The Last Voyage

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Stories Galore
In July 1956 the pride of the Italian Cruise Ship Line struck a Swedish Liner in the Straight of Nantucket and sunk. Several passengers were killed in the debacle. The story of an American bandleader and his wife are fictionalized in this account.

Submitted: January 10, 2020

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Submitted: January 10, 2020

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Final Voyage  

Jack Kay

Chapter 1

  Smoel Rosenthal arrived in New York city in 1900. Smoel met and married his wife Goldie who was also a newcomer in 1915. He was a piano player who eked out a living playing in bars and clubs. He was never without work, especially when he hooked up with a group called the Boychicks. By now he was known as Sam and became a legend because heknew at least 200 tunes by memory and more importantly he could play jass or jazz as it became to be known. The group became very popular and soon were doing society dances at the homes of the Jewish elites. He was working six nights a week and spent his days with his new wife. shopping and outfitting their apartment which was in little Italy. In July 1920 Harry was born and a second son Kenny was born in December 1922. When Harry was seven, he began piano lessons with his father and later Kenny at age five also began to study with his father. Their father Sam was having difficulty getting work and after the financial crash in October 1929 it dried up altogether. He then began to return to his roots playing in bars or speakeasys as they were now called.He was fortunate to get work with the Morton Sobel society orchestra and played nightly in the fashionable Century club. The place served soft drinks and the customers brought their own "refreshments".It was a good living during hard times for Sam and he spent his days helping his boys.

When Harry or Hank as they now called him entered grade 7, he started playing saxophone in the Junior High School band. He proved to be a natural. His father was amazed, at the ease in which he began to develop. He recognized that Hank had perfect pitch which was amazing. The music teacher at the school said his talent was rare. Hank was also very good in school and Goldie was very proud of him. Sam asked the lead saxophone in the Morton Sobel orchestra to teach his boy. After one lesson he smilingly said to Sam

"Your kid is amazing; he already plays better than me and he is only 12 years old.".

Hanks stature grew on alto Saxophone as time progressed and he won every contest he played in reaping a lotof prize money. When he was 16 he auditioned and was accepted at the Julliard School of Music, but was forced to learn clarinet which he enjoyed but recognized was really not his horn. After a year at the school finally caught up with he times and saxophone became a specialized instrument.

He began to play in various dance ensembles in New York and when he was 17 in 1937, he latched on to a job of a life time with the CBS radio orchestra in the sax section. He now played clarinet and flute and was one of the top calls in New York. Earlier tragedy had struck the family when in 1935 his mother Goldie passed away suddenly. It was not however very long before Sam remarried an Italian girl named Gina Riggerio. She was a freelance radio actress at ABC in New York, and they married after only a few weeks of courtship. It proved to be a very loving relationship. Ken who was making great strides on the string bass was selected for the Philharmonic junior orchestra at age 14. The boys began to learn to speak fluent Italian from their mother. They had a wonderful life together going to the mountains in the summer and taking a week to go to Florida in the winter. It all ended on December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Music in War

When the war broke out in December 1941, Harry was playing regularly with the Radio City Music hall orchestra at the RCA center in New York. Ken had a day job with the New York Post as a copy editor and played with several dance orchestras on bass in the evenings. In mid 1942 they both joined the service at the Marine recruiting station in Manhattan. Bob Crosby had just formed a thirty-piece Marine Force orchestra and both were attached after training. The band played throughout the Pacific theatre of war as well as making numerous recordings. Crosby hired Hank for his new civilian orchestra, but Ken decided to move on and returned to the newspaper field lathing onto a job reporting for the New York Post. In 1949 Crosby changed personnel and Hank was let go. He returned to doing freelance work, throughout the New York area and in the Catskill mountains in the summer. He had numerous girl friends but did not marry.

Big band dance bands began to fade from the scene in the early 1950's and his work began to dry up. With the advent of Television, studio work also became the domain of very few musicians. He took up flute seriously and studied with a symphonic flautist. He did obtain some off-Broadway shows, but this work was highly prized and he had numerous auditions without much work.

He began to eye the union musicians wanted advertisements and in January 1952 came across one searching fora "American style woodwind player whom spoke Italian. It was right up his alley.

