The world changed exactly 100 years ago when the Titanic struck an iceburg, creating a massive death toll of 1,503 people. An interesting note is that the first class passengers who perished had paid $4,700, equal to $50,000.00 today for the journey to their deaths.
Approximately 45 years after the Titanic sank, I was a young girl when I first heard about the disaster. One of my mother’s aunties had died of old age and my mother was the person appointed by family to go through her auntie’s belongings and sort out the house. I went along with my Mom and since I was already a lover of all reading material, I was given a job to do when my Mother told me to sit in the living room and go through the papers, books, and music sheets, as this aunt was a talented pianist and quite obviously, an avid reader. I was thrilled to have such an interesting task.
While looking through her materials I came across some sheet music with songs about the Titanic. I had no idea what the Titanic was, and asked my mother, but she was far too busy folding poor Auntie’s clothes and packing her her kitchen ware to sit and sift through those materials with me, and to answer my question.
I was baffled until I found a book titled The Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters. The books says it is the first book published (in 1912) about the sinking of the Titanic. And so I sat and read, a young and naive girl in South Alabama, learning about the great disaster that created enormous agony and grief to so many.
I have a copy of that book and am looking at it now. It claims to be “A detailed and accurate account of the most awful marine disaster in history, constructed from the real facts as obtained from those on board who survived. ONLY AUTHORITATIVE BOOK, with numerous authentic photographs and drawings.”
What makes this book so interesting to me is that it was written and published almost immediately after the disaster, and when the memories of those who lived through it were fresh and accurate.
Since the copyright on this book has expired, I feel free to quote a few interesting passages:
This is from the section “Women and Children First.”
MY PERSONAL COMMENT: Being from the deep south were men are still very chivalrous, I was not surprised to learn about the Titanic order of “Women and Children First.” While most men adhered to the order, there were others who did not. But one courageous man was prepared to die bravely. HIs name was Benjamin Guggenheim.
And, I quote: “One of the Titanic’s stewards, Johnson by name, carried this message to the sorrowing widow of Benjamin Guggenheim: “When Mr. Guggenheim realized that there was grave danger, said the room steward, “he advised his secretary, who also died, to dress fully and he himself did the same. Mr. Guggenheim, who was cool and collected as he was pulling on his outer garments, said to the steward: “I think there is grave doubt that the men will get off safely. I am willing to remain and play the man’s game, if there are not enough boats for more than the women and children. I won’t die here like a beast. I’ll meet my end as a man.” There was a pause and then Mr. Guggenheim continued: “Tell my wife, Johnson, if it should happen that my secretary and I both go down and you are saved, tell her that I played the game out straight and to the end. No woman shall be left abroad this ship because Ben guggenheim was a coward.
“Tell her that my last thoughts will be of her and of our girls, but that my duty now is to these unfortunate women and children on this ship. Tell her I will meet whatever fate is in store for me, knowing she will approve of what I do.”
In telling the story the room steward said the last he saw of Mr. Guggenheim was when he stood fully dressed upon the upper deck talking calmly with Colonel Astor and Major Butt.
THE DOOMED MEN:
As the ship began to settle to starboard, heeling at an angle of nearly forty-five degrees, those who had believed it was all right to stick by the ship began to have doubts, and a few jumped into the sea. They were followed immediately by others, and in a few minutes, there were scores swimming around. Nearly all of them wore life-preservers. One man, who had a Pomeranian dog, leaped overboard with it and striking a piece of wreckage was badly stunned. He recovered after a few mintues and swam toward one of the life-boats and was taken aboard. (No mention is made of the dog’s fate, much to my distress then when I first read this portion, and even now, many years later.)
Said one survivor, speaking of the men who remained on the ship: “There they stood – Major Butt, Colonel Astor waving a farewell to his wife; Mr. Thayer, Mr. Case, Mr. Clarence Moore, Mr. Widener, all multimillionaires, and hundreds of other men, bravely smiling at us all. Never have I seen such chivalry and and fortitude. Such courage in the face of fate horrible to contemplate filled us even then with wonder and admiration.
There were men whose word of command swayed boards of directors, governed institutions, disposed of millions. They were accustomed merely to pronounce a wish to have it gratified. But these men stood aside – onec can see them – and gave place not merely to the delicate and the refined, but to the scared Czech woman from the steerage, with the baby at her breast, the Croatian with a toddler by her side.
MEN SHOT DOWN
The officers had to assert their authority by force, and three foreigners from the steerage who tried to force their way in among the women and children were shot down with out mercy.
Robert Daniel, a Philadelphia passenger, told of terrible scenes at this period of the disaster. He said men fought and bit and struck one another like madmen, and exhibited wounds upon his face to prove the assertion.
