The $250,000 Fur Coat and the Woman Who Wore It

Last month in Great Britain, a fur coat that once belonged to a stewardess on the Titanic sold at auction for GBP150,000 (more than $250,000 in US dollars). The coat was worn by Mabel Bennett, a first class stewardess, as she entered Lifeboat 5.

fur coat

fur coat

Mabel was born in England in 1878, the seventh of ten children. In her twenties, she became a domestic servant, living away from home. She married in 1905 and had one daughter, also named Mabel. By 1911, she was living with her sister and brother-in-law and working at sea. She worked as a stewardess aboard the Olympic, one of Titanic’s sister ships, and signed on to the Titanic with her brother-in-law and nephew, who worked as stewards.

mabel bennett

mabel bennett

Mabel Bennett, 33, soon after the sinking of the Titanic

On the night of the sinking, Mabel grabbed her fur coat and headed to the lifeboats. She and her brother-in-law survived, but her nephew perished. Mabel and other surviving stewardesses returned to England after rescue by the Carpathia.

titanic stweardesses

titanic stweardesses

A group of surviving Titanic stewardesses returning to England. Mabel's family verified she is 6th from the left, behind the railing.

What happened to her first marriage is unknown, but Mabel remarried in 1918. She died on her 96th birthday, and out of all the surviving female crewmembers, Mabel is believed to have lived the longest.

Her great-niece wrote the following in a letter accompanying the coat.

"On her rescue from the Titanic she was in her nightdress and this coat was the first garment she snatched for warmth. My aunt gave me the coat in the early 60s, because of her advancing years she found the weight of the coat too much for her."

After her death, the coat was nearly given away to charity by mistake. But it remained in the family until 2000, when it was first given up for auction. The amount at this year's auction is believed to be the highest price ever paid for a collectible coat.

Photo credits:,,

A Titanic Timeline Part II

Last time, we began with a glimpse into Titanic’s maiden voyage, beginning with the preparations in Southampton on April 5, 1912. On Sailing Day, April 10th, Titanic departed Southampton on what would be her only voyage, carrying 2,208 passengers and crew.

leaving southampton

leaving southampton

Titanic departing Southampton April 10, 1912

The Titanic headed across the English Channel for Cherbourg, France, where 24 passengers disembarked and 274 passengers came aboard via tenders. Just after 8:00 pm, the ship was again under way. The first dinner on board had been served in all classes, and passengers spent the evening acquainting themselves with the ship, preparing their children for bed, or strolling the pristine outside decks to gaze at the brilliant canopy of stars.

April 11. At 11:30 am, Titanic dropped anchor two miles offshore at Queenstown, Ireland. Tenders transported 120 passengers and 1,385 sacks of mail to the ship. Two hours later, the Titanic headed out to sea. For most of those on board, they would not see land again.

last_titanic_photo leaving Queenstown

last_titanic_photo leaving Queenstown

Last photo of the ship as it left Queenstown

April 12. Passengers spent the next three days enjoying the ship’s many amenities. Even third class passengers marveled at the bright and spacious public rooms and delicious food. There were few scheduled activities, other than dining hours.

April 13. First class passengers looked forward to the noon posting each day in the smoking room of the previous day’s run. From Thursday, April 11 to Friday, April 12, the ship traveled 386 nautical miles. From Friday April 12 to Saturday April 13, 519 miles, and from Saturday April 13 to Sunday April 14, 546 miles were logged.

titanicsmoking room

titanicsmoking room

April 14. On Sunday, a church service was held in the first class dining saloon. The temperature dropped, and Titanic received several ice warnings over the wireless from other ships in the area. Around 6:00 pm, Captain Smith gave orders for her course to be altered slightly due to the warnings. At 10:00 pm, lookouts Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee took their post in the crow’s nest. At 11:30 pm, Fleet sighted an iceberg and warned the officers on the bridge. Quartermaster Robert Hichens responded immediately to the order to turn the ship ‘Hard-a-starboard.’ The ship turned, but not enough. Less than a minute passed from the moment Fleet sighted the iceberg to collision.