 

 

 

Chapter 3

The New Job and Advancement

The Italian Line Andrea Doria Cruise liner were seeking a woodwind instrumentalist. The auditions were being held in January at their offices in New York

Hank applied immediately by sending a resume of his work to their offices by courier. He waited patiently for a response over the Christmas period. He had suddenly been hired for the new show MAME on the second reed book. The rehearsals were long and strenuous, and the show opened on January 5th, with an open run. The pay was just scale, meaning he had to work 6 nights a week with a matinee on Sunday for under 500.00 per week. The show was being renewed because of sold out audiences and he suddenly received a letter advising him to come to the Italian Lien office on January 15th, He worked almost day and night on all his three horns. He had to go to the show at 6:30 every night and rose early in the morning. His apartment was very small, but this practise never seemed to bother anyone.

The Liner offices were in Manhattan and he arrived quite early. He had really tried to sharpen up his everyday Italian by speaking to his mother often on the phone. He decided to speak Italian completely with whomever he met at the offices.  He was ushered into an unused office with a table and two chairs. After warming up on his horns he was greeted by a young man who told him that he was the assistant director of the music team on the Andrea Doria. He told Hank that his name was Mario Benedicta.and played piano. The leader of the 12-piece music ensemble was Arnie Santonin. He spoke very good English but often broke into Italian. He mentioned that the ship had just arrived from Italy the day before and would be leaving within few days to make the return trip.

" The man we have now is going home to Rome and we need someone very quickly." he said in clear Italian.

He asked Hank to play something on all three of his instruments and smiled very broadly when Hank played several jazz choruses, on both Alto Sax , Clarinet and flute. After he began preforming another man entered the room and invited him to continue. He then began to blare and jam on clarinet and sax, taking very short breaks to play another instrument.

"I am Arnie " said the man smiling very broadly in Italian.

Hank shook hands with him. The man lit a very smelly cigarette and sat down at the table and seemed to be lost in thought for a moment.

In English he said" I think you are a very good player and would be perfect for our ensembles, we have a 12 man dance orchestra and play nightly for dancing. After which is the show where we usually employ six or 8 players. Your skills on three instruments would make you invaluable. I can pay you $2500.per month which includes accommodation and meals. You would also have to play at some special lunches and other various performances. Tips can be very good especially if you would play afternoon with a trio in the common rooms around the ship. We also provide all clothing including a black tuxedo, and white jacket as well a blazer for the afternoon. There area number of rules that must be obeyed regarding socializing with the passengers, drinking and punctuality. There is an American trombone named Tony . Antonelli from Chicago. As well a Canadian Guitar player named Robbie Cuzinato. The shows change on every cruise especially from here in New York and rehearsals begin when we depart and can be very trying. How soon could you join us?

Hank thought for a moment

"How about tomorrow?"

They all laughed and with handshakes they had Hank fill out several photographs and a tailor came in and measured him for the suits. They took a cab to the dock and he was issued with some badges as well as shown to his quarters which along with other ship's employees were on the main deck. He was to share with Canadian Robbie Cuzinato who was away at the time. He left immediately as he had to go to his Mother’s house and get his passport and pick up some items of clothing. His mother was surprised at his decision but was amazed at the idea of him a on a sailing ship after he described many of the characteristics of the ship. He made several calls regarding engagements he had booked and a show .He called the American Federation of Musicians office and was given a waiver on his future performances which was essential when you left jobs you had to take an advertised position. He cabbed to his apartment and packed up some of his clothes as well as gathering his extra instrument set. He wrote out post dated checks for his rent and dropped them to the manager. He made several calls to employers advising them he was taking sudden employment on a cruise ship, which voided any other commitments.

His first day on the ship was a rushed encounter. He played a rehearsal for an evening show stumbling through the poorly written music provided by the performers.His cabin mate Robbie Cuzinato was from Toronto and had been on various cruise lines for years. He grabbed a lunch and immediately they rehearsed the dance music for the evening. The saxophone players were not very talkative and tried o speak English. When they realized he spoke Italian fluently they were amazed and talked their heads off. Hank was given the lead saxophone book and thankfully could read all the parts and know most of them.

