Immigrants on the Titanic

With so many discussions of immigration at the forefront of today’s news, let’s take a look at the immigrants who boarded the Titanic. What were the immigration requirements in 1912? What happened to the immigrants who managed to survive the disaster, and how were they treated upon their arrival in New York? Between the 1880s and the 1920s, the United States experienced a great wave of immigrants pouring into the country. Between 1880 and 1900, 9 million immigrants arrived by ship in New York City. To accommodate such a large number, a new processing station was built on Ellis Island in 1892. In 1907, one million immigrants came through Ellis Island, the most in any one-year period.


Immigration processing at Ellis Island

Not every would-be immigrant was admitted to the United States. Some were sent back to their homelands if they had certain illnesses or infirmities. Others were sent to the Ellis Island hospital, or were detained while a relative recovered or until a relative or friend already living in the United States could claim them.

Each person received a brief physical examination on arrival, including a check for trachoma, a highly contagious eye infection. He or she was asked several questions regarding destination, plans for employment, and health. They were questioned whether they had ever been in a poorhouse, an asylum, or had ever had a serious illness. The main goal for federal authorities was to determine if the person could work or would otherwise become a burden to society. Men were also asked if they were polygamists. The wrong answer to any of these questions could prevent the person from entering the country.


Ellis Island arrivals examined for trachoma

Before air travel, shipping companies profited from the millions of people who wished to start new lives in America. The majority of passengers on trans-Atlantic voyages were immigrants. Many liners were overcrowded and unsanitary. The White Star Line operated several larger ships, and advertised their size and comfort. Their new Olympic class ships, Oceanic (1911), Titanic (1912), and Britannic (1914) would be the safest ships afloat and the most luxurious, even for those traveling in steerage.

On Titanic’s first and only voyage in April 1912, steerage passengers made up over half the number of passengers on the ship, and most were immigrants. White Star Line, as all the shipping companies did at the time, cooperated with the US immigration laws by screening immigrants prior to the voyage. Their names, ages, and destinations were documented on the passenger manifest.


Passengers waiting to board Titanic in Queenstown, Ireland

When the Titanic sank, over three-quarters of the 709 third-class passengers were killed. The passenger manifest was also lost. Aboard the Carpathia following rescue, the crew assembled a new manifest of the survivors. In New York, federal immigration officers waived the usual examinations for the immigrant survivors. When the Carpathia arrived, the stop at Ellis Island was suspended, and the new immigrants from the Titanic were sent to hospitals or immigrant hostels. Their paperwork was processed later.


Crowd waiting to greet survivors in New York

Not all surviving immigrants from the Titanic remained in the United States. Although none were rejected by immigration officials, the disaster changed their lives. With many of their loved ones lost in the sinking, some immigrants soon chose to return to their place of birth. Others settled in America, determined to continue with their plans.

In my next post, we’ll visit 18-year-old passenger Anna Turja from Finland, who did just that.

Photo credits:,

Two Victims, Years Later - Titanic Honeymoons Part IV

Clara Rogers, the daughter of well-to-do Jewish-German immigrants, found herself in an unhappy marriage and filed for divorce, despite the views of polite society in 1906. She didn’t expect to marry again, and devoted herself to raising her daughter, Nathalie. Henry Frauenthal, also raised by Jewish-German immigrants, was a brilliant orthopedic surgeon and co-founder of New York’s Hospital for Deformative and Joint Diseases. He treated patients of all races, ages and financial standings, unlike some of his medical colleagues at the time, and became famous for his new treatments for children with polio. At the height of his career, he had neither the time nor the interest in finding a wife.

Clara and Henry met through her brother, who was active in raising funds for charitable organizations. They became friends and gradually fell in love, although neither ever expected such a thing to happen to them. With the scandal of John Jacob Astor and his young bride filling the papers, Clara and Henry decided to bypass any possible negative press and get married in Europe. Henry’s brother came along as best man, and they were married in Nice, France. Following a short honeymoon, Henry booked their first class tickets home on Titanic.


Clara and Henry Frauenthal

Henry’s skills as a physician were well-known on the ship. When a passenger tripped and fell down the Grand Staircase and broke a bone in her elbow, she refused the care of the ship’s doctor and insisted that Dr. Frauenthal attend to her. He supervised as her arm was set in a cast.

Isaac Frauenthal, Henry’s brother, told the couple about a nightmare he’d had two nights in a row onboard the ship. He recalled the vivid dream of the ship slowly sinking and the cries from terrified passengers. Then on the night of April 14, Isaac heard “a long, drawn-out rubbing noise.” He went up to A Deck and investigated until he overheard Captain Edward Smith telling John Jacob Astor they would be loading the lifeboats. Isaac hurried to wake Henry and Clara.

On the boat deck, Clara was led by Fifth Officer Harold Lowe to Lifeboat 5 and helped to board. Not wanting to leave her husband, she tried to get out but couldn’t get past those who were being lifted or helped aboard. With seats still available and Officer Lowe about to lower the boat, Henry and Isaac were allowed to board at the last minute. After the ship sank, the officer in charge of Lifeboat 5 tried to go back to pick up survivors in the water, but others in the boat feared they could all die in a rescue attempt. Henry stayed silent, knowing it would probably be too late to save anyone. He listened to the moans and cries of those in the water until they gradually subsided.


