Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters, The



ONCE on the deck, many hesitated to enter the swinging life-boats. Tho 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, a Montreal banker, laughed at the warning, and his wife, reassured by him, took her time dressing. They and their daughter did not reach the Carpathia. Their son, less than two years old, was carried into a life-boat by his nurse, and was taken in charge by Major Arthur Peuchen.


The admiration felt by the passengers and crew for the matchlessly appointed vessel was translated, in those first few moments, into a confidence which for some proved deadly. The pulsing of the engines had ceased, and the steamship lay just as though she were awaiting the order to go on again after some trifling matter had been adjusted. But in a few minutes the canvas covers were lifted from the life-boats and the crews allotted to each standing by, ready to lower them to the water.

Nearly all the boats that were lowered on the port side of the ship touched the water without capsizing. Four of the others lowered to starboard, including one collapsible, were capsized. All, however, who were in the collapsible boats that practically went to pieces, were rescued by the other boats.

Presently the order was heard: "All men stand back and all women retire to the deck below." That was the smoking-room deck, or the B deck. The men stood away and remained in absolute silence, leaning against the rail or pacing up and down the deck slowly. Many of them lighted cigars or cigarettes and began to smoke.


The boats were swung out and lowered from the A deck above. The women were marshaled quietly in lines along the B deck, and when the boats were lowered down to the level of the latter the women were assisted to climb into them.

As each of the boats was filled with its quota of passengers the word was given and it was carefully lowered down to the dark surface of the water.

Nobody seemed to know how Mr. Ismay got into a boat, but it was assumed that he wished to make a presentation of the case of the Titanic to his company. He was among those who apparently realized that the splendid ship was doomed. All hands in the life-boats, under instructions from officers and men in charge, were rowed a considerable distance from the ship herself in order to get far away from the possible suction that would follow her foundering.


Captain Smith and Major Archibald Butt, military aide to the President of the United States, were among the coolest men on board. A number of steerage passengers were yelling and screaming and fighting to get to the boats. Officers drew guns and told them that if they moved towards the boats they would be shot dead. Major Butt had a gun in his hand and covered the men who tried to get to the boats.

The following story of his bravery was told by Mrs. Henry B. Harris, wife of the theatrical manager:

"The world should rise in praise of Major Butt. That man's conduct will remain in my memory forever. The American army is honored by him and the way he taught some of the other men how to behave when women and children were suffering that awful mental fear of death. Major Butt was near me and I noticed everything that he did.

"When the order to man the boats came, the captain whispered something to Major Butt. The two of them had become friends. The major immediately became as one in supreme command. You would have thought he was at a White House reception. A dozen or more women became hysterical all at once, as something connected with a life-boat went wrong. Major Butt stepped over to them and said:

"'Really, you must not act like that; we are all going to see you through this thing.' He helped the sailors rearrange the rope or chain that had gone wrong and lifted some of the women in with a touch of gallantry. Not only was there a complete lack of any fear in his manner, but there was the action of an aristocrat.

"When the time came he was a man to be feared. In one of the earlier boats fifty women, it seemed, were about to be lowered, when a man, suddenly panic-stricken, ran to the stern of it. Major Butt shot one arm out, caught him by the back of the neck and jerked him backward like a pillow. His head cracked against a rail and he was stunned.

"'Sorry,' said Major Butt, 'women will be attended to first or I'll break every damned bone in your body.'


"The boats were lowered one by one, and as I stood by, my husband said to me, 'Thank God, for Archie Butt.' Perhaps Major Butt heard it, for he turned his face towards us for a second and smiled. Just at that moment, a young man was arguing to get into a life-boat, and Major Butt had a hold of the lad by the arm, like a big brother, and was telling him to keep his head and be a man.

"Major Butt helped those poor frightened steerage people so wonderfully, so tenderly and yet with such cool and manly firmness that he prevented the loss of many lives from panic. He was a soldier to the last. He was one of God's greatest noblemen, and I think I can say he was an example of bravery even to men on the ship."