They rehearsed for two days before sailing. Hank took the show music and fixed several of the parts that were poorly orchestrated. Very soon the guys took to him and were thankful that he was a good musician and helped make the ensemble sound better especially with the show. It was very intensive work but Hank ate up every minute and was totally surprised when he returned after the usual 2 month layoff that he was selected to be the new leader for the music ensembles. The salary increase was for him fantastic and would in the long-term offer year-round employment.

 

 

Chapter 4

Love Marriage and Destruction

The cruise shipping schedule offered Hank opportunities to return to New York and travel extensively through Europe and the Orient. Nearly all the crew and staff were Italian but there were some other nationalities aboard including a Swiss nurse named Martina Lori from an Italian Canton in the Swiss Alps. She was 35 and unmarried and they hit it off almost immediately. She worked in the medical branch of the ship's crew which consisted of 2 Doctors and 3 nurses. They met when she came on board in the late winter of 1955.

This was a very new experience for Hank, he had never had a girl friend and especially in a shipboard romance. But they liked each others company. They did not work like hours but somehow, they were able to make time for each other. The shows were bow becoming more sophisticated with some star performers. Each of the cruises from Genoa and New York last nine days and every night was a different production. The New York run always had a front runner who very often tookan extensive amount of rehearsing. Almost invariably the front runners arrived without any music. This made for quite a bit of time in arranging the material. Hank had good players who were very experienced and he could very often put together special backgrounds for both singers and dancers.

Their shows were always full houses. Hank was also becoming one of the most well-known band leaders among the cruise ship entertainers. Martina had originally signed on for a six-month contract but decided to re-sign for an additional six-month employment. The romance had blossomed with the result they decided to marry, and it became a festive occasion while in New York Harbour with Andria Doria Ship’s captain doing the honors and with both families on board for the occasion.They sailed within three days and they took up residence in a large outside cabin mostly used by VIP's.

The couple's plan was stay aboard until the summer of 1957 where Hank would seek employment in New York and Martina would join him after getting the necessary documents.

On July 25,1956 the Doria entered the heavily trafficked sea-lanes off the Northeast coast of the United States. That same day, the 524-foot Swedish passenger liner Stockholm departed New York on a voyage to its home port of Gothenburg. By around 10:30 p.m., the two ships were approaching one another from opposite directions off Nantucket. Neither was following the established “rules of the road” for ocean travel. Despite sailing in heavy fog, Captain Calamai of the Andrea Doria had ordered only a minor reduction in speed to stay on schedule for an early morning arrival in New York. Stockholm, meanwhile, was steaming north of the recommended eastbound route in the hope of shaving time off its journey.

Around 10:45 p.m., Calamai’s radar picked up a blip representing Stockholm. The Swedish vessel, under the watch of third officer Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen, spotted the Doria on its own radar a few minutes later. It was a situation both had encountered countless times, yet on this occasion the two ships somehow came to opposite conclusions about one another’s locations. Carstens plotted the Doria to his left and prepared to pass port-to-port, while Calamai, fixing Stockholm’s location to his right, maneuvered for a more unconventional starboard-to-starboard passage. One of the men—it’s still not certain who—had misread his radar and inadvertently steered his ship toward the other.

The officers didn’t realize they were on a collision course until shortly before 11:10 p.m., when Calamai finally spotted Stockholm’s lights through a thick curtain of fog. “She’s coming right at us!” one Doria officer shouted. With just moments to spare, Calamai ordered a hard-left turn to outrun the other ship. Carstens, having spotted the Doria, tried to reverse his propellers and slow down. It was too late. Stockholm’s icebreaker bow crashed into Andrea Doria’s starboard side like a battering ram, snapping bulkheads and penetrating some 30 feet into its hull. It remained lodged there for a few seconds, then broke loose, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the Doria.

 

Onboard Andrea Doria, passengers felt a tremendous jolt accompanied by the sound of clanging metal. Actress Ruth Roman described hearing a “big explosion like a firecracker.” In one of the lounges, the ship’s orchestra was playing the song “Arrivederci, Roma” when they were abruptly hurled from their stage by the force of the crash. Hank was fronting the band and ended up on the dance floor on top of two passengers. He was temporarily unconscious. When he gained his senses, he became concerned about 'his boys" mostly those who only ended up with scrapes and bruises could consider themselves fortunate.

