The Ghost Ships of the Hudson
THE luxury liners that once crossed the Atlantic at a regular clip are of course a thing of the past, long since converted to cruise ships or disappeared entirely. And since 2005, some New York-bound cruise ships have been hanging a sharp right as they enter the harbor, heading not for the West Side’s Passenger Ship Terminal but for Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Still, many of them continue to make their way up the Hudson River en route to the piers in the West 40s and 50s. And as seen from the window of a Brooklyn Heights apartment with a sweeping view of the harbor, these ghost ships, as they almost beg to be called, are a haunting, almost mystical sight.
They typically swim into view sometime after 7 a.m., languid wedding cakes moving silently upriver. If the sun is rising, they are washed in a surreal lemony light. On foggy mornings, they are barely visible through the haze. They appear and disappear like great, slow-moving mirages, seemingly so evanescent they could vanish in the blink of an eye.
Though these vessels are typically about a thousand feet long, from such a distance they look scarcely bigger than a child’s bath toy. The colorful scrawl on their white hulls is indecipherable from so far away. And although you know that at this very moment several thousand passengers are milling about the vast decks, savoring the final moments of their journey, all this activity needs to be imagined, taken on faith.
Ghost ships give rise to romantic imaginings. They recall the heady days when the comings and goings of ocean liners and their starry-eyed occupants were big news, when every paper worth its salt had a ships’ news reporter and flashbulbs from bulky Speed Graphics, cameras of a now-bygone era, bathed arriving princes and showgirls and millionaires in sudden bursts of brightness. They bring to mind the pop of Champagne corks, the confetti, the giddiness, the hubbub.
The golden age of the luxury liner was a hard act to follow. But the ghost ships have their own quiet allure. To suddenly catch sight of one of these ships as you’re sipping coffee and desultorily leafing through the newspaper seems a small early-morning miracle. And once in a while, as you’re savoring your good fortune, out of the corner of your eye you spot a second ship. It feels like a lucky way to start the day.
By CONSTANCE ROSENBLUM
New York Times