The bottle is raised and her smile is electric as Gracie Allen readies to christen the new ship, ready to be launched, at the Sun Shipbuilding yard, with her partner George Burns by her side in a Delaware County Historical Society photograph capturing the jubilant moment.
Ship christenings had foundations in Jewish and Christian traditions in which the act of using wine and water would symbolize a prayer to God for safety upon the seas.
After the Reformation, these christenings became secular events as evidenced by the launching of the Prince Royal in 1610 with the Prince of Wales tending to the duties.
Typically, a woman was assigned the pleasure of breaking the bottle as these celebrations shifted from one with religious connotations to secular events complete with music and celebrities.
As was the case in the DCHS photograph as the dynamic duo comedic team of George Burns and Gracie Allen are pictured at the Chester Sun Shipbuilding yard right before the festivities began.
Where the Harrah’s casino now stands, Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company use to stand. It was established to help with American defense in World War 1, by the Pew family, as a subsidiary of their Sun Oil Company, located right down the street in Marcus Hook. Sun Shipbuilding Company launched its first ship in 1917 and hundreds more followed.
At its height in the early 1940’s, the shipyard employed more than 35,000 workers. Later, the shipyard turned its focus to manufacturing merchant ships, which it did until its 1989 closure.
On its historical marker, it states that by the end of World War II, Sun Ship had launched 318 vessels, including 35 cargo ships, 35 barges and eight military vessels.
In DCHS’s picture, the mood is festive at the waterfront property and the excitement was apparent. To have one celebrity the stature of Gracie Allen was a significant occasion but to have two with the accompaniment of her partner, George Burns, was colossal.
In their day, the comedians were well-known for their banter, as they started as a two-person team traveling throughout the United States and headlining in vaudeville houses, and later became husband and wife.
In the 1930’s, they transitioned to radio and then by 1950, the Burns and Allen Show aired on TV. It was an immediate success. In its eight-year run, the show was nominated for 11 Emmy Awards.
Besides its huge commercial success, one of its episodes, the 1954’s “Columbia Pictures Doing Burns and Allen Story,” was considered by TV Guide as one of the top episodes in television.
The two also had forays into film, starting with 1929’s Lambchops and ending with 1939’s Honolulu. Among their well-loved moments were the running gag search for Allen’s “lost brother” and Allen’s 1940 joke “Gracie Allen for President” campaign.
The picture of Allen and Burns at the Sun shipyard christening is part of DCHS’s collection, stored at its home at 408 Avenue of the States. Please call 610-359-0832 or visit padelcohistory.org with any questions. DCHS is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday; and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month. It is closed on Tuesdays.
Appointments and group/school tours are available upon request. Parking is free in the lot behind the building or across the street in the city’s municipal lot. Memberships are encouraged and donations are graciously accepted.
Grace Allen and George Burns christen ship at Sun Shipbuilding in Chester.