Titanic passengers disembarking Carpathia in New York City

When the Carpathia docked in New York on April 18, the Frauenthals were the first passengers to disembark. With no counseling available to the survivors or knowledge of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, everyone fended for themselves. Henry returned to work at the hospital the next day and tried to forget the horrible shock of what he and his new bride had just endured. Like other male survivors, he and his brother faced criticism for having boarded a lifeboat when so many others perished. Some of the press coverage had an anti-Semitic tone, which could have added to Henry's growing depression.

Clara and Henry avoided talking about Titanic. But Clara’s mental health was in jeopardy and Henry became increasingly depressed. In 1927, tormented by memories of the sinking and by his wife’s worsening condition, Henry jumped from the seventh floor of the hospital he founded. His funeral was attended by well over 1000 people, including many former patients. Clara was committed to a sanitarium, where she lived until her death in 1943.


New York Hospital for Joint Diseases today

A Changed Man - Titanic Honeymoon Part III

Albert Dick wasn’t ready to settle down. By age 30, he and his brother had opened a string of businesses in Alberta, Canada, and Albert used his spare time to pursue his interests in poker and beautiful women.

Then he met a stunningly attractive 16-year-old, named Vera Gillespie. Vera had all the right family connections, and Albert viewed her as a potential business asset. They were married in May 1911 in Calgary, but postponed their European honeymoon until the end of the year. For their return trip, Albert booked two first class tickets on the great Titanic. They boarded with several cases of new furniture, purchased in London for their new home in Calgary.

Albert dick

Albert Dick

Vera Dick

Vera Dick

At their first dinner on board, a handsome 20-year-old steward from Southampton named Reginald Jones attended their table. Vera struck up a conversation with him about the ship and the food. Annoyed, Albert told Vera she was not to fraternize with the wait staff and accused her of flirting. But Vera continued to speak with Reginald during the meal and whenever she encountered him during the voyage.

On Sunday, April 14, Albert and Vera were invited to dine with Thomas Andrews, Titanic’s main designer. Following dinner, they took a short walk on deck but soon went to their cabin, due to the cold air. The temperature had dropped that evening from 55 to 34 degrees, an indication the ship was entering an ice field.

The couple retired to bed but argued about Vera’s flirting and Albert’s gambling. A noise “like a thunderclap” interrupted them. They were still wondering what could have caused it when someone knocked on their door. It was Reginald Jones. He urged them to dress warmly, bring their lifebelts, and report to the boat deck. He told Albert they may need to board the lifeboats as a precaution.

lifeboats aboard Titanic

Passengers strolling near lifeboats on board Titanic

They ran into Thomas Andrews, who led them immediately to Lifeboat 3. Reginald Jones was once again at their service, and helped a frantic Vera aboard. He told her, "Put your life jacket on, Ma'am. It's the latest thing this season." When no other women would board the lifeboat, Albert was allowed on along with other men, including ten firemen. Still only half full, Lifeboat 3 was lowered to the ocean’s surface. Albert and Vera would never forget all the horror that followed as Titanic sank and hundreds of voices moaned for help in the frigid north Atlantic.

Aboard the rescue ship Carpathia, Vera inquired about the friends they’d made on the ship, including Reginald Jones and Thomas Andrews. She was shocked to learn they had both perished. She claimed she and her husband would not have survived if it hadn’t been for their acquaintance with the steward and his kind actions.

Albert and Vera soon returned home to Calgary. Vera studied singing, and had some success in Calgary. Albert, like other men who survived the sinking, was hounded by reporters for years, who questioned his actions on securing a seat in a lifeboat. Patronage declined at one of his businesses, the Hotel Alexandria, so he sold it. In a magazine interview, he stated, “Previously I thought of nothing but money. The Titanic cured me of that. Since then I have been happier than I ever was before.”

The Dick’s had one daughter, Gilda, and one grandson, who is still living. Albert died in 1970, and Vera in 1973.


Plaque commemorating the Albert Dick business block in Calgary

Photo credits: Alan Hustak

Titanic's Baron-in-Residence

For various reasons, at least fifteen passengers aboard the Titanic were traveling under false names. One man, Alfred Nourney, called himself “Baron von Drachstedt” and used this name to get himself a cabin in first class with only a second class ticket.

a nourney

Alfred Nourney

Born in the Netherlands and living with his mother in Germany, 20-year-old Nourney had purchased a new wardrobe for his venture on the Titanic as Baron von Drachstedt. He also bought jewelry, fountain pens, walking sticks, and carried a revolver to defend himself, as he put it, in the “wild west.”

Nourney boarded the ship in Cherbourg, France with a second class ticket. Apparently dissatisfied with the accommodations, he complained to the purser, using his status as “Baron.” He was moved to a first class cabin, and sent his mother a postcard saying how much he enjoyed first class and that he had met John Jacob Astor. He also sent a telegram to a young lady in Germany, calling it a “wireless kiss.”