Miss Marie Young, who was a music instructor to President Roosevelt's children and had known Major Butt during the Roosevelt occupancy of the White House, told this story of his heroism.

"Archie himself put me into the boat, wrapped blankets about me and tucked me in as carefully as if we were starting on a motor ride. He, himself, entered the boat with me, performing the little courtesies as calmly and with as smiling a face as if death were far away, instead of being but a few moments removed from him.

"When he had carefully wrapped me up he stepped upon the gunwale of the boat, and lifting his hat, smiled down at me. 'Good-bye, Miss Young,' he said. 'Good luck to you, and don't forget to remember me to the folks back home.' Then he stepped back and waved his hand to me as the boat was lowered. I think I was the last woman he had a chance to help, for the boat went down shortly after we cleared the suction zone."


Colonel Astor was another of the heroes of the awful night. Effort was made to persuade him to take a place in one of the life-boats, but he emphatically refused to do so until every woman and child on board had been provided for, not excepting the women members of the ship's company.

One of the passengers describing the consummate courage of Colonel Astor said:

"He led Mrs. Astor to the side of the ship and helped her to the life-boat to which she had been assigned. I saw that she was prostrated and said she would remain and take her chances with him, but Colonel Astor quietly insisted and tried to reassure her in a few words. As she took her place in the boat her eyes were fixed upon him. Colonel Astor smiled, touched his cap, and when the boat moved safely away from the ship's side he turned back to his place among the men."

Mrs. Ida S. Hippach and her daughter Jean, survivors of the Titanic, said they were saved by Colonel John Jacob Astor, who forced the crew of the last life-boat to wait for them.

"We saw Colonel Astor place Mrs. Astor in a boat and assure her that he would follow later," said Mrs. Hippach.

"He turned to us with a smile and said, 'Ladies, you are next.' The officer in charge of the boat protested that the craft was full, and the seamen started to lower it.

"Colonel Astor exclaimed, 'Hold that boat,' in the voice of a man accustomed to be obeyed, and they did as he ordered. The boat had been lowered past the upper deck and the colonel took us to the deck below and put us in the boat, one after the other, through a port-hole."

{illust. caption = LOADING THE LIFE-BOATS

Here occurred the heart-rending separation of husbands and wives, as the women were given precedence in the boats.}


There were some terrible scenes. Fathers were parting from their children and giving them an encouraging pat on the shoulders; men were kissing their wives and telling them that they would be with them shortly. One man said there was absolutely no danger, that the boat was the finest ever built, with water-tight compartments, and that it could not sink. That seemed to be the general impression.

A few of the men, however, were panic-stricken even when the first of the fifty-six foot life-boats was being filled. Fully ten men threw themselves into the boats already crowded with women and children. These men were dragged back and hurled sprawling across the deck. Six of them, screamed with fear, struggled to their feet and made a second attempt to rush to the boats.

About ten shots sounded in quick succession. The six cowardly men were stopped in their tracks, staggered and collapsed one after another. At least two of them vainly attempted to creep toward the boats again. The others lay quite still. This scene of bloodshed served its purpose. In that particular section of the deck there was no further attempt to violate the rule of "women and children first."

"I helped fill the boats with women," said Thomas Whiteley, who was a waiter on the Titanic. "Collapsible boat No. 2 on the starboard jammed. The second officer was hacking at the ropes with a knife and I was being dragged around the deck by that rope when I looked up and saw the boat, with all aboard, turn turtle. In some way I got overboard myself and clung to an oak dresser. I wasn't more than sixty feet from the Titanic when she went down. Her big stern rose up in the air and she went down bow first. I saw all the machinery drop out of her."


Henry B. Harris, of New York, a theatrical manager, was one of the men who showed superb courage in the crisis. When the life-boats were first being filled, and before there was any panic, Mr. Harris went to the side of his wife before the boat was lowered away.

