- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

DETROIT (AP) - Pierette Simpson and her grandmother were dancing in the Andrea Doria’s social hall, celebrating their near-arrival with other immigrants to a new life in America when the impact knocked everyone off their feet.

She remembers the ship rising up and then leaning to one side. It would later sink into the Atlantic Ocean off Massachusetts.

Simpson plans to tell her part of the tale in a short documentary-type production that is expected to start filming Sunday in Ferndale, just north of Detroit. It will commemorate next year’s 60th anniversary of the Andrea Doria’s July 25, 1956 collision with another liner.

“Everything is pretty much based on me as the main character as I’m experiencing the event,” said Simpson, who was 9 when the Andrea Doria went down.

The Novi resident and former teacher has written two books on the liner. She also has written the screenplay for the film and is co-producing it.

Ferndale was chosen because it still features older homes that resemble houses on Detroit’s east side where her family settled in the late 1940s after leaving Italy.

“We’re going to have five vintage cars. Everyone is going to be dressed in period clothing,” said Simpson, 68.

Initial filming is expected to take all of Sunday. The rest of the movie will be shot next month in Italy.

It’s unlikely that the sinking will be recreated “because of the cost, so it’s going to be a suggestive scene of what it will look like,” she said.

Simpson and her grandparents were joining her mother who had left Italy years earlier, following the end of World War II.

“Italy was very poor,” she said. “A lot of people did this - left their families and came here to start a better life, then send for their families.”

For Simpson, it was a reunion that almost didn’t happen after the Swedish ship Stockholm collided with the Andrea Doria in heavy fog.

“We prayed for quite a while,” she told The Associated Press Saturday. “We didn’t know we were going to be rescued until somebody came and said rescue ships have arrived. We crawled up and out to the deck and made a human chain against the guardrail.”

Two men were helping survivors into lifeboats. Simpson said she and other children were lowered by rope. From there, they were taken to other ships that had arrived to ferry people to shore.

About 1,660 people on the Andrea Doria were saved, including Simpson’s grandparents. Forty-six lives were lost on the Andrea Doria. Five people on the Stockholm died.

The film will, in part, support the actions of Andrea Doria Capt. Piero Calamai, Simpson said.

Calamai had to get passengers and crew off the ship with only half his lifeboats operable.

His hesitancy to immediately sound an abandon ship alarm became a controversy after the sinking. One of Simpson’s books quotes a passenger’s letter that Calamai “refrained from broadcasting a warning for fear of panic.”

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