by: Joshua Balling
On July 26, 1956, the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria sank to the bottom of the Atlantic 53 miles southeast of Nantucket, 11 hours after colliding with the Swedish liner Stockholm in a dense fog so common in that part of the ocean during the summer months.
It was the last night of the voyage, and the crown jewel of the Italian Line was steaming rapidly toward New York Harbor despite the near-zero visibility. The captain, Piero Calamai, had made the voyage 50 times before, often in similar conditions. It was just before 11 p.m., and nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
Little did he know that in a few short minutes, the opulent Andrea Doria would collide nearly head-on with the smaller Stockholm in a maritime disaster rivaled in size, but fortunately not in loss of life, only by the sinkings of the Titanic and the Lusitania four decades earlier.
When the collision occurred, just after 11 p.m., Bambi Gifford, 9 years old at the time, was in her first-class cabin on the starboard side of the ship, getting ready to go to bed. Her parents, Clarence “Bud” Gifford and Priscilla “Wink” Gifford, were also in the cabin, and two of her three brothers, Jock and Chad, were doing some last-minute packing in their cabin next door. Dun Gifford, the oldest of the four Gifford children at 17, was in a topside lounge, spending a final few hours with friends he had made on the voyage from Naples.
“It was the last night of the voyage, so I got to stay up late. I was only 9, but there were all these celebrations because we would be arriving in New York the next morning,” said Bambi, now Mleczko, whose family was returning on the Andrea Doria from a six-week “grand tour” of Europe.
Sitting in the living room of her home on Hinckley Lane, a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, photographs and other memorabilia from the collision open on the table in front of her, the memories came flooding back.
The Stockholm had just rammed her bow 30 feet deep into the starboard side of the Andrea Doria, just aft of the bridge and only a few dozen feet from the Gifford family’s cabins. The sharp-edged bow of the Swedish ship, designed to follow ice-breakers out of frozen Scandinavian harbors, sliced through seven of the 11 decks of the ship.