"Women first," shouted one of the ship's officers. Mr. Harris glanced up and saw that the remark was addressed to him.

"All right," he replied coolly. "Good-bye, my dear," he said, as he kissed his wife, pressed her a moment to his breast, and then climbed back to the Titanic's deck.


Up to this time there had been no panic; but about one hour before the ship plunged to the bottom there were three separate explosions of bulkheads as the vessel filled. These were at intervals of about fifteen minutes. From that time there was a different scene. The rush for the remaining boats became a stampede.

The stokers rushed up from below and tried to beat a path through the steerage men and women and through the sailors and officers, to get into the boats. They had their iron bars and shovels, and they struck down all who stood in their way.

The first to come up from the depths of the ship was an engineer. From what he is reported to have said it is probable that the steam fittings were broken and many were scalded to death when the Titanic lifted. He said he had to dash through a narrow place beside a broken pipe and his back was frightfully scalded.

Right at his heels came the stokers. The officers had pistols, but they could not use them at first for fear of killing the women and children. The sailors fought with their fists and many of them took the stoke bars and shovels from the stokers and used them to beat back the others.

Many of the coal-passers and stokers who had been driven back from the boats went to the rail, and whenever a boat was filled and lowered several of them jumped overboard and swam toward it trying to climb aboard. Several of the survivors said that men who swam to the sides of their boats were pulled in or climbed in.

Dozens of the cabin passengers were witnesses of some of the frightful scenes on the steerage deck. The steerage survivors said that ten women from the upper decks were the only cool passengers in the life-boat, and they tried to quiet the steerage women, who were nearly all crazed with fear and grief.


Among the chivalrous young heroes of the Titanic disaster were Washington A. Roebling, 2d, and Howard Case, London representative of the Vacuum Oil Company. Both were urged repeatedly to take places in life-boats, but scorned the opportunity, while working against time to save the women aboard the ill-fated ship. They went to their death, it is said by survivors, with smiles on their faces.

Both of these young men aided in the saving of Mrs. William T. Graham, wife of the president of the American Can Company, and Mrs. Graham's nineteen-year-old daughter, Margaret.

Afterwards relating some of her experiences Mrs. Graham said:

"There was a rap at the door. It was a passenger whom we had met shortly after the ship left Liverpool, and his name was Roebling—Washington A. Roebling, 2d. He was a gentleman and a brave man. He warned us of the danger and told us that it would be best to be prepared for an emergency. We heeded his warning, and I looked out of my window and saw a great big iceberg facing us. Immediately I knew what had happened and we lost no time after that to get out into the saloon.

"In one of the gangways I met an officer of the ship.

"'What is the matter?' I asked him.

"'We've only burst two pipes,' he said. 'Everything is all right, don't worry.'

"'But what makes the ship list so?' I asked.

"'Oh, that's nothing,' he replied, and walked away.

"Mr. Case advised us to get into a boat.

"'And what are you going to do?' we asked him.

"'Oh,' he replied, 'I'll take a chance and stay here.'

"Just at that time they were filling up the third life-boat on the port side of the ship. I thought at the time that it was the third boat which had been lowered, but I found out later that they had lowered other boats on the other side, where the people were more excited because they were sinking on that side.

"Just then Mr. Roebling came up, too, and told us to hurry and get into the third boat. Mr. Roebling and Mr. Case bustled our party of three into that boat in less time than it takes to tell it. They were both working hard to help the women and children. The boat was fairly crowded when we three were pushed into it, and a few men jumped in at the last moment, but Mr. Roebling and Mr. Case stood at the rail and made no attempt to get into the boat.

"They shouted good-bye to us. What do you think Mr. Case did then? He just calmly lighted a cigarette and waved us good-bye with his hand. Mr. Roebling stood there, too—I can see him now. I am sure that he knew that the ship would go to the bottom. But both just stood there."


