Just Missed the Titanic - Part IV

Several prominent members of society literally missed the boat. Today, see why one of America’s wealthiest families booked passage on Titanic, then never boarded the ship. In 1805, Cornelius Vanderbilt quit school at the age of 11 to work on his father’s ferry in New York Harbor. At 16, he bought a boat and began his own ferry service. Cornelius expanded his company until 1849, when he switched his interests to ocean-going vessels. He later invested in railroads, increasing his wealth and eventually becoming the richest man in the world.

In 1888, his grandson, George Washington Vanderbilt II, bought land in Ashville, North Carolina and began construction of the famous mansion known as the Biltmore Estate. He and his wife, Edith Stuyvesant, a descendant of New York’s first governor, filled their 250-room home with original artwork and antiques purchased on their travels around the globe. They also donated funds to begin Vanderbilt University.





George Washington Vanderbilt II, Edith and Cornelia Vanderbilt

While in Europe in 1912, George and Edith booked a first class cabin on the luxurious new Titanic for their return home. Their footman, 24-year-old Edwin Charles “Frederick” Wheeler, boarded the ship early and brought along several pieces of the Vanderbilt’s luggage. However, someone in the family strongly opposed taking a ship on its maiden voyage. Too many things could go wrong.

George and Edith decided to take Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, instead. By the time word reached Frederick, it was too late to unload the Vanderbilt’s luggage, so he stayed onboard, enjoying his second class accommodations. After the sinking, his body was not recovered.



Frederick Wheeler walking with 2 passengers aboard Titanic while the ship was docked in Queenstown, Ireland

Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, George’s nephew, had also planned to sail on Titanic. The NewYorkTimes reported that he’d boarded the ship at Cherbourg, France. But A.G. sent his mother a cablegram from London on the day of the sinking to let her know he was safe.



A.G. Vanderbilt

Three years later, A.G. boarded the Lusitania in order to attend a meeting of the International Horse Breeders’ Association in England. The ship was hit by a German torpedo off the coast of Ireland and sank in 18 minutes. A.G. gave his lifebelt to a woman holding her baby. He and his valet died in the sinking and their bodies were not recovered.



The Biltmore Estate today

Credits: southeastdiscovery.com, encyclopediatitanica.com, thefreegeorge.com, Wikipedia.org.

The Unsinkable Sister Ship

Exactly 105 years ago yesterday, on October 20, 1910, the RMS Olympic was launched in Belfast. She was the first of what would become White Star Line’s trio of ocean liners known for their size and elegance. The Titanic was still under construction and would launch in 1912. Until the Titanic was completed, the Olympic held the title of the world’s largest passenger ship. The two were to be joined later by a third ship, the Britannic.


launch of the RMS Olympic

After her launch, Olympic was fitted with her heavy machinery and luxurious interior, then left for Liverpool, her home port, on May 31, 1911. On the same day, the RMS Titanic was launched, but still nearly a year away from her fateful maiden voyage on April 10, 1912.

Olympic’s maiden voyage to New York in June 1911 was successful. A crowd of 8000 toured the ship after docking in New York Harbor. On her fifth voyage to New York, just as she left Southampton, the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke smashed into the side of the Olympic. Both ships were badly damaged, but they made it back to port, and Olympic’s New York voyage was cancelled. After temporary repairs, she was sent back to Belfast for more major repairs. This in turn caused Titanic’s completion and maiden voyage to be delayed.

On another voyage to New York in February 1912, the Olympic lost a propeller blade and had to return to Belfast again on her return. It was then the Olympic and Titanic were together for the last time.


Olympic (left) and Titanic

Two months later, on April 14, 1912, Titanic struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage. The distress signals reached the Olympic 500 miles away, too far for her to reach the Titanic before it sank. When the Olympic asked the Carpathia’s Captain Rostron if the Olympic could pick up survivors from the Carpathia, he refused. Seeing another ship the size of Titanic would only upset the survivors, he reasoned.

Six months after the Titanic disaster, the Olympic was temporarily taken out of service in order to make her watertight bulkheads higher and more lifeboats added. Features that had been present on the Titanic but not on the Olympic were added as well, such as the Café Parisien. For the most part, however, much of the Olympic was identical to her more famous younger sister.

When World War I began, the Olympic came to the aid of the HMS Audacious, a British battleship, when it struck a mine. She rescued the entire crew before the Audacious sank. The Olympic was requisitioned as a troop ship and made ready for war service, including “dazzle” paint, meant to make it harder for another ship to judge its speed. While carrying up to 6000 troops, she was unsuccessfully attacked by submarines several times. In 1918, the Olympic rammed and sank a German submarine, earning her the nickname, “Old Reliable.”

Olympic in dazzle wwI

Olympic in "dazzle" paint

The Olympic returned to passenger service in 1920. She was eventually sold and demolished in 1937. Some of her fixtures are still on display at museums in the UK and at the White Swan Hotel, Ainwick, England.


Marble fireplace from the Olympic at the White Swan Hotel, Ainwick, England

A Stewardess on Titanic

When the Titanic left Southampton on April 10, 1912, her crew numbered 892. Twenty-three of them were women, eighteen were stewardesses. They served morning and afternoon tea, made beds, tidied staterooms, and cleaned public rooms. They earned approximately $210.00 per year.


Some of Titanic's first class stewardesses

Violet Jessop, 24, was born in Argentina, the child of Irish immigrants. When her father died, her mother and Violet returned to Britain. Violet attended a convent school, but gave it up to become a stewardess when her mother became ill. She first worked for the Royal Mail Line, then for the White Star Line aboard the Olympic. She was aboard the Olympic when it collided with the HMS Hawke in 1911.

Friends encouraged her to join the Titanic for the experience. In her memoir, she stated how she enjoyed a chance to take in some fresh air during the evenings on board. "If the sun did fail to shine so brightly on the fourth day out, and if the little cold nip crept into the air as evening set in, it only served to emphasize the warmth and luxuriousness within."

On the night of April 14, Violet was nearly asleep when Titanic collided with the iceberg.

''I was ordered up on deck. Calmly, passengers strolled about. I stood at the bulkhead with the other stewardesses, watching the women cling to their husbands before being put into the boats with their children. Some time after, a ship's officer ordered us into the boat (16) first to show some women it was safe. As the boat was being lowered the officer called: 'Here, Miss Jessop. Look after this baby.' And a bundle was dropped on to my lap.''

Following rescue by the Carpathia, Violet cared for the baby until a woman ran up and grabbed him away.

''I was still clutching the baby against my hard cork lifebelt I was wearing when a woman leaped at me and grabbed the baby, and rushed off with it, it appeared that she put it down on the deck of the Titanic while she went off to fetch something, and when she came back the baby had gone. I was too frozen and numb to think it strange that this woman had not stopped to say 'thank you'.


Violet Jessop

During World War I, Violet returned to sea as a nurse aboard Britannic, Titanic’s other sister ship. The ship was sunk in the Aegean Sea in 1916. Violet jumped from a lifeboat and hit her head on the ship’s keel. Nevertheless, she was rescued once again.

Violet spent forty-two years at sea. She had a brief marriage that ended in divorce, and never had children. She died at the age of 83.