Nearly everyone knows the tragic story of the RMS Titanic. The British ocean liner was in the midst of its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City when it collided with an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sank on April 15, 1912. More than 1,500 of its approximate 2,224 passengers died.
People From All Over The World Lost Their Lives
The Titanic’s passengers included immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and other corners of Europe looking to start over in the United States. From the extremely wealthy to those barely getting by, many passengers’ lives were taken that horrific day. Here are their stories.
The Terrible Cry Of Drowning People
A woman named Elizabeth Shutes, 40, was a governess. After the Titanic hit the iceberg, she was ordered to the Sun Deck. She later recalled getting on one of the lifeboats: “Our men knew nothing about the position of the stars, hardly how to pull together. Two oars were soon overboard. The men’s hands were too cold to hold on…Then across the water swept that awful wail, the cry of those drowning people. In my ears I heard: ‘She’s gone, lads; row like hell or we’ll get the devil of a swell.” She also noted how the ship prioritized “needless luxuries” over safety practices.
“We Rowed Like Mad”
Laura Mabel Francatelli, 30, (second from right) recalled being rescued by the Carpathia: “Oh at daybreak, when we saw the lights of that ship, about 4 miles away, we rowed like mad, & passed icebergs like mountains, at last about 6:30 the dear Carpathia picked us up, our little boat was like a speck against that giant. Then came my weakest moment, they lowered a rope swing, which was awkward to sit on, with my life preserver ’round me. Then they hauled me up, by the side of the boat. Can you imagine, swinging in the air over the sea, I just shut my eyes & clung tight saying ‘Am I safe,?’ at last I felt a strong arm pulling me onto the boat…. “
The Desperate Search For Loved Ones
The RMS Carpathia steamship rescued survivors on April 15, 1912, and they were brought to New York City. The survivors then spent their time searching frantically for their loved ones, not knowing if any they were dead or alive. Charlotte Collyer, 31, pictured above with her daughter, recalled looking for her husband: “There was scarcely anyone who had not been separated from husband, child or friend. Was the last one among the handful saved? … I had a husband to search for, a husband whom in the greatness of my faith, I had believed would be found in one of the boats. He was not there.”
A Memoir About The Tragedy
Lawrence Beesley, an English science teacher, journalist and author, was also a young widower. He left his son in London to visit his brother in Canada. He is pictured above in the gymnasium of the Titanic with a fellow passenger. He survived the tragedy and just nine weeks later wrote a book about the experience, The Loss of the S.S. Titanic. He was very vocal about the ways ships could avoid similar incidents in the future. He also said he was no longer superstitious: “I shall never say again that 13 is an unlucky number. Boat 13 is the best friend we ever had.”
An Amazing Sacrifice
The main baker on the Titanic was Charles John Joughin. His survival story is quite incredible. When the ocean liner started sinking, he was spotted drinking several refills of whiskey in what seemed to be an attempt at drinking away the madness around him. According to witnesses, at one point he threw several chairs overboard to give those in the water something to cling to. Joughin had also been assigned as captain of one of the lifeboats; however, he decided not to get on board and allowed other people to take his spot so they could be saved. Then something miraculous occurred.
An Unbelievable Bit Of Luck
When the Titanic started its final descent into the ocean, Joughin was reportedly positioned on the very top of the ship while he waited to die. But that’s not what happened. He later recalled padding in the ocean for two hours. He was unable to feel the freezing cold water because he was inebriated. At daybreak, he spotted an upside-down lifeboat that 25 men were holding on to for dear life. There was no space for Joughin to get a grip, but his luck held up. A rescue boat arrived just moments later. When Joughin was rescued, the only ailment he sustained was swollen feet.
The Man Behind The Wheel
Robert Hitchens was one of six quartermasters on board the Titanic and was at the wheel when it hit the iceberg. He was in charge of Lifeboat No. 6. Other survivors recalled how he refused to go back and save people who were stranded in the water after Titanic sank. They also claimed he referred to the dead people as “stiffs” and slammed those rowing the lifeboat while he manned the rudder. Denver millionaire Margaret “Molly” Brown and others were sickened by his behavior. She even threatened to throw him overboard. Hitchens denied the accusations and continued to work on ships until his death in 1940 at age 59.
An Undying Love
After the ship hit the iceberg, Ida Straus refused to get into a lifeboat without her husband Isidor, the co-owner of Macy’s department store. Isidor was offered a place on a lifeboat, but he wouldn’t get in while women and children were still on board. Instead, they sent their newly hired maid, Ellen Bird, into a lifeboat with Ida’s fur coat because Ida no longer needed it. Ida reportedly said: “I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived, so will we die, together.” The pair was last spotted on deck linking arms. Their undying love made a lasting impression on witnesses.
Odds Of Survival Was Related To Wealth
There was a total of 2,208 people on board: 337 in first class, 285 in second class, 721 in third class, and 885 crew members. The picture above shows a second-class cabin. While first-class passengers had gorgeous rooms and a lot of amenities, they weren’t the only ones who enjoyed a little bit of luxury. The picture depicts a good-sized room with a canopied bed, wood paneled walls, a tiny sitting table and chair. It even appears to have more space than many cruise liners have today. The wealthier people on board had it better in more ways than one. They were much more likely to survive than someone in steerage because of the location of their cabins. Their status aided in their survival.