On Sunday night, April 14th, Nourney played cards in the first class smoke room with two other passengers. When the Titanic struck the iceberg, the men went to investigate but soon returned to their card game. Later, as the order came for lifeboats to be filled with women and children first, Nourney nevertheless managed to secure a seat in one of the first lifeboats to be lowered. As his lifeboat was rowed away from the sinking ship, he smoked one cigarette after another and eventually fired off all the cartridges in his revolver.

On board the rescue ship Carpathia, Nourney fell asleep on a pile of blankets meant for survivors. One young woman pulled the top blanket away, sending Nourney rolling on the floor. Everyone watching applauded. The same day, he tried to send a telegram to a friend about the sinking and said he was safe on the Carpathia. The telegram was never transmitted, due to the number of telegrams those on board wanted to send.

Nourney telegram

"Titanic sunk!"

Most of Nourney’s money had gone down with the Titanic. After the Carpathia reached New York, he soon returned to Germany, where he later married and had two daughters. He became a salesman for Daimler-Benz and competed in motorsports. He died in 1972.

The real von Drachstedt family denied any connection to Alfred Nourney.

The Recovery

Clifford Crease had just celebrated his 24th birthday aboard the C.S. Mackay-Bennett, where he worked as a craftsman-in-training. The ship was one of several laying cable between the US and Europe when the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. While the RMS Carpathia was on the way to New York with the survivors, the White Star Line chartered the Mackay-Bennett and three other ships to assist with the recovery of any bodies from the wreck site.


The C.S. Mackay-Bennett

Carrying a minister, an undertaker, and a load of caskets and embalming supplies, the Mackay-Bennett left her port in Halifax, Nova Scotia on April 17, two days after the sinking. Clifford Crease, along with most of the crew, offered to do whatever was needed. When the ship reached the area where the Titanic sank, far more bodies were visible than the ship’s captain had anticipated. The three other ships involved in the recovery met with the Mackay-Bennett to transfer additional supplies for the bodies.

Embalming aboard the ship on the way to Halifax

Caskets and an unidentified body aboard the Mackay-Bennett

In his diary, Clifford Crease wrote of assisting with the grim task. He described his role in spotting and recovering the body of a small boy, which the crew referred to as “our babe.” They placed a brass marker inside his casket with those words. Later, Crease made sure the boy was given a proper burial and grave marker, although his identity remained a mystery. He visited the grave every year until his death in 1961 and was buried nearby.

Out of the 306 bodies found at the site, 156 were buried at sea due to extreme injuries or decomposition. Only 56 of them were identified. On board the Mackay-Bennett for return to Halifax were 190 bodies, almost twice as many as there were caskets. Those without caskets were wrapped in tarps. In Halifax, 40 of the bodies were claimed by relatives, and 150 were buried in the city’s Fairview Lawn Cemetery. Today, many still visit the graves and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, where the stories live on of those involved in the recovery. Clifford Crease's diary and the shoes of the "unknown child" are among the artifacts.

In 2002, several bodies were exhumed at the cemetery, in order to conduct DNA testing and make identification. Inside the unknown child’s casket, the brass marker with the words, “our babe” had protected a bone with enough DNA to test. He was identified as 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin, whose parents and five siblings also died in the sinking. The family had been on the way to Niagara Falls, due to a job offer for Mr. Goodwin.


Sidney Goodwin

Salvaging Titanic

Since the discovery of the sunken Titanic in 1985, four separate organizations have worked to salvage artifacts from the site. Around 5000 items have been recovered and are now on public display at various exhibits around the world. They include parts of the ship, fixtures from staterooms, dishes and glassware from the various dining rooms, and personal items belonging to passengers and crew. The exhibits offer a fascinating look into perhaps the most famous ship in history and those that sailed with her.

cherub from grand staircase

Cherub from the Grand Staircase



pocket watch

Pocket Watch

titanic01-amybracelet 2 named amy

Diamond necklace

(Two passengers were named Amy.)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for protecting and preserving the Titanic wreck site. It has published guidelines for research, exploration, and salvage of Titanic artifacts and worked with the Department of State to form the International Agreement on Titanic in 2003. One NOAA ruling states no ship is allowed to discharge waste of any kind within ten miles of the site.

Although the ship was a British liner, the US has always felt a strong connection to her. American passengers numbered 306, and American Dr. Robert Ballard discovered the lost ship with the backing of the U.S. Navy.

RMS Titanic Inc. is now the sole “salvor” and has exclusive rights to the artifacts. They must be available for “public display, historical review, scientific and scholarly research, and educational purposes.” None of the items may be sold or auctioned individually. For more information about the role of NOAA and RMST, click here:

Some families of those who perished on Titanic, as well as many others, have argued that the shipwreck is a grave site and should not be disturbed. Although no human remains have been found, there are photographs of shoes and other items indicating where a body may have come to rest and decomposed. NOAA guidelines state that disturbance of artifacts that may be associated with human remains is prohibited, even if there is no evidence of a human body. Entry into the hull sections must be avoided for that reason, according to NOAA. However, a section of the hull was raised in 1998, creating an outcry among many.