crows nest

crows nest

Crow's nest half-way up mast on left. The bridge, with several windows, is behind it on top deck

April 15. With approximately 1500 passengers and crew still on board, the RMS Titanic sank in the north Atlantic at 2:20 am. Hundreds fell to their deaths, drowned, or died of hypothermia in the frigid waters. All twenty lifeboats, many carrying fewer than their capacity, drifted in a calm, frigid sea until dawn. The RMS Carpathia, having received Titanic’s distress calls, raced through the ice field to rescue the surviving 712 men, women, and children. Carpathia passengers and crew did their best to accommodate and comfort those from the Titanic. Captain Arthur Rostron set a course for New York.



Titanic lifeboat alongside Carpathia

Photo credits:,,

Titanic's Big Game Hunter

Thomas Drake emigrated from England to Pennsylvania in 1829, opened a fabric mill, and began manufacturing denim. Soon, he was making jeans under the trademark, ‘Kentucky Blue Jeans.’ He became the cloth supplier for the Union Army uniforms during the Civil War, and increased his wealth through various investments. When he died in 1890, his only surviving child, Charlotte, inherited his fortune, plus the family mansion, Montebello. Located in Germantown, Pennsylvania, it occupied a full square block.



Montebello, home of Charlotte Cardeza

At age 20, Charlotte had married James Cardeza, the grandson of a Portuguese Count, and had one son, Thomas. When Charlotte discovered that James had a mistress as well as another child, the marriage ended in divorce. As Thomas grew, the independently wealthy Charlotte traveled with him around the globe. She purchased a luxurious ocean-going yacht for their excursions, named the Eleanor. They traveled to the world’s most exotic ports with a crew of 39, and Charlotte soon preferred the Eleanor to Montebello, which she considered to be only her summer home.



The Eleanor

A long-time associate of Charlotte wrote that she had a “wonderful mind, a splendid knowledge of literature, conversant with the best in music and art ... perhaps the most outstanding characteristic was her kindness, particularly to the poor and those in trouble.”



Charlotte Drake Cardeza

Charlotte and Thomas became big game hunters, bagging tigers, lions, and wild boar on African and Indian safaris. Charlotte became known as the best female hunter in America. In April 1912, they were returning to Pennsylvania following an African safari and a visit to Thomas’s hunting property in Hungary. Rather than take the Eleanor, mother and son booked passage on the Titanic, perhaps due to Thomas’s ill health.



Charlotte on safari

They brought along 14 trunks, three large packing crates, four suitcases, Charlotte’s maid, and Thomas’s valet. They booked the most expensive suite of rooms on the ship, which included two bedrooms, a wardrobe room, a sitting room, a bath, and a 50-foot private promenade.



Thomas Cardeza

As the lifeboats were loaded following the collision with the iceberg, Charlotte managed to convince the crew to allow Thomas to board Lifeboat 3 with her, along with their maid and valet. Also on Lifeboat 3 were the Speddens. Mrs. Spedden later recorded in her diary an account of that night, and historians believe the following passage refers to Charlotte Cardeza:

“One fatwoman in our boat had been a handful all along, for she never stopped talking and telling the sailors what to do… As we approached (the Carpathia) “our woman” promptly sprang up in order to get off first, when we had been warned to sit still, and it gave me the greatest satisfaction to grab her by her lifebelt and drag her down. She fell in the bottom of the boat with her heels in the air and was furious because we held her there till we were alongside the Carpathia when we were charmed to let her go up in the sling first.”

Charlotte later sued the White Star Line for the loss of her valuables. The amount of the claim, nearly 36,000 British pounds, or around $178,000, was the highest of any passenger. She finally settled down at Montebello when her health began to fail, and died in 1939. She was 85.

She left several priceless paintings to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a generous yearly stipend to her maid. Most of her estate was left to Thomas. The same year, Thomas and his wife, Mary, gave a $5,000,000 endowment to Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia to found the Charlotte Drake Cardeza Foundation. Mary suffered from a chronic blood disorder, and the specific purpose of the Foundation was to be for research in diseases of the blood. Its work continues today, with renowned research and educational programs.

