The remains of a luxury ship at a Brooklyn church

NormandieposterThe biggest bottle of champagne in the world helped christen the French luxury liner the S.S. Normandie when it first launched in 1932.

Too bad this nautical marvel and Art Deco beauty didn’t plough the Atlantic for long.

In 1941, after the Germans took over France and with the Normandie safely docked in New York, the U.S. Coast Guard seized control of the ship.

The plan was to renovate the 1,000-foot liner into a ship for troops and to rename it the USS Lafayette.

Workers were busily converting the 1,000-foot vessel when it caught fire and capsized in its berth on the Hudson in February 1942.


The destruction of the Normandie—everyone thought it was sabotage, but that wasn’t the case—was major news in wartime New York City.

People lined up to view its remains, as Pete Hamill recalls in his memoir, A Drinking Life:


“[His mother] took us there again and again, to gaze at its parched hull, more than a thousand feet long, its giant propellers high out of the water. In my memory, the ruined liner looks humiliated, like a drunk who has fallen down in public.”

After the Normandie was hauled away, its ruins were sold for scrap metal—with a few exceptions.


NormandiechurchThe magnificent doors of the first class dining room from the Normandie’s luxury liner days were salvaged by Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral (right) in Brooklyn Heights.

To this day, the doors—with their intricate medallions showing scenes and sights in Normandy and lovely carvings of trees and leaves—greet visitors to the church at two different entrances at Henry and Remsen Streets.

They’re a quiet remnant of New York during World War II, a time that fewer and fewer residents have any memory of.

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6 Responses to “The remains of a luxury ship at a Brooklyn church”

  1. Rich T Says:

    Supposedly, the imprisoned Lucky luciano was offered his freedom in exchange for using his mob ties to prevent further waterfront sabotage.
    Btw, how does a fire make a metal ship tip over?

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    All the water used to put the fire out also made it capsize

  3. Says:


    Sent from my iPhone


  4. John Cooper Says:

    Perhaps one of the reasons people thought the Normandie had been sabotaged is that Alfred Hitchcock showed the ship capsized in his 1942 film Saboteur. The ship can be seen in the background as the saboteur passes by with his handiwork strong implied..

  5. findingnyc Says:

    Very interesting account – I will have to make my way to the church at some point to see the doors myself. The details in the photos look very intriguing!

  6. Andrew Porter Says:

    Actually, the ship was stripped of all its art-deco fittings before the conversion to a troop ship began. The rondelles, not the doors containing them, were removed from the entrance to the dining room on the ship.

    For several years, there was a gorgeous art deco floor lamp from the ship in my building’s lobby, until it was stolen.

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