Shoes amid the wreckage

17-ton section

17-ton hull section

It’s not known at this time if more salvage operations are planned. Experts disagree on whether or not the ship will stay intact and if not, how long before it will crumble away. But interest in Titanic remains high, and efforts to locate and preserve as much as possible from the Queen of the Seas will no doubt continue.

Finding Titanic, Part Two

In last week’s post, scientist Robert Ballard had finally managed to secure funding to go after his dream to locate the sunken Titanic. On August 22, 1985, Ballard’s research vessel, the Knorr, reached what was thought to be the area where Titanic sank. A French ship had already spent 10 days scanning the ocean floor with a new sonar system and came up empty. It was time for Argo, the robot aboard the Knorr designed specifically for this mission, to be lowered 2½ miles down to the ocean floor. Loaded with TV cameras, Argo swept back and forth for hours, sending video back to an anxious Dr. Ballard and his team aboard the Knorr. But nothing made by man appeared in the endless ripples of sand far below.

Then on September 1st, the images began to look different. A few marks, then chunks of debris appeared. Glued to their monitors, the team watched as larger items came into view. Before long, an enormous ship’s boiler filled their screens. Robert Ballard and his team had accomplished what many experts had thought would never happen. Titanic had been found.


Titanic's bow


Two of Titanic's engines, four stories high


A bathtub amid the wreckage

Once Argo had taken hundreds of pictures, the Knorr returned to port. Now that the ship was located, Ballard began planning a more extensive research expedition to the site. A year later, a 50-person team aboard a new ship, the Atlantis II, returned with two new vessels: the deep-sea submersible Alvin (see last week’s post) and a new underwater robot named Jason Junior, or JJ. Alvin, with Dr. Ballard and two colleagues aboard, made a slow descent (2½ hours) to Titanic. They located the ship’s hull, but due to a shorting battery, had to make another dive the next day.

Subsequent dives revealed that the ship’s bow and stern sections are 600 feet apart, confirming many eye-witness accounts of the ship breaking in two just before its final plunge beneath the Atlantic. One reason so many previous attempts to find the Titanic had failed was because the ship’s final reported position was over 13 miles from where it was actually found.


Location of the Titanic, 450 miles from her destination, New York City

Robert Ballard held a press conference a few days later, back at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Boston. He held everyone’s attention as he described his findings.“The Titanic lies in 13,000 feet of water...The bow faces north and the ship sits upright on the bottom. There is no light at this great depth and little life can be found. It is a quiet and peaceful and fitting place for the remains of this greatest of sea tragedies to rest. May it forever remain that way and may God bless these found souls.”

Next week, we’ll take a look at the various salvage operations conducted to preserve Titanic artifacts.


In 1898, fourteen years before the Titanic sailed from Southampton for New York, a book called Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan appeared in bookstores. The story in the novel takes place aboard a huge ocean liner called the Titan, said to be “the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men,” and “equal to that of a first class hotel.” The Titan was also supposed to be unsinkable. Sound familiar?


The similarity to the Titanic doesn’t stop there. American Author Morgan Robertson’s Titan was also about 800 feet long, (Titanic's actual length was 882 feet) was owned by a British steamship company, and didn’t have enough lifeboats to accommodate all of its passengers. (Titanic carried 20, the Titan - 24.) And guess what happened to the fictional Titan? It sank in the north Atlantic after hitting an iceberg on a cold April night. Both the Titanic and the Titan collided with icebergs on their starboard bows.

Robertson re-published his book in 1912 after the Titanic sank. He tweaked a few points to make it sound even more like the actual Titanic disaster, although much of the novel remained the same.

Did Titanic’s designers read Futility and build the ship to purposely resemble the Titan? It’s doubtful, but the similarities are amazing. What do you think?

The Man Who Answered Titanic's Call

Captain Arthur Rostron had lived at sea since his teen years, working his way up the ranks on various ships until he was eventually made captain. In 1905, he took command of the Carpathia, one of the many ships crossing the Atlantic from England to New York and back. On April 11, 1912, Carpathia left New York with 125 first class passengers, 65 second class, and 550 third class passengers.


Captain Arthur H. Rostron

Rostron was asleep when the ship’s wireless operator burst in on the night of April 14 with the news of Titanic’s distress signals. Captain Rostron took action immediately. He ordered the Carpathia to set a course for Titanic’s last known location, a distance of 60 miles. He ordered extra stokers to increase the amount of steam needed to push the ship to its maximum speed. He reduced the heating system so that enough steam would be diverted to the engines. Increasing the speed was a great risk, however, due to the number of icebergs in the area.

A devout Christian, Captain Rostron was seen walking to a private area of the ship where he remained for some time with his head bowed in prayer. He then ordered the Carpathia's lifeboats to be readied, requested passengers and crew to bring extra blankets and pillows to the public rooms, worked with the ship's doctors to set up areas to care for the injured, and did everything he could think of to reach the Titanic quickly and prepare for whatever its survivors might need. Out of several ships receiving distress calls from Titanic, only the Carpathia came to her rescue.

