Burial at sea aboard the SS UNITED STATES in the 1950s…

Cruise Ship History – Burial at sea aboard the SS UNITED STATES in the 1950s. Bodies (passengers and crew) were not transported to the next port until recently. The passengers were buried at sea…


Photo of a burial at sea aboard the SS United States in the 1950s.

4d301750-2e1c-45db-9034-5bedb915f0e1.jpgThe body pictured here on the promenade deck of the SS United States most likely could have been a crewmember in the stewards or catering department.

Notice how canvas curtains have been placed so passengers could not see the burial.

Besides the officers, there are mainly stewards and cooks in the photo.  The ship would not have carried the crew-member to the next port.  The SS United States on a trans-Atlantic crossing probably would have housed a passenger’s body.  But most lines did not.  Passengers were buried at sea.


Two passengers were buried at sea on the SS Canberra aboard a 1968 sailing from Los Angeles to Australia.

Until the last couple of decades, burial at sea (passengers or crew) was common.  Corpses were not carried to the next port.  In the late 1960s, I sailed from Los Angeles to Australia aboard the SS Canberra and there were two burials at sea.  Both were passengers.

The burials took place around six in the morning.

We were sailing via the Orient so there were long passages at sea – 6 to 7 days.  There were no morgues aboard ship.  The body would be wrapped in a canvas bag and pushed overboard.  It would be covered with a flag but the flag did not go with the body.  The Anglican (Episcopal) service of burial was read, with officers, crew and some passengers in attendance.  There was no announcement in the ship’s paper.

Recently, I was aboard the Princess Cruise’s Island Princess, touring the crew’s quarters and galleys.  There is a refrigerated compartment known as the morgue and bodies are kept there until they can be removed at the next port.






Life was not always easy on a voyage across the Atlantic. The images above were taken by one of the officers (Peder Georg Christian Pedersen) on the Oscar II in 1911. They show scenes from a burial at sea. A Norwegian woman had died on board the ship at sea. The minister is holding a service, the body was covered by a Norwegian flag, and was lowered into the ocean after the service, leaving the mourning relatives without a grave other then the great ocean 


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

Leave a Reply