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FROM A DAY OF DELIGHT TO DEATH.
April 14, 1912, a Fateful Date—Lulled to False Security—Peaceful Sabbath Ends in Dire Disaster—Hopes Sink Beneath the Cruel and Treacherous Waves of the Atlantic—Man's Proudest Craft Crumbles Like an Eggshell
The hands of the ship's clock pointed to 11.40. The beautiful day of April 14, 1912, rapidly was drawing to its close.
A solemn hush brooded over the ocean, the stillness broken only by the swish of the waters as they protested against being so rudely brushed aside by the mammoth creation of man. Then, too, the soft cadences of sacred music from the ship's orchestra sent their strains dancing o'er the billows to mingle with the star beam and intensify rather than mar the stillness.
Above, the stars and planets twinkled and glittered as they beam only in the rarified atmosphere of the far northern latitudes.
The day had been one of rare beauty. A soft and caressing breeze had kissed the sea and rocked the waves in a harmonious symphony against the steel-ribbed sides of the world's largest, greatest and most luxurious floating palace, the majestic Titanic, the newest addition to the trans-Atlantic fleet of the White Star Line of the International Navigation Company.
The star-sprinkled dome of heaven and the phosphorescent sea alike breathed forth peace, quiet and security.
Despite the lateness of the hour, aboard the Titanic all was animation. A few, to be sure, had wearied of Nature's marvels and had sought their slumber, but the gorgeous quarters of the first cabin and the scarcely less pretentious sections set apart for second class passengers were alike teeming with life and light.
Meanwhile, as they had for days past, the mighty engines of this monster of the sea pulsed and throbbed, while the rhythmic beat of the Titanic's great bronze-bladed propellors churned up a fast and steadily lengthening wake behind the speeded vessel.
"We'll break the record today," her officers laughed, and the passengers gleefully shared their mirth.
A record; a record!
And a record she made—but of death and destruction!
But who could know? And since no mortal could, why not eat, drink and be merry?
Britain's shores had been left behind far back across the waste of waters. America, the land of hope, was almost in sight ahead.
TALK OF HOME AND FRIENDS AND LIFE.
Small wonder that hundreds still strolled the Titanic's spotless, unsullied decks and talked of home and friends and life and joy and hope. Small wonder that other hundreds lounged at ease in her luxurious saloons and smoking rooms, while other scores of voyagers, their appetites whetted by the invigorating air, sat at a midnight supper to welcome the new week with a feast.
Why sleep when the wealth, the beauty, the brains, the aristocracy as well as the bone and sinew of a nation were all around one?
For, be it known, never before did ship carry so distinguished a company—a passenger list that reads like a Social Blue Book.
This maiden trip of the Titanic was an event that was to go down in history, they thought.
And so it will, but with tears on every page of the narrative and the wails of women and children in every syllable.
But since the future is unrolled only in God's own good time, how could they know?
Why wonder at their presence?
Was this not the first trip of the greatest triumph of marine architecture?
Had not the wealth and fashion of two continents so arranged their plans as to be numbered on its first passenger list?
Had not the hardy immigrant skimped and saved and schemed that he and his family should be carried to the Land of Promise aboard this greatest of all ships?
What mattered it to him that his place was in the steerage? Did not each pulsing throb of the Titanic's mighty engines bear him as far and as fast as though he, too, already held in his hand the millions he felt he was destined to win in this golden land of opportunity beyond the seas?
And so, from the loftiest promenade deck to the lowest stoke hole in the vitals of the ship peace and comfort and happiness reigned.
APPROACHING HOME AND FRIENDS.
To some the rapidly-nearing shores of America meant home —and friends. To others, opportunity—and work. Yet to all it meant the culmination of a voyage which, so far, had been one all-too-short holiday from the bustle and turmoil of a busy world.
"Man proposes, but God disposes!"
Never were truer words uttered, nor phrase more fitting to that fateful hour.
"In the midst of life we are in death."
Yet the soft breeze from the south still spread its balmy, salt-laden odors to delight their senses and to lull them to a feeling of complete security.
What was that?
A cold breath as from the fastnesses of the Frost King swept the steamer's decks.
A shiver of chill drove the wearied passengers below, but sent the ship's officers scurrying to their stations. The seaman, and the seaman alone, knew that that icy chill portended icebergs —and near at hand.
Besides, twice in the last few hours had the wireless ticked its warnings from passing vessels that the Titanic was in the vicinity of immense floes.
Why had the warning not been heeded?
Why had the ponderous engines continued to thunder with the might of a hundred thousand horses, and the ship to plunge forward into the night with the unchecked speed of an express train?
The captain knew, but his lips are sealed in death as, a self-inflicted bullet in his brain, he lies in the cold embrace of the sea he had loved and had defied—too long.