At 4:00 am, after making its way through the treacherous ice fields, the Carpathia reached the first of Titanic’s lifeboats. The rescue operation took several hours, until 712 people were brought aboard the Carpathia using makeshift rope swings and ladders. Knowing the ship would not have enough provisions to care for so many until it reached Europe, Rostron set a course for New York.


Titanic passengers aboard the Carpathia

He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Taft and went on to command the best ships of the Cunard line including the Maritania and Lusitania. He was named commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1919 and knighted in 1926. He retired from the sea in 1931 and told his story in “Home From the Sea.” He died in 1940 and is buried beside his wife, Ethel, in Southampton, England.

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'

Orphans of the Titanic

Michel Navratil of Slovakia had married Marcelle Carette of Buenos Aires, settled in France and had two sons, Michel and Edmund. When the couple entered divorce proceedings, Marcelle was given full custody of the boys. However, when her husband asked to keep them over the Easter holiday in 1912, she consented. Little did she know what lay ahead for them. Mr. Navratil borrowed his employer’s passport and on April 10th, signed on to the Titanic as Louis Hoffman. He gave the boys, ages four and two, the names of Lolo and Momon. During the voyage, he only let them out of his sight once to play cards, asking a French-speaking woman to watch them for a few hours.


Michel and Edmund Navratil

As the ship sank and the lifeboats were loaded, Mr. Navratil placed his sons in the arms of passenger Margaret Hays in the last boat available. Michel Jr. remembered his father’s last words to him: “My child, when your mother comes for you, as she surely will, tell her that I loved her dearly and still do. Tell her I expected her to follow us, so that we might all live happily together in the peace and freedom of the New World.”

Following rescue, Margaret Hays offered to take care of little Michel and Edmund in New York until relatives could be located. Around the world, newspapers printed their story and photograph, calling them the Orphans of the Titanic.

In France, Marcelle had known the boys and their father had disappeared but had no idea they’d sailed on the Titanic until she recognized her sons in the newspaper. She immediately contacted the White Star Line and was given passage aboard the Oceanic to New York. They were reunited on May 16, thirty-one days after the sinking, and returned to France. The body of Mr. Navratil was recovered and buried in Nova Scotia.


Michel and Edmund with their mother

Michel Jr. became a professor of philosophy and was one of the last survivors of the Titanic. He once said, “I only lived up to four years old. Since then I’ve been a floater, someone grabbing at extra time and I’ve let myself go on this ocean.” In 1987, he returned to America for the first time since the sinking to mark the 75th anniversary, and visited his father’s grave as well. He died in 2001 at the age of 92.

Edmund became an architect and was involved in the Resistance during World War II. He was captured and made a prisoner of war, and although he escaped, his health suffered. He died in 1953 at age 43.

A Last Minute Passenger

Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon never planned to sail on Titanic. But with urgent business in New York, she needed the first ship available. With homes in London and Paris and a thriving fashion design business, she and her husband, Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, France. They registered as Mr. and Mrs. Morgan and occupied two first class cabins.

Born Lucy Christiana Sutherland, she married James Wallace at age 18 and had a child. When they divorced, she began a dressmaking business in 1888 to support herself. Her talent for creating unique and fashionable dresses led to her shop, The Maison Lucile, becoming one of the great fashion houses of London by 1900. Well-known clientele included the Duchess of York, who later became Queen Mary. Madame Lucile opened another shop in New York in 1910 and one in Paris in 1912.


Madame Lucile's designs, 1912

Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon first became Lucy's business partner. They then married in 1900, giving her financial security as well as aristocratic connections.

In her autobiography, Discretions and Indiscretions, Lady Duff-Gordon remembered the last evening on the Titanic:

“We had a big vase of beautiful daffodils on the table, which were as fresh as if they had just been picked. Everyone was very gay, and at a neighbouring table people were making bets on the probable time of this record breaking run. Various opinions were put forward, but none dreamed that Titanic would make her harbour that night ...I had been in bed for about an hour and the lights were all out, when I was awakened by a funny, rumbling noise...”

She and Sir Cosmo boarded Lifeboat 1, along with her maid. The boat had a capacity of 40, but was lowered with only 12 people aboard, 7 crewmen and 5 passengers. It’s believed it may have been lowered quickly in order to make room for the ship’s two collapsible boats to be readied.

Later, when Sir Cosmo paid the crewmen, he and his wife were accused of bribing them to not go back for more passengers. The Duff-Gordons testified at the British inquiry and were vindicated. The crewmen in the lifeboat had decided it was too dark to go back for anyone, and Sir Cosmo had paid them five pounds each, not as a bribe, but to help them during their search for new employment.


Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon, 1914

Sir Cosmo died in 1931, and Lady Duff-Gordon’s business eventually collapsed. She died in 1935 at the age of 71 in a London nursing home, and is buried alongside her husband near London.


Lady Duff-Gordon

First man to see the Titanic iceberg

“Iceberg, right ahead!” When Titanic lookout Frederick Fleet phoned the bridge and shouted those infamous words, the ship had less than a minute before impact. The officers on duty, seeing the iceberg at the same moment, turned the ship hard to the left in an effort to avoid collision, but it wasn’t enough. The iceberg sliced a 240-foot gash in her starboard side.