Scenes on the sinking vessel grew more tragic as the remaining passengers faced the awful certainty that death must be the portion of the majority, death in the darkness of a wintry sea studded with its ice monuments like the marble shafts in some vast cemetery.

In that hour, when cherished illusions of possible safety had all but vanished, manhood and womanhood aboard the Titanic rose to their sublimest heights. It was in that crisis of the direst extremity that many brave women deliberately rejected life and chose rather to remain and die with the men whom they loved.


"I will not leave my husband," said Mrs. Isidor Straus. "We are old; we can best die together," and she turned from those who would have forced her into one of the boats and clung to the man who had been the partner of her joys and sorrows. Thus they stood hand in hand and heart to heart, comforting each other until the sea claimed them, united in death as they had been through a long life.

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Miss Elizabeth Evans fulfilled this final test of affection laid down by the Divine Master. The girl was the niece of the wife of Magistrate Cornell, of New York. She was placed in the same boat with many other women. As it was about to be lowered away it was found that the craft contained one more than its full quota of passengers.

The grim question arose as to which of them should surrender her place and her chance of safety. Beside Miss Evans sat Mrs. J. J. Brown, of Denver, the mother of several children. Miss Evans was the first to volunteer to yield to another.


"Your need is greater than mine," said she to Mrs. Brown. "You have children who need you, and I have none."

So saying she arose from the boat and stepped back upon the deck. The girl found no later refuge and was one of those who went down with the ship. She was twenty-five years old and was beloved by all who knew her.

Mrs. Brown thereafter showed the spirit which had made her also volunteer to leave the boat. There were only three men in the boat and but one of them rowed. Mrs. Brown, who was raised on the water, immediately picked up one of the heavy sweeps and began to pull.

In the boat which carried Mrs. Cornell and Mrs. Appleton there were places for seventeen more than were carried. This too was undermanned and the two women at once took their places at the oars.

The Countess of Rothes was pulling at the oars of her boat, likewise undermanned because the crew preferred to stay behind.

Miss Bentham, of Rochester, showed splendid courage. She happened to be in a life-boat which was very much crowded—so much so that one sailor had to sit with his feet dangling in the icy cold water, and as time went on the sufferings of the man from the cold were apparent. Miss Bentham arose from her place and had the man turn around while she took her place with her feet in the water.

Scarcely any of the life-boats were properly manned. Two, filled with women and children, capsized immediately, while the collapsible boats were only temporarily useful. They soon filled with water. In one boat eighteen or twenty persons sat in water above their knees for six hours.

{illust. caption =

In the darkness and confusion, punctuated by screams, sobs and curses, the boats were lowered after being filled with women, children and a few men. The sketch, drawn from description of eye-witnesses, shows the lofty side of the stricken vessel and the laden boats descending.


{illust. caption = Copyright by Underwood & Underwood, N. Y.

{illust. caption = Copyright by Underwood & Underwood, N. Y. LIFE-BOATS, AS SEEN FROM THE CARPATHIA

Photographs taken from the rescue ship as she reached the first boats carrying the Titanic's sufferers.}

heard it, but have forgotten it. But I saw an order for five pounds which this man gave to each of the crew of his boat after they got aboard the Carpathia. It was on a piece of ordinary paper addressed to the Coutts Bank of England.

"We called that boat the 'money boat.' It was lowered from the starboard side and was one of the first off. Our orders were to load the life-boats beginning forward on the port side, working aft and then back on the starboard. This man paid the firemen to lower a starboard boat before the officers had given the order."

Whiteley's own experience was a hard one. When the uncoiling rope, which entangled his feet, threw him into the sea, it furrowed the flesh of his leg, but he did not feel the pain until he was safe aboard the Carpathia.