THE LOOKOUT'S WARNING CRY.
Perhaps Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the line, who was on board—and survived when women drowned—also knows. Perhaps he will tell by whose orders those danger warnings were scoffed at and ignored.
The lookout uttered a sharp cry!
One grinding crash and the Titanic had received its death blow. Man's proudest craft crumbled like an eggshell.
Ripped from stern to engine room by the great mass of ice she struck amidships, the Titanic's side was laid open as if by a gigantic can opener. She quickly listed to starboard and a shower of ice fell on to the forecastle deck.
Shortly before she sank she broke in two abaft the engine room, and as she disappeared beneath the water the expulsion of air or her boilers caused two explosions, which were plainly heard by the survivors adrift.
A moment more and the Titanic had gone to her doom with the fated hundreds grouped on the after deck. To the survivors they were visible to the last, and their cries and moans were pitiable.
The one alleviating circumstance in the otherwise unmitigable tragedy is the fact that the men stood aside and insisted that the women and the children should first have places in the boats.
There were men whose word of command swayed boards of directors, governed institutions, disposed of millions. They were accustomed merely to pronounce a wish to have it gratified.
Thousands "posted at their bidding;" the complexion of the market altered hue when they nodded; they bought what they wanted, and for one of the humblest fishing smacks or a dory they could have given the price that was paid to build and launch the ship that has become the most imposing mausoleum that ever housed the bones of men since the Pyramids rose from the desert sands.
But these men stood aside—one can see them—and gave place not merely to the delicate and the refined, but to the scared Czech woman from the steerage, with her baby at her breast; the Croatian with a toddler by her side, coming through the very gate of Death and out of the mouth of Hell to the imagined Eden of America.
HARDER TO GO THAN TO STAY.
To many of those who went it was harder to go than to stay there on the vessel gaping with its mortal wounds and ready to go down. It meant that tossing on the waters they must wait in suspense, hour after hour even after the lights of the ship were engulfed in appalling darkness, hoping against hope for the miracle of a rescue dearer to them than their own lives.
It was the tradition of Anglo-Saxon heroism that was fulfilled in the frozen seas during the black hours of that Sunday night. The heroism was that of the women who went, as well as of the men who remained.
The most adequate story of the terrible disaster is told by a trained newspaper man, who was on the Carpathia. He says:
Cause, responsibility and similar questions regarding the stupendous disaster will be taken up in time by the British marine authorities. No disposition has been shown by any survivor to question the courage of the crew, hundreds of whom saved others and gave their own lives with a heroism which equaled, but could not exceed, that of John Jacob Astor, Henry B. Harris, Jacques Futrelle and others in the long list of the first cabin missing.
Facts which I have established by inquiries on the Carpathia, as positively as they could be established in view of the silence of the few surviving officers, are:
That the Titanic's officers knew, several hours before the crash, of the possible nearness of icebergs.
That the Titanic's speed, nearly twenty-three knots an hour, was not slackened.
That the number of lifeboats on the Titanic was insufficient to accommodate much more than one-third of the passengers, to say nothing of the crew. Most members of the crew say there were sixteen lifeboats and two collapsibles; none say there were more than twenty boats in all. The 700 who escaped filled most of the sixteen lifeboats and the one collapsible which got away, to the limit of their capacity.
That the "women first" rule, in some cases, was applied to the extent of turning back men who were with their families, even though not enough women to fill the boats were at hand on that particular part of the deck. Some few boats were thus lowered without being completely filled, but most of these were soon filled with sailors and stewards, picked up out of the water, who helped man them.
That the bulkhead system, though probably working in the manner intended, availed only to delay the ship's sinking. The position and length of the ship's wound (on the starboard quarter) admitted icy water, which caused the boilers to explode and these explosions practically broke the ship in two.
Had the ship struck the iceberg head-on, at whatever speed, and with whatever resultant shock, the bulkhead system of water-tight compartments would probably have saved the vessel. As one man expressed it, it was the "impossible" that happened when, with a shock unbelievably mild, the ship's side was torn for a length which made the bulkhead system ineffective.
The Titanic was 1799 miles from Queenstown and 1191 miles from New York, speeding for a maiden voyage record. The night was starlight, the sea glassy. Lights were out in most of the staterooms and only two or three congenial groups remained in the public rooms.
In the crows' nest, or lookout, and on the bridge, officers and members of the crew were at their places, awaiting relief at midnight from their two hours' watch.
At 11.45 came the sudden sound of two gongs, a warning of immediate danger.
The crash against the iceberg, which had been sighted at only a quarter of a mile, came almost simultaneously with the clink of the levers operated by those on the bridge, which stopped the engine and closed the watertight doors.
CAPTAIN SMITH ON THE BRIDGE.
