della Salute.
Piazza San Marco and the Campanile.
Lee, Susie, and Shirley on their gondola ride.
Rialto Bridge on Venice’s Grand Canal.
A CIAT motor coach carried them from Venice to Florence where they joined a whole-day excursion visiting the city’s many famous tourist sites, including a drive to lovely Fiesole, a mountain village outside of Florence.
View of Florence from Michelangelo Square.
The Gates of Paradise in Piazza di San Giovani.
Piazza della Signoria.
After a brief stop in Genoa, Italy, their motor coach took them along the coast road of the Italian and French Rivieras to Nice. On the way, they stopped to admire Monaco and Monte Carlo from afar.
Susie in Nice.
After soaking up the sun on the French Riviera the three friends headed for the Nice train station. That night was spent in a second-class triple sleeping car compartment on the Calais-Mediterranean Express bound for Paris.
Day one in Paris was city sightseeing by motorcoach. The next day was a whole-day drive to the Palace of Versailles and Malmaison, Napoleon’s home. During their stay in Paris, three memorable meals stand out:
- Lunch on the second landing restaurant of the Eiffel Tower. What a view!
- A “top drawer” dinner at Maxim’s de Paris, regarded as the most famous restaurant in the world in the mid-20th century. The dinner was financed by Shirley’s parents. 
- Lunch at the Restaurant Lescure. Susie remarked in her photo album caption that they had a wonderful meal, including wine, for $1. Lescure opened in 1919 and was famous for its traditional French cuisine, featuring dishes such as duck confit, escargot, and beef bourguignon. The prices were reasonable and the service excellent. Sadly, the Lescure closed, after 100 years, in 2019. 
Maxim’s de Paris.
Susie poses atop the Eiffel Tower.
Keepsakes from foreign travels can serve as special memories for a lifetime. Perhaps every time you see or hold your favorite souvenir you think back to the city, the neighborhood where you found it, who you were with, the shopkeeper, whether you negotiated the price and so on.
Susie realized that the trip was coming to an end, and she purchased two Parisian mementos that she and her family have cherished ever since. Both were purchased in the art stalls and antique shops that line the sidewalks along the River Seine in the Latin Quarter.
“Les affaires sont les affaires.” A watercolor painting with the caption that translates as “Business is Business.” The piece hangs in Susie’s master bathroom.
An antique brass snuff box. Used to store a preparation of pulverized tobacco to be inhaled through the nostrils, chewed, or placed against the gums. 
Sidewalk art stalls in the Latin Quarter.
Departure from Le Harve
All too suddenly, the restaurants, hotels, motor coaches, trains and touring were coming to a close. It was time to catch the S.S. America and return to America. The now well-travelled threesome, perhaps a little weary and wistful, took their final train journey from Paris to the port city of Le Harve on France’s northern coast.
Back onboard the S.S. America, they settled in for their five-day return voyage. They were familiar with the ship’s routine and started making acquaintances with fellow passengers. Susie recalls, “We met lots of guys! One of them was over 30. We thought he was so old and boring.”
Susie, at right, with new friends on the return voyage.
Susie, Lee, and Shirley were in a celebratory mood when New York City and the Statue of Liberty came into view.
The flag raising ceremony as the ship approaches New York.
The Statue of Liberty welcomes Shirley and Susie home.
Passengers crowd the rail for a view of New York City.
A young fellow-passenger poses in front of the docks of New York Harbor.
In a homecoming ritual of sorts, Susie decided to jettison the now well-worn shoes that had served her so well all over Europe. Having worn them daily on uneven cobblestoned streets, hikes among ruins, and paved and unpaved village paths, the shoes had eventually developed a hole in the sole. So, in a final mischievous gesture, with the gusto of youth and a deep appreciation for this trip of a lifetime, Susie flung the shoes into New York Harbor under the watchful, welcoming gaze of the Statue of Liberty and turned her thoughts to the young man to whom she had been pinned (engaged) before her trip.
(That man, Jack Lowey, became my father!)
Susie tosses her shoes overboard.
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Source: The ship’s informational brochure, summarized by the author. 
Important Information to Passengers
Purser’s Office. Accommodation issues and room changes.
Bellboys. Will answer when you ring for a steward.
Baggage Master’s Office. All matters concerning baggage. Lost and found.
Barber Shop and Beauty Salon. (Air conditioned) Hair cut $1.25., Eyebrow arching $1.50.