Photo credits:,

The Artist Aboard Titanic

One of Titanic's many famous passengers was Francis Davis Millet. During the Civil War, Millet had served as a drummer boy and later as a surgical assistant. He entered Harvard, became a reporter, and enjoyed drawing portraits of friends in his spare time. He then turned seriously to art and studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Belgium, winning medals for his work. Millet continued to work as a journalist and translator during the Russian-Turkish War, and later published accounts of his travels as well as short stories and essays.



Frank Millet

Millet married, and the couple had four children. He became an accomplished painter and organized the American Federation of the Arts for the National Academy. His paintings can be seen in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Gallery in London, Trinity Church in Boston, and several other public buildings throughout the United States. His many friends included President William Howard Taft, author Mark Twain, and impressionist artist John Singer Sargent.



Millet at work in his studio



A Cozy Corner



A Difficult Duet



Between Two Fires



Playing With Baby

In 1912, Millet persuaded another friend, Major Archibald Butt, 45, to join him on a six-week trip to Europe. Butt, whose health had recently deteriorated, was a close friend and military aide to President Taft. They visited Naples, Gibraltar, and Rome, where Butt met with Pope Pius X. The men booked first class tickets for their return voyage to the US on the Titanic.

While the ship was docked at Queenstown, Ireland, Millet wrote to a friend with his opinion of some of his fellow passengers: "Obnoxious, ostentatious American women are the scourge of any place they infest and worse on shipboard than anywhere. Many of them carry tiny dogs and lead husbands around like pet lambs. I tell you, when she starts out, the American woman is a buster. She should be put in a harem and kept there."

Following the collision and rescue, Colonel Archibald Gracie testified he had seen Millet and Butt playing bridge with two other male passengers before the ship hit the iceberg. He stated the card game had continued with barely an interruption, even as the lifeboats were loaded. Other survivors recalled seeing Millet and Butt helping women and children into lifeboats.

Frank Millet’s body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and sent to Boston for burial. He was 65. The body of Archibald Butt was not recovered. A memorial fountain was dedicated to the two men in Washington D.C.



Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain

Photo credits:,,,

Denver's Unsinkable Titanic Passenger

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Margaret Brown’s home in Denver and learn more about this fascinating Titanic survivor and her family.



Given the name Unsinkable Molly Brown in a stage play about her life, Margaret Brown did much more than help row her lifeboat following Titanic’s collision with the iceberg. She raised funds to help survivors, ensured Captain Rostron of the Carpathia received recognition for the rescue efforts, and erected memorials in New York City and Washington D.C. to honor the victims.



Margaret Brown

Born in 1867, Margaret (Maggie) Ann Tobin hopped a train at the age of 18 and left her family in Hannibal, Missouri to share a cabin with her brother, a miner, in Leadville, Colorado in the hope of finding a husband. She took a job at Leadville’s Daniels and Fisher Mercantile, and met James Joseph (J.J.) Brown at a church picnic. J.J. was a silver miner whose parents had immigrated from Ireland. Margaret and J.J. were married in 1886 and soon welcomed a son, Larry, and a daughter, Helen. Margaret later said those were the happiest years of her life.



Helen, J.J., Margaret, and Larry Brown

While Margaret became active in the women’s suffrage movement in Colorado, the Leadville silver mines suffered under the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. But J.J. Brown had an idea to extract gold from Leadville’s Little Jonny Mine. His idea worked, and the mine began daily shipments of 135 tons of ore. As J.J. became a successful and well-paid mining executive, the family purchased a home in Denver for $30,000. They also bought a vacation home near the mountains.



The Brown's Denver home during the late 19th century

J.J. and Margaret filled their home with an eclectic mix of fine Victorian furniture, art, books, and treasures from their travels abroad. The home had electricity, indoor plumbing, and even a telephone near the formal parlor.