Martina had been thrown to the deck in the nursing station where she was doing night duty. She and the medical staff sprung into action, and began herding as many passengers as could be found to life boats. Martina had grabbed her nurses’ bag to assist passengers.It became clear within minutes that the ship was beginning to flounder. The port side life boats could not be launched because the ship was now listing 20 degrees on the starboard side.

Hank went to a storage locker and gathered up several life jackets for the band members and others. He made several trips in the darkness to take as many life jackets as he could hold and passed them out. Ship's crew raced through the companionways shouting to anyone within hearing to get up the stairs to the top decks.Hank had now completely re -gained his senses and raced up the stair well to see if Martina had made it to the top deck. By now she was trying to attend passengers that been struck down when the ship's collided.

The collision killed five people on Stockholm and dozens more on the Doria, which had seen a large section of its starboard side turned into twisted metal. Italian immigrant Maria Sergio and her four young children all perished on impact as they slept. In another cabin, Brooklyn resident Walter Carlin discovered that the exterior wall of his room had been completely sheared off. His wife, who had been reading in bed, had simply disappeared. By far the most extraordinary story concerned Linda Morgan, who was sleeping in a starboard side cabin. The crash killed her stepfather and stepsister, but Morgan was somehow lifted from her bed and thrown onto the crumpled bow of Stockholm, where she landed with only a broken arm. “I was on the Andrea Doria,” she told the astonished Stockholm sailor who found her. “Where am I now?”

Following the shock of the collision, both crews scrambled to take stock of their vessels. While Stockholm was found to be in no danger of sinking, the Doria had sustained critical damage and was listing over 20 degrees to its starboard side, allowing seawater to spill through its watertight compartments. Calamai resigned himself to abandoning ship, but soon encountered a catastrophic problem: the list was so bad that the Doria’s eight portside lifeboats could no longer be launched. The remaining starboard side craft could only carry around 1,000 of the ship’s passengers and crew. “Here danger immediate,” Andrea Doria radioed. “Need lifeboats—as many as possible—can’t use our port side lifeboats.”

Martina groped her way to the top deck with a Doctor and realized that the decks were flooding. Both she and the medical officer stopped to help elderly people as well as others whom had born the impact with scratches and bruises. They worked fast, plastering any who were bleeding. Nearly all the passengers were packed on the promenade deck, where were being assisted into boats that were being lowered onto the sea. Martina noticed however that some crew members were now leaving before passengers and she became concerned and reported this to the third officer Randolph Fasini. Who immediately shouted in Italian and English " Passengers only into boats."

As people arrived Martina set up a dressage for passengers before they embarked. The Doctor was now assisted by two passengers who were Doctors, one British and the other American.

Henry was still helping as many of the crew and staff as possible on the veranda deck, but recognized he would have to find his way out quickly because the ship was now filling with ocean water and the stairs leading to the upper decks were filling with water. Two crew members ran by him and he followed them also guiding trumpet player Enzio Ponchielli who it appeared was suffering from a concussion. Hank bellowed at people who were walking slowly to move on quickly. He had now taken hold of Enzio who was fainting. They finally reached the door of the the promenade deck and were met with an enormous clamor. The call for extra life boats had succeeded and passengers were being lowered by rope to them. It was at this moment that he spied Martina several feet from him. But as the ship suddenly listed almost to a 45-degree angle that she disappeared from his sight. Enzio was taken from his grasp by a Doctor and given smelling salts. Hank was now pushed into a rope sling and lowered into a rubber dingy. When it was filled the sailor cast off away from the Doria.

Luckily for Captain Calamai, his ship was floating in a heavily traveled strip of the Atlantic. While the mangled Stockholm began rescuing passengers from the Doria, several other vessels answered its distress calls and raced to the scene. The first, a small freighter called the Cape Ann, arrived around 12:30 a.m. Two American Navy ships followed shortly thereafter, but lifeboats remained scarce. Finally, around 2 a.m., a massive French ocean liner called the Ile de France maneuvered alongside the Doria, lit up the darkness with its floodlights and began making rescues with its lifeboats.

