The narrative of how the RMS Titanic met its tragic end and sank in the Atlantic Ocean continues to captivate people worldwide one hundred years after the event. Only about 700 persons out of more than 2,200 people on board survived to tell the tale. Others were willing to talk about their experiences during the crash and in the aftermath of the disaster, even though many survivors and members of their families either vanished into obscurity or were reluctant to discuss what they had been through after the crash. Some of their stories are recounted here.
Elizabeth Shutes, who was 40 years old, worked as a family governess on the Titanic. After the ship collided with an iceberg, she was among the passengers sent to the Sun Deck as quickly as possible. She detailed the frantic situation on the lifeboat just a few moments before Carpathia rescued them: Our soldiers were ill-informed about the constellations in the sky and barely knew how to work together. Soon after, two oars went flying overboard. Because of the cold, the men’s hands could not hold on… Then, from across the sea came that horrible howl, the cries of those drowning individuals. It sounded like, “She’s gone, fellas; row like hell or we’ll get the devil of a swell,” and I could hear it in my ears. Shutes was one of the people who reflected on the “needless luxuries” emphasized on the Titanic over lifeboats and other safety precautions. Other people had similar thoughts.
Laura Mabel Francatelli
Later, Laura Mabel Francatelli, a secretary from London who was 30 years old at the time, reflected on the eventful arrival of Carpathia as follows: “Oh, at daybreak, when we saw the lights of that ship about 4 miles away, we rowed like mad, and we passed icebergs like mountains. Finally, at about 6:30 in the evening, the dear Carpathia picked us up, and our little boat was like a speck in comparison to that giant. Then came the point in which I was at my most vulnerable; they lowered a rope swing that was uncomfortable to sit on, and they wrapped my life preserver over me. After that, they pulled me up alongside the boat using a rope. Can you really fathom the thought of me hanging upside down over the ocean with my eyes closed and my grip on the rope so strong that I could hear myself asking, “Am I safe?” At long last, I felt someone pushing me onto the boat with their muscular arm….”
Those passengers who were fortunate enough to have been picked up by Carpathia arrived in New York City several days later and immediately began a frantic search for their loved ones, hoping against hope that their loved ones had also been saved. Collyer, a passenger in second class who was 31 years old at the time, would later describe her frantic hunt for her husband as follows: “Almost no one had not experienced being parted from a wife, kid, or friend at some point in their lives. Was the lone survivor the very last of the small group?… I was looking for my husband, who I had every reason to believe would be on one of the boats despite the fact that my faith was already stretched to its limits. However, he was not present.”
Lawrence Beesley, a young widower and physics professor living in London, decided to board the Titanic to pay a visit to his brother in Toronto. He left his small son at home. A photograph of Beesley and another passenger in the Titanic’s gymnastic room may be seen to the left. A well-known book titled “The Loss of the S.S. Titanic” was written and published by Beesley only nine weeks after the disaster. The book offered several strong suggestions for averting further catastrophes in the future. In addition, he had a compelling reason to be suspicious of particular superstitions: “Never again will you hear me use the phrase “13 is a bad number.” Boat 13 is the most reliable and trustworthy friend we’ve ever had.”
Florence Ismay, wife of J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line
White Star Chairman Bruce Ismay eventually made it to safety by boarding a lifeboat, but many people were critical of his decisions regarding the Titanic. The elation that his wife, Florence, felt upon learning that he had survived the catastrophe is articulated in a letter that she wrote to him: “A week ago, on this day, I stood there and watched that lovely ship set sail while beaming with pride. When I wished her good luck, I never once considered the possibility of harm… I am very aware of the emotional anguish you must be experiencing as a result of the tragic loss of so many priceless lives and the ship you cared for as if it were a living being. Since we have both been given the gift of each other’s company, let us work together to put our lives to good use in this world.” A picture from their wedding may be seen to the left.
There is a photo of the throng in New York City waiting for the ship’s survivors on the left. At the time of the sinking of the Titanic, Eva Hart was only seven years old. Eva was traveling with her parents in the second-class cabin when the accident occurred, and she could not save her father. She went on to have a fruitful life and often shared her perspective on the sinking of the Titanic and how it shaped her outlook on living. “When I tell people that I have no problem traveling by car, train, airplane, or ship if necessary, they always seem shocked by my response. It is almost as though they anticipate that I will always be trembling in my shoes whenever the subject of going on a trip is brought up. If I had acted in that manner, I am certain that I would have passed away from fear many years ago, but life must be lived regardless of the potential perils and catastrophes that could be around the next corner.”
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