Top row from left: Staircase, Helen's bedroom, Parlor

Bottom row from left: J.J.'s bedroom, Margaret's bedroom

Margaret worked with established organizations dedicated to women’s rights, literacy, and education, or founded them herself. She raised funds to build a local hospital and a cathedral, helped start the first juvenile court in the US, became one of the first women in the US to run for political office, and worked tirelessly for improvements in labor and human rights.

J.J.’s health began to suffer, along with the couple’s marriage. With the children in boarding schools, Margaret spent more of her time in Newport, Rhode Island, where she and J.J. had rented a cottage. In 1909, the couple were separated. Margaret continued her work on the important issues that concerned her. She also traveled extensively and learned five languages. The books in the home's library reflect a wide variety of interests.

In 1912, Margaret and Helen were traveling with John Jacob Astor and his wife in Cairo, Egypt. Margaret received word that her grandson, Larry Jr., was ill. Helen, a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, decided to remain in Europe, but Margaret chose to return to New York with the Astor’s on the Titanic.

Following the collision, Margaret boarded Lifeboat 6. She and other women in the lifeboat helped row and kept the passengers’ spirits up until they were rescued by the Carpathia the next morning. She immediately began raising funds to help the survivors. On my tour of her home, the story was told that Margaret posted a list of the first class passengers and noted the amount of their contributions next to each name. No one wanted to have a blank space next to their name, and by the time the Carpathia reached New York, $10,000 had been pledged.



Carpathia's Captain Rostron with Margaret Brown

Practically overnight, Margaret became known as one of the heroines of the Titanic. She continued working for women’s rights and other causes, and was instrumental in the rebuilding of war-torn areas in France following World War I. She died in New York in 1932 at age 65, and is buried next to J.J. on Long Island, NY.

The Brown’s Denver home, once known as the House of Lions, was often rented out while the family traveled. After J.J.’s death, Margaret was forced to turn it into a boarding house during the Depression, and it was sold after her death for $6,000. It became a rooming house for men, and later, a home for wayward girls. It was scheduled for demolition in 1970, but was saved by a group of concerned citizens who formed Historic Denver Inc. and raised funds for its restoration to its former glory. The home is now open daily for tours, and features many of the Brown family belongings, photographs, and mementos. A display of Titanic memorabilia and the story of the tragedy and Margaret's part in it is also included on the tour.



Souvenirs from the Molly Brown House Museum



My family visiting Molly's house

Contrary to popular belief, Margaret was highly-regarded among most of the upper class during her time. For further reading, please see Unraveling the Myth by Kristen Iverson.

Photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica, Molly Brown House Museum,

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


The Lady and the Pig

Born in Cincinnati in 1879 to a wealthy Jewish family, Edith Louise Rosenbaum took an interest in fashion at an early age. After attending a series of finishing schools, she moved to Paris to become a saleswoman for a haute couture fashion house. Soon afterward, she wrote for a fashion journal connected with Philadelphia-based Wanamaker’s Department Store and designed fashions for Butterick Patterns. Then in 1910, a new trade publication for the garment industry, Women’sWear Daily in New York, hired Edith to be their Paris correspondent. She covered all the style shows and wrote a front-page column about current trends and her impressions of everyone and everything connected with the fashion world.



Edith Rosenbaum in 1911

The following year, Edith became engaged to Ludwig Loewe from Berlin. While riding with him and their friends across France to cover the fashions at the Deauville races, their car crashed into a tree, killing Ludwig and throwing Edith to the back of the vehicle. She suffered a concussion and had no memory of the crash afterward. Her mother later gave her a small stuffed toy pig, perhaps hearing that pigs were a symbol of good luck in France. The pig was covered in black and white fur, and played a popular tune called La Maxixe when its tail was wound. Edith would later give partial credit to the pig for her escape from Titanic.

By 1912, Edith became a buyer in Paris for a number of American firms in addition to her work at Women’s Wear Daily. Anxious to return to New York with purchases for her clients, she booked passage on April 5 on the ship George Washington, which would sail on Easter Sunday, two days later. But her editor called and asked her to delay her return in order to cover a race on Sunday. So Edith changed her ticket to the Titanic, sailing April 10th from Cherbourg.