"I floated on my life-preserver for several hours," he said, "then I came across a big oak dresser with two men clinging to it. I hung on to this till daybreak and the two men dropped off. When the sun came up I saw the collapsible raft in the distance, just black with men. They were all standing up, and I swam to it—almost a mile, it seemed to me—and they would not let me aboard. Mr. Lightoller, the second officer, was one of them.

"'It's thirty-one lives against yours,, he said, 'you can't come aboard. There's not room.'"

"I pleaded with him in vain, and then I confess I prayed that somebody might die, so I could take his place. It was only human. And then some one did die, and they let me aboard.

"By and by, we saw seven life-boats lashed together, and we were taken into them."


The officers had to assert their authority by force, and three foreigners from the steerage who tried to force their way in among the women and children were shot down without mercy.

Robert Daniel, a Philadelphia passenger, told of terrible scenes at this period of the disaster. He said men fought and bit and struck one another like madmen, and exhibited wounds upon his face to prove the assertion. Mr. Daniel said that he was picked up naked from the ice-cold water and almost perished from exposure before he was rescued. He and others told how the Titanic's bow was completely torn away by the impact with the berg.

K. Whiteman, of Palmyra, N. J., the Titanic's barber, was lowering boats on deck after the collision, and declared the officers on the bridge, one of them First Officer Murdock, promptly worked the electrical apparatus for closing the water-tight compartments. He believed the machinery was in some way so damaged by the crash that the front compartments failed to close tightly, although the rear ones were secure.

Whiteman's manner of escape was unique. He was blown off the deck by the second of the two explosions of the boilers, and was in the water more than two hours before he was picked up by a raft.

"The explosions," Whiteman said; "were caused by the rushing in of the icy water on the boilers. A bundle of deck chairs, roped together, was blown off the deck with me, and I struck my back, injuring my spine, but it served as a temporary raft.

"The crew and passengers had faith in the bulkhead system to save the ship and we were lowering a collapsible boat, all confident the ship would get through, when she took a terrific dip forward and the water swept over the deck and into the engine rooms.

"The bow went clean down, and I caught the pile of chairs as I was washed up against the rim. Then came the explosions which blew me fifteen feet.

"After the water had filled the forward compartments, the ones at the stern could not save her, although they did delay the ship's going down. If it wasn't for the compartments hardly anyone could have got away."


One of the Titanic's stewards, Johnson by name, carried this message to the sorrowing widow of Benjamin Guggenheim:

"When Mr. Guggenheim realized that there was grave danger," said the room steward, "he advised his secretary, who also died, to dress fully and he himself did the same. Mr. Guggenheim, who was cool and collected as he was pulling on his outer garments, said to the steward:—


"'I think there is grave doubt that the men will get off safely. I am willing to remain and play the man's game, if there are not enough boats for more than the women and children. I won't die here like a beast. I'll meet my end as man.'

"There was a pause and then Mr. Guggenheim continued:

"'Tell my wife, Johnson, if it should happen that my secretary and I both go down and you are saved, tell her I played the game out straight and to the end. No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.

"'Tell her that my last thoughts will be of her and of our girls, but that my duty now is to these unfortunate women and children on this ship. Tell her I will meet whatever fate is in store for me, knowing she will approve of what I do.'"

In telling the story the room steward said the last he saw of Mr. Guggenheim was when he stood fully dressed upon the upper deck talking calmly with Colonel Astor and Major Butt.

Before the last of the boats got away, according to some of the passengers' narratives, there were more than fifty shots fired upon the decks by officers or others in the effort to maintain the discipline that until then had been well preserved.


Richard Norris Williams, Jr., one of the survivors of the Titanic, saw his father killed by being crushed by one of the tremendous funnels of the sinking vessel.

"We stood on deck watching the life-boats of the Titanic being filled and lowered into the water," said Mr. Williams. "The water was nearly up to our waists and the ship was about at her last. Suddenly one of the great funnels fell. I sprang aside, endeavoring to pull father with me. A moment later the funnel was swept overboard and the body of father went with it.

