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The Queen aboard the ‘PACIFIC QUEEN’

by  Steefenie   Wicks

Her name was Rose Kissinger and she became the only woman to spend 22 years of her life aboard the last full-rigger ship to fly the American flag … the ship’s name was the  ‘PACIFIC QUEEN’ aka the ‘BALCLUTHA’.

Christened the BALCLUTHA when she was launched in Glasgow in 1886, the 1500-tonner would carry cargo to India, South America, Australia, Africa and other ports for 15 years. In 1899, the vessel arrived in San Francisco waters, making frequent runs to the northwest as a lumber carrier. In 1904 she was added to the fleet of the Alaska Packing Corporation renamed the STAR OF ALASKA.  The last voyage of the ‘STAR’ came in 1929, and she would remain idle until her purchase in 1933.

Frank ‘Tex’ Kissinger and his wife Rose, chose the STAR OF ALASKA out of eight ships docked at Alameda, the remains of a fleet of 17 that had plied between Alaska and San Francisco.  The Kissingers had the ship rechristened the PACIFIC QUEEN in 1934 and then sailed her to Long Beach.  Rose Kissinger would later comment on how the Golden Gate Bridge was just going up and they could see the south tower as they sailed out. They had purchased this great ship for $5,000.00, and once Rose set foot on her the adventure began.

‘Tex’ Kissinger was known in the carnival circuits as a daredevil bike rider and Rose had worked as a phone operator at a hotel that catered to the entertainment industry. They had dreams of turning the ship into a floating showboat museum and ocean aquarium in the Los Angeles area.  So the PACIFIC QUEEN became the ship that was rented to film companies. The Kissingers were receiving $1,500.00 a day for renting the ship that would appear in more than 40 films.  The most famous film was ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, which starred Clark Gable and Charles Laughton and was filmed in 1935.   The Kissingers would set sail for Mexico in 1936 only to find that they would run out of wind for 67 days which left them drifting toward Hawaii.  This adventure would eventually lead to the vessel being towed into San Pedro by the Coast Guard when it became stranded 675 miles from land.   In 1939 the PACIFIC QUEEN would return to the Bay Area for the Golden Gate International Exposition held on Treasure Island.  The ship was docked at Fisherman’s Wharf and Rose and Tex charged adults 25 cents and kids 10 cents to come on board and view the vessel.  During this period they were making over $1,000.00 a week and were able to make long overdo repairs to the ship with these funds. They did this for two years before WWII started when the vessel was moved first to Islais Creek and then back to Sausalito. 

Tex and Rose ran a school on board the vessel for the navigational training of merchant marine offices.  Rose was one of the first women to teach navigation in the US during WWII.  While Rose and Tex, with the help of Herb Madden, berthed the vessel in Sausalito, it was after the war in 1946 when they applied to the City to turn her into a floating casino.  They were turned down by the Sausalito City Council and once again sailed the PACIFIC QUEEN back to Long Beach.  But this move was not to be a successful one and Tex and Rose found themselves heading back to Sausalito in the spring of 1952. Imagine how Sausalito residents must have felt on the Sunday morning when the fog lifted and there was the Pacific Queen sitting in the waters off of Sausalito.   For the past few years she had been used as a museum in Long Beach, but the problem of mooring had them looking for a new home for this gallant vessel, and back to Sausalito she came.

Then in November of 1952, while tarring the decks of the PACIFIC QUEEN, Tex Kissinger complained of dizziness and later succumbed to a heart attack. Rose Kissinger announced after her husband’s death that she would continue with his dream of making the PACIFIC QUEEN into a maritime museum because Tex had spent his life as a showman and she wanted the ship to continue in that tradition. Two days later a gale wind would hit Sausalito and the drama aboard the PACIFIC QUEEN would continue.   As Rose tried to handle the lines on board the PACIFIC QUEEN, she attempted to tie down a 40-ft piece of canvas which was ripping from the stern of the ship during the storm.  The fierce wind wrapped the canvas around her, picked her up and repeatedly banged her against the stays which held up the mast. She had to be rescued and later decided to not go to the hospital until after her husband’s funeral which was held the next day.  Rose suffered a broken nose, broken finger and cuts and bruises but this incident did not make her leave her home aboard the PACIFIC QUEEN.