Edith brought 19 pieces of baggage aboard the ship, and possibly booked a second cabin for them, in addition to her own first class cabin. When the ship struck the iceberg on the night of April 14, Edith locked all her trunks, made her way to the deck, and watched the proceedings from the lounge. When she saw her steward, Robert Wareham, she asked him to retrieve her pig from her stateroom, which he did. When White Star Line’s Bruce Ismay noticed her in the lounge, he insisted she get into a lifeboat. A crewmember threw the pig into Boat 11, and Edith climbed in. Although the pig’s nose and two legs were broken, it helped entertain the children aboard the lifeboat as the survivors awaited rescue.



Edith holding her lucky pig

On April 19, Edith reported in Women’s Wear Daily on the garments worn by Titanic’s most elite passengers, even as they made their escape from the ship. She then sued White Star Line for nearly $15,000 plus $2,000 left in the purser’s safe, but only received 3 cents on the dollar. It took her several years to pay back her clients and recover her losses.

“I’m accident prone. . . I’ve had every disaster but bubonic plague and a husband.”

She continued work as a fashion buyer until 1937, changed her last name to Russell, traveled extensively, and became a well-known celebrity and authority on the Titanic disaster.  She often posed with her stuffed pig, which could no longer be played. She lived in London until her death at age 95.

E Russell later years with pig

E Russell later years with pig

Walter Lord, author of A Night to Remember, a book about the tragedy, inherited Edith’s famous pig. He later bequeathed it to the National Maritime Museum in London. After the 2012 centennial commemoration of the sinking, the museum restored the pig’s music mechanism. Today, La Maxixe can be heard once again.

Photo credits: Encyclopedia Titanica, Wikipedia

Lifeboats on the Titanic

One of the reasons so many individuals perished on the Titanic was the lack of enough lifeboats for everyone. Titanic had a maximum capacity of 3327, but on her one and only voyage, around 2224 passengers and crew were on board. However, her 20 lifeboats were capable of carrying 1178 at most. And because most of the boats left the ship less than full, only 712 survived the sinking.

titanic boats approaching carpathia

Titanic lifeboats carrying survivors

Larger davits had been proposed for the new White Star Line ships, including Titanic, allowing for 48 lifeboats. But regulations issued by the Board of Trade required only 16 lifeboats for all British vessels over 10,000 tons. Titanic’s designers opted for 20 lifeboats, wanting to save on unnecessary costs and provide plenty of space for passengers to stroll the open decks. Twenty boats were more than the law required, and that seemed more than sufficient. After all, they could practically guarantee there would be no need for them.

Titanic carried 16 regular lifeboats, numbered 1 through 16. Eight even-numbered boats were mounted along her port side, and the eight odd-numbered boats along the starboard side. Four collapsible boats were stored near the bow, with two on either side.


Diagram showing lifeboat placement. Two collapsible boats (red) are not seen. The pink boats are emergency cutters.

Fourteen lifeboats each had a capacity of 65. They were 30 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 4 feet deep. They were supposed to be equipped with oars, blankets, provisions, and flares, although some survivors claimed their boats lacked one or more of these items. Two emergency cutters, boats 1 and 2, were built to hold 40. They measured 25 feet long and 7 feet wide. Their purpose was for immediate emergencies, such as a man overboard, and were permanently swung out, ready for lowering. The four collapsible boats, A, B, C, and D, were 27 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. They had canvas sides that could be raised in use and could be stored almost flat.

A number of mistakes and misconceptions led to the boats leaving Titanic at less than capacity:

1) The one lifeboat drill had been cancelled due to cold weather.

2) When Captain Smith ordered passengers to be loaded into the lifeboats, many refused, not aware of the real danger. They felt it was safer to remain onboard the ship than climb into a small boat and be lowered to the sea. Many women didn’t want to leave their husbands, brothers, or sons.