Frederick Fleet

Frederick Fleet began working aboard ships at the age of 16, after his father died and his mother left him. He worked for four years as lookout aboard the Oceanic, then joined the Titanic as lookout for her maiden voyage in April, 1912.

At 10:00 pm on April 14th, 24-year-old Fleet and Reginald Lee took their watch in Titanic’s crow’s nest. As the ship sped along at 22 knots, Fleet and Lee kept a careful eye on the seas for icebergs. No moon lit the sky, but many survivors, including Fleet, remembered an unusually large number of bright stars. Why didn’t they see the dark shape of the enormous iceberg sooner?

Some experts have claimed that their lack of binoculars was partly to blame. Binoculars for the crow’s nest were supposed to be available, but were rumored to be locked away with the whereabouts of the key unknown. No matter where the binoculars were, it’s unlikely they would have made a difference. According to new information, binoculars were useful during daylight on the ocean, but the naked eye was more reliable at night.

The sudden drop in water and air temperatures recorded by other ships in the area and survivor accounts describing a light gray haze hanging low over the water has led some to conclude there may have been a ‘night-time mirage’ affect taking place. This phenomenon, well-known to fishermen in the north Atlantic, causes the horizon to appear to blend with the water. It distorts objects and distances, making it difficult for the observer to be certain of what he is seeing. This may have contributed to the last-second iceberg sighting.

After the collision, Fleet and Lee remained at their post another 20 minutes before being sent to help load the lifeboats. Fleet was ordered to man Lifeboat 6, carrying Margaret Brown (see last week’s post). After rescue, he testified at the inquiries into the disaster. He returned to sea for several years, working for other White Star ocean liners, then for Harland and Wollf shipbuilders in Southampton England.

Following the death of his wife in 1964 and a bout of depression, Frederick Fleet hanged himself in 1965. He was 77.


The Unsinkable Molly Brown . . . was never called Molly

Of all the passengers aboard the Titanic, none is more famous than Margaret Brown. Due in part to her heroic efforts aboard Lifeboat 6, she became known as the Unsinkable Molly Brown, although she was never called Molly by either her family or friends.


Margaret Brown

Margaret Tobin was born in 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri, one of six children. At 18, Margaret moved with her sister and brother-in-law to Leadville, Colorado. At 19, she met James Joseph (“JJ”) Brown, a miner. They married in 1886 and had a son and a daughter. While the children were small, Margaret became involved in the feminist movement in Leadville and the Colorado Chapter of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. She also worked in soup kitchens, assisting miners’ families. JJ Brown became superintendent of several mining properties, and developed a method for reaching gold in one of the mines. By 1893, the mine shipped 135 tons of ore per day and JJ was awarded with 12,500 shares in the company. He eventually became one of the country's most successful mining men.

The Browns moved to Denver and Margaret became a founding member of the Denver Women’s Club, promoting literacy, suffrage, education, and human rights in Colorado and the United States. She raised funds to build a church, a hospital, help for destitute children, and worked to form the first juvenile court in the country. She was the first woman in the United States to run for political office, running for the Senate eight years before women even had the right to vote.


Seated: Margaret and Helen Brown. Standing: JJ and Lawrence Brown

Margaret and her daughter Helen, a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, had been traveling in Egypt with John Jacob Astor and his young wife Madeleine (see last week’s blog post) when Margaret received word that her grandchild was ill. She decided to return to New York with the Astors, and boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg, France. After the ship struck an iceberg, she helped others into the lifeboats and eventually boarded Lifeboat 6. She and other women in the lifeboat helped row and kept the passengers’ spirits up on that terrifying night.

In a letter to her daughter shortly afterward, she wrote:

"After being brined, salted, and pickled in mid ocean I am now high and dry... I have had flowers, letters, telegrams, people until I am befuddled. They are petitioning Congress to give me a medal... If I must call a specialist to examine my head it is due to the title of Heroine of the Titanic."

Following rescue by the ship Carpathia, Margaret Brown assisted Titanic survivors. She stayed on board the Carpathia until all survivors were met by friends, family, or received medical assistance. She established the Survivors Committee and raised $10,000 for destitute survivors. A month later, she presented an award to the Carpathia’s Captain Rostron and a medal to every Carpathia crew member. She remained active on the Survivor’s Committee, and continued her work for women’s and human rights and relief efforts during World War I and beyond. JJ Brown died in 1922 in New York, and Margaret died in 1932.

m brown and rostron

Carpathia's Captain Rostron accepting the "loving cup" from Margaret Brown

The story of “Molly” began in the 1930s by a reporter writing a folk tale after her death. Contrary to what we’ve been shown in Titanic movies, Margaret was not shunned by society or rejected by her family. She was a well-loved and influential woman of her day, and her part in helping Titanic passengers was just one of the many things she did throughout her lifetime to help others in need.