"I sprang overboard and swam through the ice to a life-raft, and was pulled aboard. There were five men and one woman on the raft. Occasionally we were swept off into the sea, but always managed to crawl back.

"A sailor lighted a cigarette and flung the match carelessly among the women. Several screamed, fearing they would be set on fire. The sailor replied: 'We are going to hell anyway and we might as well be cremated now as then.'"

A huge cake of ice was the means of aiding Emile Portaleppi, of Italy, in his hairbreadth escape from death when the Titanic went down. Portaleppi, a second class passenger, was awakened by the explosion of one of the bulkheads of the ship. He hurried to the deck, strapped a life-preserver around him and leaped into the sea. With the aid of the preserver and by holding to a cake of ice he managed to keep afloat until one of the life-boats picked him up. There were thirty-five other people in the boat, he said, when he was hauled aboard.


Somewhere in the shadow of the appalling Titanic disaster slinks—still living by the inexplicable grace of God—a cur in human shape, to-day the most despicable human being in all the world.

In that grim midnight hour, already great in history, he found himself hemmed in by the band of heroes whose watchword and countersign rang out across the deep—"Women and children first!"

What did he do? He scuttled to the stateroom deck, put on a woman's skirt, a woman's hat and a woman's veil, and picking his crafty way back among the brave and chivalric men who guarded the rail of the doomed ship, he filched a seat in one of the life-boats and saved his skin.

His name is on that list of branded rescued men who were neither picked up from the sea when the ship went down nor were in the boats under orders to help get them safe away. His identity is not yet known, though it will be in good time. So foul an act as that will out like murder.

The eyes of strong men who have read this crowded record of golden deeds, who have read and re-read that deathless roll of honor of the dead, are still wet with tears of pity and of pride. This man still lives. Surely he was born and saved to set for men a new standard by which to measure infamy and shame.

It is well that there was sufficient heroism on board the Titanic to neutralize the horrors of the cowardice. When the first order was given for the men to stand back, there were a dozen or more who pushed forward and said that men would be needed to row the life-boats and that they would volunteer for the work.

The officers tried to pick out the ones that volunteered merely for service and to eliminate those who volunteered merely to save their own lives. This elimination process however, was not wholly successful.


As the ship began to settle to starboard, heeling at an angle of nearly forty-five degrees, those who had believed it was all right to stick by the ship began to have doubts, and a few jumped into the sea. They were followed immediately by others, and in a few minutes there were scores swimming around. Nearly all of them wore life-preservers. One man, who had a Pomeranian dog, leaped overboard with it and striking a piece of wreckage was badly stunned. He recovered after a few minutes and swam toward one of the life-boats and was taken aboard.

Said one survivor, speaking of the men who remained on the ship. "There they stood—Major Butt, Colonel Astor waving a farewell to his wife, Mr. Thayer, Mr. Case, Mr. Clarence Moore, Mr. Widener, all multimillionaires, and hundreds of other men, bravely smiling at us all. Never have I seen such chivalry and fortitude. Such courage in the face of fate horrible to contemplate filled us even then with wonder and admiration."

Why were men saved? ask: others who seek to make the occasional male survivor a hissing scorn; and yet the testimony makes it clear that for a long time during that ordeal the more frightful position seemed to many to be in the frail boats in the vast relentless sea, and that some men had to be tumbled into the boats under orders from the officers. Others express the deepest indignation that 210 sailors were rescued, the testimony shows that most of these sailors were in the welter of ice and water into which they had been thrown from the ship's deck when she sank; they were human beings and so were picked up and saved.


The one alleviating circumstance in the otherwise immitigable tragedy is the fact that so many of the men stood aside really with out the necessity for the order, "Women and children first," and insisted that the weaker sex 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.

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 Sunday night. The heroism was that of the women who went, as well as of the men who remained!

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