Though help had arrived, the situation aboard the Doria remained perilous. Debris from the collision had trapped some of the passengers in their cabins, and many on the lower levels had to brave smoke-filled hallways and knee-deep water on their way to the main deck. Those who gathered by the useless portside lifeboats faced their own set of problems. With the Doria listing to its right, its main deck had turned into a steep, slippery slope. To reach the starboard side lifeboats, many had to lie on their backs and slide down the deck, making sure to stop before they careened off the edge and into the water. All the while, the ship continued to roll, threatening to capsize at any moment.

The rescue—one of the largest in maritime history—lasted several hours, but by 5:30 a.m., nearly all the Doria’s survivors had been evacuated. 753 people were placed aboard the Ile de France, with the rest scattered aboard Stockholm and four other vessels. Captain Calamai seemed ready to go down with his ship, but reluctantly boarded the last lifeboat after his crew refused to leave him behind. A few hours later, as the rescue fleet steamed toward New York harbor, Andrea Doria finally capsized and flooded. At 10:09 a.m., it disappeared beneath the Atlantic.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

Aftermath

  Henry had been taken to the American Naval Destroyer the Edward H Allen  and directed to  a men's messing facility where he was given blankets and warm food and coffee. He did not know what had happened to Marina but did meet some orchestra and show members. His concern grew when the message came that there had been a large loss of life. He asked repeatedly if any of the Doria's medical staff had been rescued and he was not able to get an answer. The destroyer headed to New York harbors where there was docking facilities. There were fifty passengers on the navy ship who were escorted to a waiting room on the jetty. Within a few hours other passengers appeared but his wife was not among these groups. He drank numerous cups of coffee waiting to see if he could find out anything about Martina.

His brother Ken suddenly appeared at the door of the waiting area with a bag containing some dry clothing and drinks. They hugged for several minutes and then the entire episode became too much for Henry as he broke down and Ken held him almost like a child. News of other passengers was slow to come. At 10:00am they were told the ship had sunk between the waves and the  Doria assistant purser who had been on the Il De France arrived. Ken went to question him, and he immediately came over to Hank and they wrapped their arms around each other.

" Have you heard anything about Martina" he asked the man in Italian.

"The only thing I know is that the medical staff, I guess including Martina stayed until the end" he responded

Hank then spied a Doctor, whom he knew as Dr Trianos  an  American who looked worse for wear.

"Hey Doc, do you know where Martina ended up after you gave the passengers treatment"

"Sorry Hank, she was there for quite a while then I just lost sight of her, she may have gotten in one of the boats but I just don’t know,  if the other medical staff members are all off now."

Hank began to walk around asking crew members and some of the musicians  to ask if they had seen Martina. After a while some of the senior staff arrived and they were bussed to different hotels in and around New York. Hank was checked into Savoy and his brother stayed with him. Late in the afternoon, the survivor list were announced on the radiowithout any mention of his wife. The head purser arrived late in the evening with the list he had of survivors and Martina was not among them although she was not listed with any who had perished. The other ship, the Stockholm was still not in port with another group of passengers. He and Ken headed down to the damaged ship pier located at the far end of the New York Docks.

The Stockholm was very badly damaged but limped into port with several passengers on the upper deck, most of whom had blankets wrapped around them. They waited at the jetty but after most of the passengers came down a temporary gang plank, there was still no sign of Martina. Hanks's emotions finally got the better of him, and just as Ken turned away a few more stragglers came down and suddenly Martina appeared. Hank took hold of her and both cried as children. She could barely speak she was so overwrought, He kept hugging her, kissing her and they did not move for several minutes held in an immoveable clutch.

Their lives were forever changed. Martina returned to nursing in a New York hospital and Hank returned to school, undertaking a a year's course at the Brooklyn Teacher's College. When he graduated in 1958, he was hired in the New York School system as a music teacher, a job he held for 25 years finally retiring in 1983. Martina went home to Switzerland in 1960, never to return. They divorced in 1961. They had no children, Martina remarried in 1967. Hank remained single until he met a librarian in the winter of 1977 at age 57 with whom he lived until he passed away in 2001. The Andrea Doria lays untouched on the sea bottom in the straight of Nantucket to this day, the pride of Italian achievement, never to be duplicated again.

 

Note: The Sinking of the Andrea Doria is historical fact as well as the recovery of the passengers. Henry and Martina are fictional characters, and their story is a figment of my imagination. JK January 8th, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 Jack Kay. All rights reserved.

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