The richest man in the world who went down with the ship

When John Jacob Astor IV and his wife boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg, France, they were accompanied by his manservant, her maid, her nurse, and their pet Airedale, Kitty. Astor had built the Astoria Hotel in New York, next door to the Waldorf Hotel, built by his cousin. The two hotels were merged and soon became known as the Waldorf-Astoria. In addition to managing his wealthy family’s fortune and investing in other hotels, Astor was an inventor, author, and a lieutenant colonel in the Spanish-American War. It’s believed his net worth was roughly $87,000,000, making him the richest man in the world at the time.

jj astor

At the age of 45, Astor (or Jack-Ass, as he was known by the press) divorced his wife and married 18-year-old Madeleine Force two years later. Madeleine was younger than his son Vincent. Gossip about his actions spread, so the couple decided to spend the winter of 1912 in Europe and return to New York in the spring on the new RMS Titanic. Mrs. Astor was five months pregnant.


John Jacob and Madeleine Astor prior to their Titanic voyage

When the Titanic struck the iceberg, Astor left his cabin to investigate. At first, he was told nothing was wrong and returned to the cabin. However, he and Mrs. Astor were soon ordered to the Boat Deck, along with their servants. Astor was seen wearing his lifebelt, holding Kitty’s leash and talking with his wife in the gymnasium. As the lifeboats were filled, he helped his wife into Lifeboat 4. He asked if he could accompany her, due to her “delicate condition,” but Second Officer Charles Lightoller refused to allow any men to board the boats where he was stationed. Astor tossed his gloves to his wife and told her he’d see her in New York.

He was last seen walking Kitty along the deck. His body was later recovered, crushed and covered by soot. It is believed he may have been killed when the first funnel broke loose and fell.

Mrs. Astor named her son after her husband and inherited his millions, as long as she didn't remarry. But during World War I, she married again, relinquishing Astor's fortune. She died in Palm Beach at the age of 47.

Side note: On a recent trip to Mackinac Island, Michigan, I visited the home of John Jacob Astor IV’s grandfather, William Backhouse Astor. He was a fur trader like his father, the first John Jacob Astor, owner of the very successful American Fur Company.


Home of William Backhouse Astor

Famous (and in some cases, Last) Words

Quotes from Titanic passengers and crew members:  “To call this ship unsinkable is flying in the face of God!” Passenger Esther Hart, who slept fully dressed and with her lifebelt on during the day and stayed awake every night of the voyage. She survived.

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” Captain Edward Smith. He did not survive.

“I give her an hour, maybe an hour and a half at best.” Titanic designer Thomas Andrews to Captain Edward Smith following his inspection of the ship after the collision. He did not survive.

“We’ve dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.” Wealthy American businessman Benjamin Guggenheim. He did not survive.

“You go first. You have children waiting at home.” Passenger Edith Evans to another lady about to get in a lifeboat. Evans did not survive.

“Hadn’t we better cancel that appointment?” Passenger Archibald Gracie to the squash court attendant regarding his early court reservation for the morning after the collision. Gracie survived.

 “Come at once. We have struck an iceberg. It’s a CQD, old man.” Jack Phillips, Wireless Operator. He did not survive.

“Men, you have done your full duty, I release you. Every man for himself.” Captain Edward Smith to the two wireless operators. He did not survive.

“Striking the water was like a thousand knives being driven into one’s body. The temperature was 28 degrees, 4 degrees below freezing.” Charles Lightoller, Titanic Second Officer. He survived.

“As the lifeboat pulled away, we heard cries from people left on the Titanic and in the water and explosions on the ship. We were in the lifeboat 9 hours.” Passenger Edith Brown, age 15. She survived.

“Many brave things were done that night, but none braver than by those few men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea...the music they played served alike as their own immortal requiem and their right to be recorded on the rulls of undying fame.” Passenger Lawrence Beesley, speaking of the Titanic orchestra members. Beesley survived, the orchestra members did not.


Why so many?

Of the 2,223 souls aboard the RMS Titanic, 1,517 perished in the disaster, leaving only 706 survivors. Why was there such a great loss of life? Certainly, one reason so many perished was the fact that the Titanic sank in under three hours after it struck the iceberg. By the time Captain Smith ordered the lifeboats to be filled and lowered, there was not much time to spare. Many passengers, particularly those in third class, did not know what was wrong or could not find their way up to the lifeboats in time. Other factors, including crewmembers not trained in lifeboat procedures, contributed to accidents and boats being lowered half full. But perhaps the main reason for so many deaths was simply the lack of enough boats for everyone on board.


Titanic passengers waiting for rescue aboard a lifeboat

Following the sinking, investigations into what happened were conducted by the U.S. Senate and the British Board of Trade. Dozens of witnesses were questioned at both inquiries. They hoped to get answers to the following:

How safe was the Titanic?

What ice warnings were received?

Was the ship traveling too fast?

Were those in 3rd class prevented from reaching the lifeboats?

Were there enough lifesaving devices?

Did the crewmembers do their jobs?

Did the Californian (the closest ship in the area) ignore distress signals from the Titanic?

