ĒThis handwritten correspondence details the sailing of the SS Steel King from Savannah, GA, on May 5, 1957 to Honolulu,
Hawaii, on May 27, 1957.† Along the way the ship stopped in New Orleans, LA and Mobile, AL. It went through the Panama
Canal and then to Caracas, Venezuela before reaching Hawaii.† The letters were written by Mary Elizabeth ďLibbyĒ
Sharp Grimes (1903-1980) of Winston-Salem, NC, to her daughter, Mary Lib Grimes McCachern. Mary Libís husband,
Bill, and two-year-old son, Larry, are also mentioned in the letters.† Libby went on this excursion with her
friend, Mallie Pepper and another couple, Mr. and Mrs. Thayer from Winston-Salem. Although they intended to take
a commercial cruise back to California from Hawaii, they instead chose to fly back.Ē
- - Cynthia McCachern
May 4, 1957--Saturday, Savannah, Georgia
It has rained all day.† I was crazy not bringing my raincoat.† We canít get on the boat until tonight and leave
tomorrow.† Think we will be in N. O. (New Orleans) 2 or 3 days so will have time to hear from you.† Thayers were
at the bus to meet us. Mother
(May 8, 1957) Wed.
Dear Mary Lib,
We have to ask for everything we need and want and sometimes we get it.† Today we asked for writing paper
and this is it. I had my first attack of asthma this morning but soon got relief and have been alright the
rest of the day.† Mallie and I went in to Mobile this morning with our other passenger. Just walked around
looking at store windows and to the dime store.
Well now it is Fri (May 10) and we are in New Orleans.† Docked here about ten yesterday morning. I was sorry
I didnít get to write more Wed. as I had so much I wanted to tell you but just about the time I stopped writing,
I was getting sick.† We came out of Mobile Bay into the Gulf, and we all took a sick pill and headed for the
bed. It was so rough. The boat rocked from side to side, and I had to put a pillow by my side to be sure I
stayed on the bed.† We got in the Mississippi river sometime in the early morning and it was much better.
After breakfast went out on deck. It was cloudy and looked like rain but enjoyed seeing the old hangers going
up and down. This part is not as nice as Mobile.† The Wharf is so dirty and we had a time getting around it
and through the warehouses to a street. Then walked about 3 blocks to a bus, had to transfer to another before
getting to the city. Went to a few stores. I bought a skirt, shirt, and short in blue denim, then we walked
down in the French Quarters, bought some pralines and sat in a park eating them.† We had dinner at an old
German place, (very good fish) and got back to our boat before dark. I called Lib Brew and am going to call
her again today. She may meet me in town this afternoon as we are going back after lunch. Wonít stay very
long as we may be through boarding and leave by six.
I have been hanging over the railing watching them load.† It is amazing the things they put on and how much.
This morning we saw a fire truck on, lumber, pipes, drums of oil, all kinds of food, tons of rice and [?].
They loaded all night as well as yesterday and today. There are other boat finishing up along the wharf doing
the same thing.
We decided this morning to fly back from Honolulu to L.A. instead of the ship.† This life is so informal.
We donít think we could stand the dressing on a ship and so many people.† That will give us 4 more days on
Got your letter yesterday, and it was nice hearing from you.† Seems Iíve been gone a long time. Glad Larry
is going to be bothered with shoes and his leg will straighten out.
I know you have a time reading my letters.† This pen is bad enough but there is a little motion to the boat
when tied up.† After this it will be cards most of the time.
Much love to you all
P.S.† Opened this to add a note.† It started raining hard so we wonít get to town.† The others are playing
bridge, so I will read and sew.† Guess Lib B. will know I couldnít make it in the rain. They had to stop
loading so we may be here until tomorrow.
Isthmian Lines on Board S. S. Steel King
Friday night 10th (May 10, 1957)
Dear Mary Lib:
It seems silly to start writing another letter when I just mailed one.† We have just come in, and I am alone
in our cabin. I am glad they play bridge because it gives me a chance to be alone.† I am tired of standing.
It is 7:30 and I have been watching the loading, the sun set and the river turn from its muddy color to blue,
then purple, then dark with the lights from the other side reflecting.† Then looking up and there is the moon.
As I told you, we have supper at 5:00 so we enjoy the deck for a while after supper. It stopped raining about
3:00. I went off the boat across the wharf into the warehouses and found a phone and called Lib.† Mr. Thayer
went with me. I would not go over there alone. While we were standing way up on our deck, I could see the work
men buying ice cream from one of those carts, and I wanted some so bad. Finally, I said so, and Mr. Thayer went
down and bought us all a cup. It surely was good.† I am sorry I didnít get a card off to Larry. I have been
trying to find a big boat. I was going to look again today. I found one but sent it to Deliece but the boat on
the card was small. Anyhow, you tell him I do love my Motherís Day card. It was a happy surprise to get another
letter today.† It was at my plate when I went to supper. I guess we will leave about 10 tonight. At least that
was the last report.