This is from the chapter titled: In the Drifting Life-Boats, after the Titanic had gone under:
“Let me go back – I want to go back to my husband – I’ll jump from the boat if you don’t,” cried an agonized voice in one life-boat.
“You can do no good by going back – other lives will be lost if you try to do it. Try to calm yourself for the sake of the living. It may be that your husband will be picked up somewhere by one of the fishing boats.”
The woman who pleaded to go back, according to Mrs. Vera Dick, of Calgary, Canada, later tried to throw herself from the life-boat. Mrs. Dick, describing the scens in the life-boats, said there were half a dozen women in that one boat who tried to commit suicide when they realized that the Titanic had gone down.
“Even in Canada, where we have such clear nights, ” said Mrs. Dick, “I have never seen such a clear sky. The stars were very bright and we could see the Titanic plainly, like a great hotel on the water. Floor after floor of the lights went out as we watched. It was horrible, horrible. I can’t bear to think about it. From the distance, as we rowed away, we could hear the band playing, ‘Nearer, my God to Thee.’
“Among the life-boats themselves, however, there were scenes just as terrible, perhaps, but to me nothing could outdo the tragic grandeur with which the Titanic went to its death. To realize it, you sould have to see the Titanic as I saw it the day we set sail-with the flags flying and the bands playing. Everybody on board was laughing and talking about the Titanic being the biggest and most luxurious boat on the ocean and being unsinkable. To think of it then and to think of it standing out there in the night, wounded to death and gasping for life, is almost too big for the imagination.
COLONEL ASTOR’S DEATH:
To Colonel Astor’s death, Philip Mock bears this testimoney: “Many men were hanging on to rafts in the sea. Colonel Astor was among them. His feet and hands froze and he had to let go. He was drowned.
The last man among the survivors to speak to Colonel Astor was K. Whiteman, the ships barber.
“I shaved Colonel Astor Sunday afternoon,” said Whiteman. “He was a pleasant, affable man, and that awful night when I found myself standing beside him on the passenger deck, helping to put the women into the boats, I spoke to him. “Where is your life-belt?” I asked him.
“I didn’t think there would be any need of it,” he said.8
“Get one while there is time,” I told him. “The last boat is gone, and we are done for.”
“No,” he said, “I think there are some life-boats to be launched, and we may get on one of them.”
“There are no life-rafts,” I told him, “and the ship is going to sink. I am going to jump overboard and take a chance on swimming out and being picked up by one of the boats. Better come along.”
“No, thank you,” he said calmly, “I think I’ll have to stick.”
That great ship, which started out proudly, went down to her death like some grim, silent juggernaut, drunk with carnage and anxious to stop the throbbing of her own heart at the bottom of the sea. Charles H. Lightoller, second officer of the Titanic, tells the story this way:
“I stuck to the ship until the water came up to my ankles. There was no lamentations from the men passengers as they saw the last life-boat go. There was no wailing or crying, no outburst from the men who lined the ship’s rail as the Titanic disappeared from sight.
“The men stood quietly as if they were in church. Finally, the ship took a dive, reeling for a moment, then plunging. I was sucked to the side of the ship against the grating over the blower for the exhaust. There was an explosion. It blew me to the surface again, only to be sucked back again by the water rushing into the ship. I came up near a collapsible life-boat and grabbed it. Many men were in the water with me. A funnel fell within four inches of me and killed at least one of the swimmers. ”
Lightoller survived and this is an excerpt from Lightoller’s testimony berfore the Senate investigating committee:
“What time did you leave the ship?”
“I didn’t leave it.”
“Did it leave you?”
FIFTY LADS MET DEATH:
Among the many hundreds of heroic souls who went bravely and quietly to their end were fifty youngsters shipped as bell boys or messengers to serve the first cabin passengers. James Humphres, a quartermaster, told a story that shows how these fifty lads met death.
Humphres said that the boys were called to their regular posts in the main cabin entry. The were ordered to remain in the cabin and not to get in the way. Throughout the first hour of confusion and terror these lads sat quietly on their benches. Then toward the end when the order was passed around that the ship was going down and every man was free to save himself, if he kept away from the life-boats in which the women were being were being taken.Humphres said he saw many of them smoking cigarettes and joking with the passengers. Not one of the attempted to enter a life-boat. Not one of the boys was saved.
There were many dogs onboard but only two survived. One was a dog hero named Rigel.
Rigel was a big black Newfoundland dog, belonging to the first officer, who went down with the ship. Rigel swam for two or three hours in the icy water where the Titanic went down, evidently looking for his master. Rigel was finally taken aboard the Carpathia, but he stood by the rail and barked for his master, finally taken below. Whatever happened to Rigel after that, is unknown.
The tempterature of the Atlantic ocean at the time of sinking was 31 degrees F. The temperature of the water was the biggest cause of death among the passengers and crew.