Both groups concluded there were three basic reasons for the disaster: The Titanic was going too fast, the crew failed to keep a proper watch (including Titanic’s wireless operator, who ignored several ice warnings), and the lifeboats were not manned properly. They did not find the third class passengers were treated unfairly. And both inquiries concluded the Californian could have come to the rescue in time to save many, if not all of the lives that were lost.


Titanic wireless operator Jack Phillips

The number of lifeboats did not come into question. At the time, there was no law requiring ships to carry enough boats for all on board. Titanic did have enough lifebelts for everyone, but many of those who were unable or unwilling to get in a lifeboat, even though they wore their lifebelts, died from hypothermia in the freezing cold waters of the north Atlantic. Several passengers testified that they or others wanted to try to pick up those in the water but were prevented from doing so by the crew member in charge of their boat.

Recommendations following the two inquiries included:

Watertight compartments should be further divided.

Regular lifeboat drills should be conducted.

Lifeboats should be provided for all on board.

Crew members should be skilled in lowering and rowing lifeboats.

Lookouts should have regular eye tests.

Ships should slow down and alter course when ice is reported.

Today, these are regulations strictly adhered to by cruise ship operators. Also, following the Titanic disaster, nations with ships traveling in the north Atlantic (Grand Banks) near Newfoundland called for regular patrols in the area to provide iceberg warnings. The International Ice Patrol, led by the U.S. Coast Guard, has monitored the area during ice season since 1913, except during the years of the World Wars. No ship that has heeded the Ice Patrol’s warnings has ever collided with an iceberg.

ice patrol

Why did the 'unsinkable' Titanic sink?

She was the most beautiful ship ever to set sail, the biggest and best ever built by man. Her designers had full confidence she’d withstand virtually anything the ocean could dish out. But less than five days into her maiden voyage, she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic roughly two hours after hitting an iceberg. What happened on that cold, dark night in April, 1912? The Cunard Line had launched two new ships in 1907 – the Lusitania and the Mauritania –  able to cross the ocean in a record five days. J. Bruce Ismay, director of the White Star Line, planned to build three bigger and more luxurious ships to compete for Cunard’s business – the Olympic, the Titanic, and the Gigantic.


Building the Oceanic and Titanic side-by-side in Belfast, Ireland

The Olympic’s maiden voyage to New York was in June, 1911, and Bruce Ismay couldn’t wait to sail on the even bigger Titanic the following April. Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, led by designer Thomas Andrews, had never claimed the Titanic would be unsinkable. But word reached the press about her double-bottomed hull and 16 watertight compartments. The ship would be able to stay afloat with any two middle compartments, or four of the first compartments, flooded. Everyone thought even the worst collision couldn’t damage more than two compartments, so advertisers boasted of the ship's ‘unsinkability’ well before her maiden voyage.


J. Bruce Ismay, Director, White Star Line

On the night of April 14, 1912, following iceberg warnings from several ships in the area, a 60-foot iceberg was sighted “dead ahead." First Officer Murdoch ordered the engines stopped, then reversed. Orders followed to turn the ship hard to the left. But it was too late. The ship was still moving at a high rate of speed and collided with the iceberg. It opened six of the sixteen watertight compartments on the starboard (right) side, making it impossible for the Titanic to stay afloat.

iceberg that sank Titanic

Possibly the iceberg that sank the Titanic. Photographed two days earlier in the vicinity, and matching the descriptions of some survivors.

Next week: Why were so many lives lost?

Fun on the Titanic

What did passengers aboard the Titanic do all day, besides eat fabulous meals and stroll around their luxurious ship? Here are some of the amenities those traveling in each class enjoyed: In first class, passengers had many opportunities for entertainment and exercise. The heated swimming pool, only the second one ever built on an ocean liner, was filled with sea water. A ticket cost 25 cents, but men could swim for free between 6:00am and 9:00am. Also available were the gymnasium, with an electric camel, electric horse, rowing and cycling machines; and the squash courts, which cost 50 cents per hour and had an observers’ gallery. The Turkish Baths, designed to soothe away any aches and pains, were lavishly decorated in blue and green tiles and cost $1.00 per use. All of these areas had different hours of operation for men and women.


Swimming Pool on the Titanic

First class passengers could also take advantage of several beautiful public rooms and lounges for meeting friends, writing letters, playing cards, or relaxing with a good book. On deck, chairs and blankets could be rented for the voyage at a cost of $1.00 each. And in case the multi-course meals in the breathtaking dining saloon weren’t enough, the Café Parisien offered tea, coffee, and sandwiches.

Second class passengers could enjoy a brisk stroll or meet fellow travelers on the second class boat deck, where afternoon coffee and tea were served. Deck games such as shuffleboard were popular. Indoors, the smoking room and the second class library provided space for conversation, reading, writing, or board games.

2nd class boat deck

Second Class Boat Deck

The third class "general room" was the meeting place for steerage passengers. Some played instruments and provided music for dancing, either in the general room or on the poop deck, the deck for third class use. A smoking room was also available. Children played on the deck or in the general room. For all the steerage passengers bound for a new life in America, the White Star Line ensured, “the interval between the old life and the new is spent under the happiest possible conditions.”

General Room

General Room