(May 11, 1957) Sat. night--11th--As I told you on the card, we didnít leave until 5:00 this morning, and we
got to enjoy the ride down the river.† It is up about 15 ft. from so much rain, and we could see little houses
surrounded by water. We heard over the radio that a lot of deer were stranded and were being fed by boats.
We looked for this but they were not near the river. When we came into the Gulf, there was almost a straight
line where the muddy river stopped then the blue water. This was about 1:30 and where the pilot got off.† Tonight
was beautiful on deck. The sunset wasnít as pretty as it had been other nights, but we have the moon now, and
it makes a path of gold across the water. I hated to come in so early but everyone went down to read.† Mr. Thayer
stayed up with me, so then I had to come on down. I wouldnít mind sitting up there alone but not with somebody
else's husband. The radio room is just inside, and they put a loud speaker out there for us. The music comes
from a record.
(May 12, 1957) Sun, 12th--Another beautiful day of just resting and reading.† Mallie and I put on our bathing
suits about 2 and sunned for 30 minutes. Tomorrow we will take more but I am going slow.† I wonít dry out or
peel. At 7:00 tonight we could see the lighthouse off the coast of Cuba. I do wish we had a map. Sam went in the
Captain's cabin to look at his but we canít do that.
Sitting on deck tonight reminded me of the mountains--sitting on the porch at the cabin on a hot summer night.
The sun had just gone down but the sky was still pink. And then I thought of that sweetie Larry and how I wish
I could rock him for a few minutes.† He will soon be too big for that so rock him an extra minute for me.
(May 14, 1957) Tues, 14th--The days go by in a hurry, even if there is nothing to do.† I read a while then
work on the kitty cats and just sit looking out over the water. We were in the sun are all getting brown but of
course I get the brownest.† I think I will have to stay out of the sun for two days and let the others catch up
with me. Mallie and I are the only ones that put on bathing suits. We wear our shorts every day now.
I donít think I told you another lady passenger got on at New Orleans.† She says she is 65 but she looks and acts
more like 75. She canít get up and down the steps very well so never comes up on the deck.† We donít see her except
at meal time. Mallie and I sit at the table with them. Tomorrow is going to be a big day. We go through the canal.
We get there about 2:00 tonight but it will be 5:00 or later before we start through. The Captain is going to call
us, and we will all get up.† I just hope there will be coffee somewhere around. Donít know how I will get this
mailed but I am sure there will be some way. We canít get off, and we are all disappointed.
Much love to all,
(May 15, 1957)
Dear Mary Lib and Bill,
It is Wed. night May 15th and we have had a wonderful trip through the Panama Canal.† Last night I had my first
bad night with asthma since I left and since I had started the new medicine, so when they called us to get up at
about 6:30 that we were starting, I could hardly make it.† Sam brought us some coffee about 7:00 and we finally
made it on deck but we didnít move very fast so we hadnít missed anything. Ate breakfast and hurried back just as
we moved into the first lock. It only took about ten minutes for the lock to fill with water then we moved into
the next one.† Went thru three locks and came out into a beautiful lake. While going through the lake, the workmen
started cleaning the decks and outside of boat. This was fresh water, and they said they always cleaned it here.
So much better than the salt water. There are little islands all through the lake, and the way for the boats is
marked on each side with buoys and lights.† After the lake came the part that went through some places just wide
enough for one boat but most places wide enough for two, and we passed several. Some of the places were very high
gorges on both sides. The place where so many men died during the digging was very high. There is a plaque on the
side in memory of them. It was cloudy most of the day and a few small showers, but it was hot so we were glad for
the clouds.† There were three locks to let us down but it was most four before we were in the Pacific, and the pilot
left us, taking letters from us all to mail. I felt bad all day so about 1:30 I went to bed and stayed until time
for supper, but I had seen the most important part. I started the medicine first thing this morning and, after three
doses, I feel better.
May 16th (1957)--Feel fine today.† It is too bad this medicine ( I think it is Cortisone?) is dangerous because it
makes me feel so good not the slightest shortness of breath.† I took it 6 days before so will try it that way this
time and It is a bad day--rainy and windy and we have had to be inside most of it. I wouldnít take anything for my
kitty cat to work on, as long as I have hand work to do I never get bored.† I am reading a book too. The others are
now playing bridge. I surely am glad there is someone to play bridge with Mallie. She gets so bored and starts
walking the floor and sighing.