3) Crewmen had not been given adequate lifeboat training. Some charged with filling the boats weren’t sure of how many the boats could hold and lowered them half-full.

4) Some crewmen strictly enforced the ‘women and children first’ rule, and when no more women and children were immediately available for boarding, they lowered the boats as the men watched.

5) Third class passengers reached the boat deck late, due to a lack of information and language barriers. Some were purposely kept back by crewmen until first and second class passengers filled the boats. By the time more third class passengers reached the boat deck and the true urgency of the situation was realized, most of the boats had already gone.

Titanic-lifeboats after

Lifeboats dropped at White Star Line pier in New York following arrival of the Carpathia, carrying 712 survivors  

Only two lifeboats returned to the scene after the Titanic sank to rescue a few people in the water.

Following the inquiries into the sinking, a new ruling required every passenger vessel to be equipped with more than enough boats to carry every passenger and crewmember, and for crewmembers to be fully trained in lifeboat use. Also, lifeboat drills for all passengers on every voyage is now required by law.

Note: Beginning today, I will be posting on this blog every other Wednesday. As soon as my novel about Titanic survivor Ruth Becker is accepted for publication, I will share the news with you here. Thank you to all my readers! I look forward to bringing you more of the Titanic on April 13th, one day before the 104th anniversary of the sinking.

Photo credits:,, Wikipedia

Titanic's Last Photographer

Bishop Robert Browne surprised his nephew, Father Francis Browne, with a ticket on the Titanic, but only as far as Queenstown, her last stop before she would head for New York City. Father Browne brought along his new camera, also a gift from his uncle, to record his journey in photographs. When he met a couple traveling in first class who offered to pay his way to New York, he sent a telegram to his superiors to ask permission. The reply read, “Get off that ship!”

Francis Browne’s mother had died when he was less than one year old, and his father died when Francis was in his teens. His uncle, Bishop Browne, became his guardian, and at age 17, Francis began his training to become a Jesuit priest and attend Royal University in Dublin. He later taught college classes and continued his theological training up until 1912, when he received the Titanic ticket from his uncle, who had won a small amount of money in a libel award.

Fr browne

On board the Titanic, 32-year-old Father Browne photographed everything, from his stateroom to various activities on deck. He spent one night aboard, then disembarked in Queenstown the next day when he was refused permission to continue the journey. The order to leave the ship saved his life, as well as the many photos he took. They were the only photographs taken onboard the ship that have survived.

Fr Browne (Crew)

Crew aboard Titanic, posing in life vests

Doug Spedden Playing with Spinning Top

Dining Room of the Titanic

Fr. Browne's Last Picture of the Titanic

The last photograph of Titanic as she leaves Queenstown for New York

Three years after his Titanic voyage, Father Browne was ordained and joined the Irish Guards as chaplain. He became the most decorated chaplain in World War One, and continued to use his camera to tell the stories of his travels during the war years and beyond. He is recognized as Ireland’s greatest photographer from the first half of the 20th century. Father Browne died at the age of 79. For more information, visit

(photo credits: and Encyclopedia Titanica)


Their Last Meal

In the past few weeks, we’ve explored the way passengers in each class boarded Titanic, checked out the accommodations in each class, and looked at typical first class apparel onboard the luxury liner. Today, let’s see what the passengers ate for dinner on April 14, 1912. No one knew, of course, it would be the last meal served on the Titanic.


In third class, all meals for the day were printed on one card. Dinner was the largest meal and was served mid-day.


Second class passengers were served a smaller version of the first class menu but with fewer courses.

1st class menu

Each course in first class was served with a selected wine. Following the last course, fruits and cheeses were available, as well as port.

Dress Aboard the Titanic

When first class passengers boarded the Titanic in April 1912, they did so with large trunks full of clothing for the voyage. It was customary to change clothes several times each day on many of the large ocean liners, and the Titanic would be the most elegant of all. Certainly, fashionable women, and men too, desired to fit in with their peers and show off their finest attire on the grandest ship ever to cross the Atlantic.


