Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Good Ship ALA

In recognition of its service in World War I, the American Library Association was invited by the United States Shipbuilding Board (USSB) to name one of the many merchant marine ships built under its auspices. ALA chose the very creative name of "ALA" for its ship. Harry R. Skallerup wrote "The Steamship Named ALA", the definitive article about the ship, in the Fall 2004 issue of Libraries & Culture. The SS ALA was one of forty ships of the same type built at the Merchant Shipbuilding Corporation's Harriman yards in Bristol, Pennsylvannia. It was christened by Shirley Putnam, daughter of Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam, on December 18, 1920. Putnam wrote an account of the launching of the ALA in an article in Library Journal. The SS ALA went through several owners and name changes over the years with the last name being the "SS Belgian Fighter". On October 9, 1941 the SS Belgian Fighter was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine 80 miles SSE of Cape Town, South Africa. According to Skallerup a plaque honoring the American Library Association had been fastened to a bulkhead in the saloon of the ship. The remains of the former SS ALA and possibly the plaque rest in a watery grave, as Skallerup concludes his article, "far in distance, time, and memory from the occasion and place of its naming". The photograph above shows the SS ALA when it was operated by the American Diamond Lines in the 1931-35 period (

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