Captain Smith was on the bridge a moment later, giving orders for the summoning of all on board and for the putting on of life preservers and the lowering of the lifeboats.
The first boats lowered contained more men passengers than the latter ones, as the men were on deck first, and not enough women were there to fill them.
When, a moment later, the rush of frightened women and crying children to the deck began, enforcement of the women-first rule became rigid. Officers loading some of the boats drew revolvers, but in most cases the men, both passengers and crew, behaved in a way trat called for no such restraint.
Revolver shots, heard by many persons shortly before the end of the Titanic caused many rumors. One was that Captain Smith shot himself, another was that First Officer Murdock ended his life. Smith, Murdock and Sixth Officer Moody are known to have been lost. The surviving officers, Lightoller, Pitman, Boxhall and Lowe, have made no statement.
Members of the crew discredit all reports of suicide, and say Captain Smith remained on the bridge until just before the ship sank, leaping only after those on the decks had been washed away. It is also related that, when a cook later sought to pull him aboard a lifeboat, he exclaimed, "Let me go!" and, jerking away, went down.
What became of the men with life preservers? is a question asked since the disaster by many persons. The preservers did their work of supporting their wearers in the water until the ship went down. Many of those drawn into the vortex, despite the preservers, did not come up again. Dead bodies floated on the surface as the last boats moved away.
"NEARER MY GOD TO THEE."
To relate that the ship's string band gathered in the saloon, near the end, and played "Nearer, My God, To Thee," sounds like an attempt to give an added solemn color to a scene which was in itself the climax of solemnity. But various passengers and survivors of the crew agree in the declaration that they heard this music. To some of the hearers, with husbands among the dying men in the water, and at the ship's rail, the strain brought in thought the words
"So, by my woes I'll be Nearer, My God, to Thee, Nearer to Thee."
"Women and children first," was the order in the filling of the Titanic's lifeboats. How well that order was fulfilled, the list of missing first and second cabin passengers bears eloquent witness. "Mr." is before almost every name, and the contrast is but made stronger by the presence of a few names of women—Mrs. Isidor Straus, who chose death rather than to leave her husband's side; Mrs. Allison, who remained below with her husband and daughter, and others who, in various ways, were kept from entering the line of those to be saved.
To most of the passengers, the midnight crash against the ice mountain did not seem of terrific force. Many were so little disturbed by it that they hesitated to dress and put on life preservers, even when summoned by that hundering knocks and shouts of the stewards. Bridge players in the smoking room kept on with their game.
Once on deck, many hesitated to enter the swinging lifeboats. The glassy sea, the starlit sky, the absence, in the first few moments, of intense excitement, gave them the feeling that there was only some slight mishap—that those who got into the boats would have a chilly half-hour below, and might later be laughed at.
It was such a feeling as this, from all accounts, which caused John Jacob Astor and his wife to refuse the places offered them in the first boat, and to retire to the gymnasium. In the same way, H. J. Allison, Montreal banker, laughed at the warning, and his wife, reassured by him, took her time about dressing. They and their daughter did not reach the carpathia. Their son, less than two years old, was carried into a lifeboat by his nurse, and was taken in charge by Major Arthur Peuchen.
ADMIRATION AND CONFIDENCE.
The admiration felt by passengers and crew for the matchlessly appointed vessel was translated, in those first few moments, into a confidence which for some proved deadly.
In the loading of the first boat restrictions of sex were not made, and it seemed to the men who piled in beside the women that there would be boats enough for all. But the ship's officers knew better than this, and as the spreading fear caused an earnest advance toward the suspended craft, the order, "Women first!" was heard, and the men were pushed aside.
To the scenes of the next two hours on those decks and in the waters below, such adjectives as "dramatic" and "tragic" do but poor justice. With the knowledge of deadly peril gaining greater power each moment over those men and women, the nobility of the greater part, both among cabin passengers, officers, crew and steerage, asserted itself.
Isidor Straus, supporting his wife on her way to a lifeboat, was held back by an inexorable guard. Another officer strove to help her to a seat of safety, but she brushed away his arm and clung to her husband, crying, "I will not go without you."
Another woman took her place, and her form, clinging to her husband's, became part of a picture now drawn indelibly in many minds. Neither wife nor husband reached a place of safety.
Colonel Astor, holding his young wife's arm, stood decorously aside as the officers spoke to him, and Mrs. Astor and her maid were ushered to seats. Mrs. Henry B. Harris, parted in like manner from her husband, saw him last at the rail, beside Colonel Astor. Walter M. Clark, of Los Angeles, nephew of the Montana Senator, joined the line of men as his young wife, sobbing, was placed in one of the boats.
Excerpted from SINKING OF THE TITANIC by Jay Henry Mowbray. Copyright © 1998 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted September 20, 2012
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