Men's Formal Wear in 1912

            Passenger Archibald Gracie later recalled, "Full dress was always en règle; and it was a subject both of observation and admiration, that there were so many beautiful women—then especially in evidence—aboard the ship."


Colonel Archibald Gracie

A well-known fashion designer was aboard, named Lady Duff-Gordon. Famous in New York, London, and Paris, her designs often featured a split skirt, low neckline, less-restrictive corset, and more revealing lingerie. When other first class passengers discovered Lucile, as she was known professionally, would be on board the Titanic, many of them made sure to obtain some her creations to wear during the voyage.


Lady Duff Gordon

The Edwardian style focused on straighter lines and less constricted clothing for women, rather than the bustles and full skirts seen in Victorian days. But the fine details were everywhere, from elegantly trimmed hats and expensive jewelry to silk draping off the shoulder and delicately embroidered footwear.


            Dinner on Titanic was a formal occasion, where men dressed in tailcoat, white waistcoat, and white bow tie. Women wore evening gowns, no hat, long white gloves, kid leather or satin shoes to match their gowns, opera bag, fan, and perhaps a scarf. Hats were worn only during the day.


            After the ship collided with the iceberg on the night of April 14, a steward gave Benjamin Guggenheim a sweater and a lifebelt to wear. When he realized he probably would not survive, he and his valet returned to their cabin and changed into their finest dinner apparel. They then helped load women and children into the lifeboats. Guggenheim told a bystander, "We're dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen."


Benjamin Guggenheim


Accomodations Aboard the Titanic

In First Class When first class passengers boarded Titanic, they were met by the chief steward and his staff, who escorted them to their staterooms. Men were each given a flower for their buttonholes. Most of their cabins were on the upper decks, away from the noise of the engines and near the dining room, Grand Staircase, and Promenade.

Thirty-nine first class suites were decorated in different period styles. The suites included bedrooms, bathrooms, lounges, and extra rooms for servants. A few had private promenades. Smaller first class cabins consisted of only one large room and a bathroom. A few shared a bathroom with another cabin.


A typical first class cabin

 In Second Class

Second class passengers boarded the ship through a separate gangway on C-Deck, and were given directions to their cabins. Each large cabin was equipped with beds, a desk, dresser with mirror, sofa, and a washbasin with cold water. Passengers could ask their stewards to bring hot water if they wished. Bathrooms were located down the hall and were shared by several passengers.

A separate section of the Boat Deck was set aside for second class passengers to enjoy a stroll in the open air.


Second class Titanic cabin

In Third Class

Passengers in third class were greeted by a medical officer who inspected them for lice or signs of trachoma (an eye disease) or other health problems. Any infectious disease would prevent them from being able to enter the United States. Their tickets were then stamped with a section number and the passengers boarded the ship on E-Deck. Stewards helped direct them to their cabins, but many of the non-English speaking passengers were frustrated with the maze of halls and stairways.

Third class cabins varied in size, but most were fitted with bunk beds, a mirror, and a washbasin. They were below water level so they did not have portholes. There were only two bathtubs in the shared bathrooms for over 700 passengers. Most found their accommodations to be clean, comfortable, and adequate for their needs.


A third class cabin aboard Titanic, showing washbasin between bunk beds

Most stewards’ cabins were on the same deck as the passengers they served. First class stewards could be summoned at any time with the touch of a button in the cabins.

No daily maid service as we know it today was available.

No cabin aboard the ship was given the number 13.

The Allison Family Tragedy

Alice Catherine Cleaver, 22, had worked as a nursemaid for wealthy English families since her teen years. In 1912, young Montreal millionaires Hudson and Bess Allison hired her to look after their children, two-year-old Loraine and eleven-month-old Trevor. The family had been in England for Trevor’s baptism and to purchase several horses for their racing stable, and booked passage home on Titanic in order to travel with friends. In addition to Alice, the family also traveled with a lady’s maid, a cook, and a butler.

