In the Bookcase


More thoughts about a fatal night.

I've so enjoyed sharing with you facts and the important dates from the Titanic's small lifespan. She was a wonderful ship, built to last for years, and it's only a horrible shame that the ship had to founder on her first voyage, by random coincidences.

Titanic newspaper headline in The Evening Sun After the Carpathia picked up the 700+ survivors of the Titanic, and steamed on to New York, the wireless operators on board were kept busy by sending on all the names of the passengers they had saved. This created so much work to do that Harold Bride, the Titanic's junior wireless officer, who did survive the sinking, was called upon to help send the messages to New York. His feet were frostbitten, and he was in pain, but he was helped into the wireless room and took over sending on the survivor lists and personal messages, so that the Carpathia's wireless operator could rest. Once received in New York, the lists were made public so that people on the street could look at them and try to find their loved ones' names. However, these lists were not always correct, so some people walked away from these lists thinking that their family members had died, only to find out later that they were still alive, and vice versa.

Titanic newspaper headline in The Times Dispatch The newspapers in New York were going crazy with the story. The Carpathia wouldn't give out any other information on the Titanic's sinking, other than the survivor messages, so reporters were left to fabricate their own version of the story. Most got it all wrong, by claiming that 1800 had died (300 more deaths than the truth), or the other extreme of saying that all were saved. Waking up in the morning to this news was unbearable for people in America and people all over Europe. However, the newspapers did get at least one thing right---based on the names of the survivors, they figured out that more women and children had been saved, put first before the lives of the men. A newspaper in London published this article:

Following the shock of horror.... came the realisation of the devoted heroism of the crew of the vessel, shown in the facts that so many women and children were got away in the lifeboats and subsequently rescued. That eloquent detail, standing out among the few meagre facts which we have been able to learn as yet of this appalling catastrophe, means that officers and men unflinchingly maintained the noblest tradition of the British mercantile service.

The rule that directs the saving of "the women and children first" has cost the lives of unnumerable gallant seamen in the past. It has been reserved for our time to provide the most splendid proof yet shown of this dauntless spirit of self-sacrifice in the cause of the weak. It is believed that from 500 to 600 of the crew have perished with the ship, from which they aided nearly 700 passengers, mostly women and children, to escape.
('The Daily Telegraph' newspaper)

Although women and children only were supposed to board the lifeboats, some of the men were occasionally allowed too. Many of the men decidedly and heroically stayed on the ship though, even if they knew they would drown. They simply wanted the women and children to escape. However, some women balked at the idea of leaving their husbands behind. For one example, Ida Straus was the wife of Isador Straus, owner of Macy's. Ida is best remembered for saying to her husband: "We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go." (The Strauses stayed aboard the ship and soon became two more victims in the ocean's grasp.) Later on, in New York, 40,000 people attended their memorial service.

Another heroic and notable feat performed that night of the shipwreck was done by the orchestra, which played music to the very end. The 8 men played their instruments at various locations on the ship, moving from place to place. They played light and cheerful tunes to calm the passengers. With the music playing, and the electric lights on, nothing really seemed to be amiss on the giant ocean liner. Nearer My God to Thee is a hymn that some of the survivors recall hearing during those last moments. For the passengers that were still left standing on the Titanic after the lifeboats had been depleted, perhaps the orchestra gave them a sense of calm in their last moments of life. With that being said, those 8 men performed their service well, and went under as the ship foundered.

The Guarantee Group was another set of courageous men, willing to go down, instead of of fighting for a spot in the last lifeboats. In total, there were 9 in this group, but only 8 were making the voyage. All of them knew the Titanic thoroughly. Indeed, they had built the Titanic from her infancy, and they are known for going down with her in great pride of their acheivement, regardless.

Aside from all this, the man that became most popular and cherished by the public was The Millionaire's Captain. Everyone admired Captain E.J. Smith's bravery as he took a true sailor's death, even though this was his last professional voyage before retiring. I'm sure he had plans of what he intended to do in life after returning to Southampton for his retirement. But he gave that up in a pivotal, life-altering moment in order to save all the lives he could and die with the Titanic. And for that, he was always England's best-loved sea captain. As the author Stephen Hines says:

Captain E.J. Smith was exonerated of any wrongdoing: he had gone down with his ship in a blaze of Anglo-Saxon glory so important to the spirit of the age.

('Titanic: One Newspaper, Seven Days, and the Truth That Shocked the World')

In contrast to Smith's legacy, another man, J. Bruce Ismay was deeply cut and criticized for surviving the tragedy. Many other men survived, so why did people feel angry at his actions? Bruce Ismay was the managing director of the White Star Line's steamships. Because he was an important high-ranking man in the company, practically owning the ship himself, the public believed that Ismay should have had the grace to go down with the ship as the captain did. For the rest of his life, Ismay had to defend himself. He had only jumped in a lifeboat because no other women or children appeared to be getting in at the time. From then on, his life turned downhill, losing his position within the company, and becoming a recluse to keep out of the public eye, away from the ridicule.

Who would have known that an iceberg, a simple, but majestic, piece of nature could ruin so many lives in just a few seconds? That iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean promptly ended several people's lives. For others who may have survived the night, that iceberg was a landmark in their lives, which slowly drained away everything that they knew, so that they never again had what they once did before. To decide which scenario is the worse fate is indeed a tough choice.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't had the chance to read all your posts (I'm currently making my way through them though), but I would like to thank you for doing these. They've been great so far and I know that you must have put a lot of effort into them. Thanks Tarissa!