7:30† I didnít mean to write any more for a while but just had to tell you about the rain storm at sea.† We felt it
was getting rough before we went to supper so took a pill (Marezene, much better than the others) ate supper slowly
to take up time.† The others went for the card table. Sam reading. Alone in my cabin, I stood at the port hole until
it was too dark to see anymore. Just guessing I would say we are about four stories high and out the port hole a ten
ft. wide deck.† It was raining hard but I couldnít see the rain drops on the water like you can on still water. It
looked like a fine spider web over the navy blue water and then the waves breaking making little white dots and dashes
as far as I could see.† Down closer to the boat, the big waves made by the boat foamed up, then spread out in a lacey
pattern and the wind would blow a fine mist back over the boat some time spraying over my port hole, then they fade
out in the blue with another one coming maybe smaller or larger but never the same and always pretty.† I have enjoyed
this past hour as much as any since Iíve been on the water. I have always wanted to see a storm at sea. Of course this
isnít a real storm. If those waves were very big, I would be in bed.
(May 17, 1957) Friday 17th--Cloudy but otherwise nice.† Been on deck all day. Finished the kitty cat pillow and
started reading the Blue Camellia, a 425 page book.† Everyone else has read it so I can take my time.† It is a
little heavy to hold so donít too long at a time.† I keep the Readers Digest in my little bag and read that some
After supper Mallie and I walked back and forth on deck, stopped now and then to look at the sunset and watch the
flying fish.† We saw the southern cross tonight. The captain pointed it out to us. It was so nice on deck tonight.
I hated to come down. Sam and I reading-- the others guess what--but I wanted a few minutes alone to write a note
and just be alone.† Will undress now and pile up in bed and read.
(May 18, 1957) Sat. Night, Caracas (Venezuela) Las Meredes
We leave here soon.† Had a lovely day sightseeing.† Had lunch in this beautiful Hotel at lower left.† Everything
here is very expensive. This card 12 cents.† It is all I bought but had to have one for you. Hope tomorrow I can
buy a few things.† The Mts. here are very high and no large trees. Very pretty but never any thing as pretty as
ours.† Love Mother
(May 20, 1957) Mon. 20th---Looking back over this, I thought I would tell you more about the flying fish.† I donít
really know how large they are but from way up here they look like they are about the size of sparrows, and they fly
about 10 or 20 at a time.† Come out of a wave and fly across the water just like birds with the afternoon sun on them.
They are silver--a beautiful sight.
I guess you know about the Southern Cross but I didnít.† The other passengers kept talking about wanting to see it.
It seems that is is only seen this far down. Four big stars like this low in the sky.† Today we had fire and life
boat drill--our 2nd one. The bells ring, and we put on our life jackets.† We donít know what goes on during the fire
drill, but we are out by the lifeboats and in a little while they are lowered, drawn back in place.† The bells ring
an all clear, and we go back to our sitting. Still sunning in the afternoon, and I am so brown when I put my scarf
around my head to walk on the open deck, Henry calls me gypsy lady.
(May 26, 1957) Sunday May 26th--It has been almost a week since I wrote anything but the days are so much alike, there
isnít much to tell you.† We had three days of cloudy, cool weather but no rain, and we could be on deck with sweaters
and blankets. We miss our sunning but have been at it again for the past three days.
Today we went on a tour of the boat.† Very interesting. Of course we only saw a small part of it.† The engine room,
store rooms and ice boxes and kitchen. There is 11,000 tons of cargo on here, and it cost $9,000 just to go through
I have finished the other pillow top, and I started to work on the sampler.† But it hurt my eyes to do such fine work
with the motion of the boat so put it away and just been reading.† We will get to Honolulu Monday night the 27th, but
we are going to stay on the boat until after breakfast Tuesday.† The docks are a long way from where we will be
staying, and it is hard to go to a strange place after dark.
I will be so glad to hear from you.† I hope there will be a letter. It seems like I have been gone an awfully long
time. We are starting seeing the islands about noon but still a long way from ours.† Captain said the pilot would
mail our letters. He comes on about six. They wave and [?].
May 28, 1957--Tuesday
Arrived at our hotel about 9:30.† Have just unpacked and going out to get lunch and food to fix breakfast and lunches.
We will go out for dinner. Had 2 letter of yours waiting. Helens, Mildredís heartbroken about Chet.
Still rolling as if on boat. Will start letter soon. Please be careful. Love Mother