When the ship struck the iceberg on the night of April 14, some claimed that Hudson Allison immediately went to see what happened and returned to find his wife in hysterics. She’d told him a steward had come to their cabin and insisted they put on lifebelts and head to the boat deck, and Alice immediately left with baby Trevor. Hudson and Bess took their daughter Loraine and went to the boat deck but refused to board a lifeboat without first knowing the whereabouts of Alice and their son. But stories conflicted from survivors who knew them. Some said Alice had told Bess she planned to find the other servants and would meet Mr. and Mrs. Allison at the boats; other said Alice had simply grabbed Trevor and disappeared.


Trevor Allison with his nurse, Alice Cleaver

A dinner companion of the Allison's, Major Peuchen, stated Bess and little Loraine had somehow been forced into his lifeboat, #6, even though Bess still was searching for Trevor. But when Bess heard that her husband was on the opposite side of the ship, she climbed out of the lifeboat with Loraine and went after him. “Apparently,” the major said, “she reached the other side to find Mr. Allison not there. Meanwhile, our boat had put off.”

An hour later, the family’s butler, George Swane, saw Alice, Trevor, and the cook, Mildred Brown, safely board Lifeboat #11. The lady’s maid, Sarah Daniels, had managed to get on an earlier boat. It’s possible that Swane informed the Allison’s of their son’s safety, if he indeed found them, but by then it was too late. All the lifeboats had left the Titanic.

Hudson and Bess Allison, their daughter Loraine, and George Swane all perished. Bess was one of five women traveling in first class to die in the sinking, and Loraine was the only child. Only the bodies of Hudson Allison and George Swane were recovered. Then a woman claiming to be Loraine Allison came forward in 1940, saying she’d been handed to a man in one of the lifeboats and raised on a farm in the Midwest. Although she stood by her story until her death, her claim was always denied by the Allison family. It wasn’t until 2012 when her daughter agreed to DNA testing that her story was finally proven false. The two families were not related in any way.

bess, loraine, and trevor allison

Bess Allison with her children, Loraine and Trevor

For some time after the sinking, Alice Catherine Cleaver was mistaken for Alice Mary Cleaver, who had murdered her infant son in 1909, born out wedlock. Confusion still exists among some historic records. But Alice Catherine, who had taken Trevor and boarded Lifeboat #11, turned him over to his aunt and uncle in New York and returned to England until the rumors quieted. She eventually married, had two daughters, and lived to be 95.

But the Allison family was to meet with more tragedy. Trevor Allison, who had survived the sinking and been raised by his aunt and uncle in Canada, died of ptomaine poisoning at the age of 18.

Titanic's most exclusive restaurant

First class passengers aboard Titanic usually dined in the enormous and breathtaking first class dining saloon, and the meals there were included in the price of a first class ticket. (At the time, the word “saloon” meant a large, comfortable room.) But there was also another option available if they chose to pay extra—the A la carte restaurant known as The Ritz.


Photo of The Ritz restaurant aboard RMS Titanic

Located on Deck B next to the Café Parisien, the elegant 140-seat restaurant was said to be the best in the world. Both restaurants were owned and managed by Gaspare Antonio Gatti, known to passengers as Luigi. He’d emigrated from Italy and became a well-known restaurant owner in London until the White Star Line convinced him to open his own restaurants on Titanic.

Passengers lined up for the privilege of eating at The Ritz and it was always completely booked for dinner. Nothing was too much trouble for Gatti, and he and his staff went out of their way to cater to every passenger’s request.


Luigi Gatti

Gatti hired his own 66-member staff of chefs, waiters, and kitchen help, mostly Italian or French nationals. None of them were White Star Line employees, nor were they passengers. When the ship struck the iceberg, stewards kept the restaurant staff from boarding the lifeboats. All but three of the staff perished in the sinking, including Gatti, who left a wife and young son in England.

Those saved were two female cashiers and the French Maitre D’, Paul Mauge. He tried persuading the Ritz’s chef to jump into a lifeboat with him, but the chef said he was “too fat" and refused.  Mauge managed to leap onto a lifeboat as it was being lowered into the ocean. His jump broke both legs of a woman already in the boat.


Paul Mauge, Maitre D'