In 1952, Rose Kissinger was approached by the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce with plans that they had for turning the PACFIC QUEEN into a Marine Museum.  A committee had been formed and was led by Luther (Bill) Conover and Herb Madden.  Madden said that he was 100% for the museum and the ship was now located on his property.  He felt that the ship should be moved to a more public spot so that access would be easy.  But it is interesting to note, that these plans were made without the input of Rose Kissinger who was out of town when this action was taken.

In January of 1953 an article appeared in the Sausalito News about plans for the PACIFIC QUEEN under the direction of a Mr. Julius Rodman, who would later marry Rose Kissinger.   His plans for the ship called for a dramatic departure from the old out-moded carnival museum atmosphere, which obscured the finer assets of the vessel.  The morbid and unfitting wax pirate figures, keystone of the old displays would go.   The antique fittings and gear once rusting in display cases would now be put to functional use in restoring the ship to her natural state. Rodman’s plans for the PACIFIC QUEEN included restoring the authentic atmosphere of the ship and that every inch of her would function as a museum.

She would become in his reincarnation, the most authentic museum possible. But he and Rose were now facing the cold necessity of capitalizing the ship and deriving an income from her. Rodman had fast become the spokesperson for the ship while Rose took a back seat, or so some thought.

By July of 1953 the San Francisco Maritime Museum was eyeing the PACFIC QUEEN for purchase.   A spokesman for the association said that negotiations were in a preliminary stage but no definite action would be taken for another few weeks.  Rose had now taken back the helm and was steering the PACIFIC QUEEN back to San Francisco.  She had somehow come to terms with Rodman and dropped him and his name and once again she was Rose Kissinger, the sole owner of the PACIFIC QUEEN, and she would be the one that would either sell or keep the ship.

Then something went wrong and negotiations with San Francisco went bad.  Rose wanted to be paid for the PACIFIC QUEEN and felt that she had at least a $75,000.00 investment in her.  But this amount was not what San Francisco wanted to pay and they came back with another offer.  The last meeting Rose had with the San Francisco committee she had lowered her price to $50,000.00, still this was more than the committee had in their account and the meeting ended in angry on all sides, which may explain Rose’s next move.

The headlines for the 1954 March issue of the Sausalito News read:  "PACIFIC QUEEN … Maybe Sunk!  Rose Kissinger has announced her plans to have the U.S. Navy tow the PACIFIC QUEEN out into the ocean and use her as target practice and blow her up.    The historic vessel with the colorful past was being considered by the San Francisco Maritime Commission museum, but unless negotiations for a satisfactory sale are completed soon, Rose Kissinger, the ship's owner would sink the PACIFIC QUEEN."

Rose went on TV and announced her plans to sink the vessel and she began to sell the rights to who could film the event.  She had plans to sell the footage to TV and motion picture rights for the filming of the sinking of the ship.  She had wanted to keep “Tex’s dream alive but in the end she found that she was faced with too many money troubles to continue with the idea of establishing a museum.  She watched as those who wanted to profit from the PACIFIC QUEEN plotted against her and when her last effort to work with the San Francisco group became a game of how will you support this project without us, she decided she could and she would … she’d sink the PACIFIC QUEEN, her Queen and see her in a watery grave.

Three months later in June of 1954, the San Francisco Maritime Museum which had spent nearly a year in negotiations with Rose came to a deal which let them have a 60-day option to buy the vessel.  Then on July 13, 1954, the PACIFIC QUEEN had her last voyage to her new home in San Francisco.  Rose Kissinger was there the morning the tugs came to tow her to the Bethlehem Shipyard.  She commented that the surveyors were surprised at the excellent condition of the hull.  As she watched the PACIFIC QUEEN leave Sausalito for the last time she waved to the Captain A. J. Moyes who as a personnel friend had been asked to take the helm one last time by Rose.  Rose, who preferred to stay on the land watched as the ship was tied to the Crowley tugboats and began her long last voyage to San Francisco.

On June 9th, 1955 the ship BALCULTHA opened to the public on the 67th anniversary of the arrival of the square-rigger in San Francisco on her maiden voyage.

In 1983 a very spry Rose Kissinger at the age of 81, stopped by to see her houseboat at Pier 43 and to tell the tales of the ship that sailed under three names and starred in 40 movies before it became a floating museum. It was the answer to the dreams held by her and her husband Frank ‘Tex’ Kissinger … because his dream and her dream …came true and the ship is still with us today.  This story is dedicated to Rose Kissinger and her determination to keep a maritime dream alive.  The true Queen of the PACIFIC QUEEN, Rose Kissinger.


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