Children’s Playroom. Trained matron in attendance. Toys, children’s books, child-size furniture.
Deck Steward. Deck chairs and games.
Dictation and Typewriter Facilities. Use of Dictaphone Time-Master and Remington Noiseless Typewriter Machine Model 7, with case, available without charge to passengers.
Dining Salon. (Air conditioned) Assistant Chief Steward will assign table seatings. Ladies are asked to refrain from wearing shorts and gentlemen are requested to wear a coat or jacket. Wine orders will be accepted by the Wine Steward.
Divine Services. Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Jewish worship services will be arranged by the Purser.
Doctor (Dispensary). Registered nurse on duty.
Electric Heat Cabinet Baths and Massage. Shower and Needle Spray (Scotch Douche) $.50. Alcohol Rub $.75.
Gymnasium. Experienced attendant on duty.
Handball Courts. Equipment provided by Deck Steward.
Interpreters. Apply to Purser’s Office.
Kennels. Located in a separate house on the airy Sports Deck. Pets are not allowed in staterooms, public rooms, or passenger decks.
Kosher Meal Service. Kosher kitchen, dishes, and silverware are under the direction of the Kosher Chef.
Laundry. Your Steward will pick up and deliver your laundry to your room.
Library and Writing Room. See Library Steward for writing paper, envelopes, and postcards. Books and magazines are loaned to passengers without charge.
Mail Office. Mail and packages will be delivered to the rooms of passengers.
Night Stewards. Available at all times during the night.
Ocean Press News. Latest news and closing prices of the various exchanges, received by radio, printed, and distributed to passengers daily.
Photographer. Expert photographer available to take pictures by appointment.
Professional Gamblers. Frequently travel on trans-Atlantic passenger ships. Passengers are warned to take precautions accordingly.
Radio Office. Ship-to-Shore Telephone and Radiograms daily, 8 am to midnight. Cables and Telegrams: messages are accepted by cable company representatives who board at every port.
Service Clubs. Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions and members of other services organizations are invited to register their names at the Purser’s office to have the opportunity to meet members of their respective clubs traveling on the ship.
Ship’s Orchestras. Provided and supervised by Meyer Davis.
Shopping Center. An assortment of wearing apparel, drug supplies, perfumes, toilet articles, soap, novelties, souvenir gifts are available.
Swimming Pool. No charge for use of the pool.
Telephone Services on the ship. Operators on duty at all times.
Tobacco Shop and Smoking Room. All brands of cigars and cigarettes available at moderate prices.
Valet Service. For garments pressing apply to Bedroom Valet or Bellboy. Upon request, they will arrange to have your shoes cleaned and polished.
Valuables. A safe is provided in the Purser’s Office in which passengers may deposit money, jewelry and other valuables for safekeeping.
US Customs Limitations. Returning residents to the United States are entitled to free entry of certain articles within limitations in the amount of $200.
Safety at Sea. Do not run on the ship. Walk carefully when deck is wet. Do not wear high heels when playing deck games. Do not smoke in bed. Do not allow children to run and play unattended. Permission cannot be given for the use of baby carriages and perambulators during the voyage. Do not remove hooks from furniture. Use the berth ladder to enter the upper beds.
When Ship is Rolling or Pitching. Use handrail in passageways, stairways, bathrooms. Hold on to safety ropes, handrails, secured furniture when crossing foyers and public rooms. Do not stroll about the ship unnecessarily. Remain seated in secured furniture. Brace yourself when sitting in a straight-backed chair. If your chair should move in the Dining Room while at meals, hold onto the table – do not attempt to save table utensils or equipment. Passengers should familiarize themselves with the Emergency Station and Lifeboat Number and participate in Fire and Boat Drills.
The Festival of Britain
Opened in May 1951, 100 years, almost to the day, of the 1851 Great Exhibition. Construction of the festival’s South Bank site, in the Waterloo neighborhood, opened a new public space, including a riverside walkway, where previously there had been warehouses and working-class housing. The layout of the South Bank site, surrounding the Royal Festival Hall (today a Grade I Listed Building) was intended to showcase the principles of urban design that would feature in the post-war rebuilding of London and the creation of the new towns. These included multiple levels of buildings, elevated walkways and avoidance of a street grid. Most of the South Bank buildings were International Modernist in style, little seen in Britain before the war. 
 The Great Clock of Berne. Lee, Henry. Date unknown. Newspaper clipping found in Susie Lowey’s photo album.