One notable victim of the Titanic disaster was John Jacob Astor IV, the richest passenger on board. Accounting for inflation, his wealth today would equal about $2 billion. According to legend, he told his waiter after the ship crashed into the iceberg: “I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous.” American businessman Benjamin Guggenheim also died on board. He and his valet reportedly put on their finest evening wear, and he said: “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.” The pair was last spotted sitting on deck chairs, smoking cigars and drinking brandy.
The Survivor’s Curse
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
This photo shows the lucky survivors of the Titanic, on the day they returned home and were greeted by family and friends in Southampton, England. Of the 2,208 people on board, 1,503 died, leaving only 705 survivors. Many also say that there’s a “curse of the Titanic” that has followed the survivors, causing grief and unfortunate circumstances for them, later in life. One survivor, Marjorie Dutton, wrote “My father was drowned taking our worldly wealth with him, as in those days people were not as bank-minded as they are now. Since that time I have been blessed with bad luck and often wonder if it will ever give me a break, but it just seems to be my lot… I think my name was published at the time as having been drowned.”
Luxurious Accommodations For First Class
First-class passengers had access to a seven-foot-deep saltwater swimming pool as well as a gymnasium and squash court. In addition, there was a Turkish bath with a steam room, massage room and other amenities. The public areas for the first-class passengers were divine. One lounge was decorated in the style of the Palace of Versailles. A restaurant resembled something that the Ritz Hotel would run. There was also an eatery that resembled a Parisian cafe with actual ivy-covered trellises and wicker seating (however, it cost extra to dine at the establishment). Another cafe included views of the sea.
The Sweeping Grand Staircase
The Titanic Museum located in Brandon, Missouri, has replicated the grand staircase that was built on the Titanic (and featured in the beloved big-screen film of the same name). The stairway was built of solid oak and featured a sweeping curve as part of its signature design. It was used on seven decks of the ship, from the Boat Deck to E Deck before ending as a single flight of stairs on F Deck. The domed caps of the stairway were wrought iron and glass. The landings on each deck had ornate paneling of the William & Mary style. The stairway was lit by ormolu and crystal light fixtures.
Not Enough Lifeboats & No Practice Drill
The Titanic had the ability to carry 64 wooden lifeboats (enough to hold 4,000 people), but the White Star Line decided only 14 lifeboats, four collapsible and two cutters would be necessary for the ocean liner. These vessels could accommodate 1,178 people or one-third of those on board. The day of the disaster, a lifeboat drill had been scheduled. However, the captain canceled it. If the crew and the passengers had been required to participate in a lifeboat drill, things may have turned out differently. Perhaps much more people would have survived the disaster and lived to talk about it.
Precious Cargo On Board
The Titanic was designated as a Royal Mail Ship (RMS) and carried Royal Mail as well as pieces for the United States Post Office Department. Five postal clerks were in charge of the mail, working up to 13 hours a day, seven days a week. They sorted a staggering 60,000 items of mail each day. Passenger brought on a fair amount of cargo on board, including furniture and vehicles. The most expensive item? An oil painting entitled La Circassienne au Bain by French artist Merry-Joseph Blondel. The owner filed a claim (valued at $2.4 million today) for its loss.
Fires On Board Were A Common Occurrence
The first three days of Titanic’s voyage across the ocean went smoothly. However, about 10 days before the ship departed, there was a fire in one of the liner’s coal bunkers. The fire continued to burn for several days after the ship left the dock. The passengers had no idea there was a fire on board during the journey. During that time period, it was very common for fires to occur on steamships due to spontaneous combustion. Crew members used fire hoses to extinguish the fires, moved coal on to another bunker and removed burning coal before feeding it to the furnace.
Very Little Concern About Icebergs
Before colliding with an iceberg, other ships in the area warned the Titanic about drifting ice near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Despite the warnings, the Titanic continued at full speed, which was standard practice. The captain was on a schedule, and ice warnings were viewed as advisories. The captain relied instead on lookouts and those who watched the ocean from the bridge. During that time period, most people were not concerned about ice and believed it posed little danger to large ships. But close encounters with ice were not uncommon.
Not Unsinkable After All
After the Titanic hit the iceberg, several holes punctured the vessel below the waterline and five compartments flooded. It didn’t take long for those on board to realize that the ship was going down. It started sinking in the bow area, and water spilled from one compartment to the next as the angle of the ship got steeper and steeper. The passengers and crew were not prepared for the emergency. During that time, ships were considered, for the most part, unsinkable. And lifeboats were only built to transfer passengers to rescue vessels.
1,000 People Couldn’t Get Off The Ship
Four days into the trip across the ocean about 375 miles south of Newfoundland, the ship hit an iceberg just before midnight. The ship’s hull plates buckled inwards on the starboard side. Five of the 16 watertight compartments opened up to the sea. In a panic, passengers started loading into lifeboats, but many of the lifeboats were only partially full. Due to the “women and children” off first rule, many men remained on the ship. At 2:20 a.m., the Titanic split apart while 1,000 people were still on board. Two hours after it sank, help arrived with the Cunard liner RMS Carpathia.