A PIG AND A PROMISE
SAVED ME FROM
by Edith L.Russell
the next-to-last passenger
in the last lifeboat
- I -
Forty-six years have passed since the "Titanic", going at full speed across the Atlantic, struck an iceberg on that unforget- able Sunday, April 14, 1912 at 11.35 p.m.
As a "Titanic" survivor, this event has shaped my life and has made me an object of curious interest on many occasions. When- ever I cross the Atlantic on passenger liners I meet numbers of people, and when it becomes known that I am a "Titanic" survivor, they immediately ply me with every sort of question. One of the more frequent questions is: "No, were you really saved?" (I have never learned quite how to answer this one.) Or, "Did you hear 'Nearer my God to Thee'?" and yet another, "Was the water rough?" and "Were you cold?" "How many were saved?" "Were you frightened?" "You certainly were lucky".
Yes, I was indeed lucky to be saved. My losses were only material, while there were so many who lost those whom they loved. I have crossed the Atlantic often since, nearly a hundred times, but still I will not travel by aeroplane. Steamships and automobiles are my favorite modes of transport.
In the half-century which has gone by since the "Titanic" disaster, many events of greater importance to the world have occurred, including two great wars, and for many years my recollec- tion of the tragedy had been more or less dormant.
Recently, however, there was a reunion of survivors. Among the nine of us who were there, old memories were revived with disturbing clarity. One of the nince, by the way, was a gentleman named Frank Aks, whom I had last seen when he was ten months old, one of the babies sharing my lifeboat. His mother had been separated from her baby and found him again on the "Carpathia", where another woman claimed him as her child.
Without wishing to get ahead of my story, I think I should mention here another lifeboat friend, without whose companionship I might not be here to tell about this today. He did not even have a name. He was, in fact, just a toy pig which my mother had given me a year earlier. For the "Titanic" was not my first serious mishap. I had been the sole survivor, although badly injured, of an automobile accident in France, on the road to Deauville. My mother, having heard that the pig was considered a symbol of good luck in France, and feeling that good luck was just what I needed, presented me with this toy pig, the size of a big kitten and covered with white fur and black spots. I cherished it, the more so as it was really a music-box, and by twisting its tail one produced the then popular air "La Maxixe". I promised my mother than I would keep this mascot with me at all times, and so this little pig later saved my life.
It was not really my idea to sail on the "Titanic". I had booked passage on the "George Washington", to sail April 7, but my editor cabled me from New York to postpone my sailing in order to report the fashions at the Paris Easter Sunday races. By taking the "Titanic" a faster ship, on the Wednesday following Easter Sunday, I could still arrive in America at about the same time. In any event, the opportunity of crossing on this much publicized, and above all UNSINKABLE, floating palace delighted me. On the night before sailing I went along with some South American friends to visit Madame de Thèbes, the most famous fortune-teller of her time.
After my friends had had their fortunes told, Madame de Thèbes turned to me and said: "Are you not at all interested in having me tell you some- thing of your future?" I answered: "No, I don't believe in that sort of thing. I am having pro- phesies made to me constantly, and it may be I am just as well off if I do not know my future." "Very well, Madam, but I predict all the same that you are about to go through a dreadful experience. You will lose your possessions, many friends, and incidentally your singing voice, but you will live on for many years to come."
To this I replied: "Thank you, but this really is nonsense. Please do not tell me any more. Frankly, I don't want to listen."
So I left France as arranged on Wednesday, April 10, from the Saint Lazare Station in Paris. I remember that as the train was about to pull out, "Laurent" the head tailor of Paquin, the famous coutourier of the Rue de la Paix, accompanied by the head tailoress, rushed up and thrust through the com- partment window two huge white boxes tied with tapes carrying heavy lead seals. These boxes contained clothes I had ordered but which had not been finished in time, hence this late delivery. The boxes were never unpacked and went down with the ship just as they were delivered.
I was a fashion writer, buyer and stylist. This trip was one of the first of my career, as I had just started in business, and I was taking with me not only my own wardrobe, but many orders executed for business firms and private clients. They were uninsured, as when I applied for insurance on this merchandise, I was told that it was ridiculous to spend money for insurance when travelling on an unsinkable vessel. So, mislead like the rest of the world, I placed full confidence in the world's greatest ship: "46,329 tons ... 852 feet long ... 3 propelloers ... 4 smoke stacks rising 175 feet above the water ..." She was truly a sky- scraper. We were not used to ships of such dimensions and grandeur in this days. The "Olympic" and "Titanic" were sister ships, the first of their kind. The train-run from Paris to Cherbourg was quite pleasant. I chatted with some Swedish and American ladies in the compartment and with a Mexican gentleman who informed us he was a Member of Parliament in Mexico. We formed a very merry little party. The fact that we were all sailing on this exceptional vessel on her maiden voyage, seemed to draw us together. Everybody was looking forward to seeing the monster ship.
But on arriving in Cherbourg I had a most disagreeable premonition of trouble ahead, in fact, it was so strong that I telegraphed my secretary in Paris, expressing my fears. (As if there were anything we could have done about it anyway!) Never having put any faith whatever in fortune-tellers, I now had to admit to myself that I was probably being unhinged by what Madame de Thèbes had told me, and by an equally ridiculous, but uncannily correct prediction which had been made to me by an Arab fortune-teller at Biskra earlier in the same year. This old fellow, after tossing grains of sand in the air, held up his hands as if predicting the end of the world, and said: "Madam, you will be in a very grave sea accident." We sat about on the huge tender, which had been especially built the year before for these new White Star ships, and for three hours shivered and waited. It was cold. It had been raining. I remember sitting next to Colonel and Mrs. John Jacob Astor, who were on their wedding trip, playing with their big dog. The Colonel told me that "Titanic" had cost ten million dollars to build, and emphasized that she was unsinkable, "a miracle of modern ship- building."
Finally a murmur went around the tender: "The "Titanic" is in sight."
I saw what seemed like a huge building, 11 storeys high, with tier upon tier of glittering electric lights, dressed over-all. Truly a beautiful and impressive spectacle. The big tender approached the "Titanic" and swung alongside. Then a most unforgettable thing happened. Although the sea was perfectly calm, our tender began rolling in a most amazing fashion, throwing the passengers right off their feet. I turned to a gentleman who I later found out was Philip E.Mock, the miniature painter, and said: "A ship that produces this uncanny upheavel in this perfectly calm sea strikes me as a dangerous one. I wish I were not going on her, I am so frightened." The "Titanic" had had an accident coming out of Southampton, when she went too close to the "New York" and caused the latter to break loose from her moorings. I did not know this at the time, of course, and if I had, I should probably have been imagining all kinds of ominous things. As it was, I could not help being strangely impressed by the way the tender rolled and heaved, in this calm sea, along- side the great ship. The gangway over which we climbed aboard seemed in danger of being pulled loose from its fastenings.
I hated the idea of crossing that gangplank, and no sooner had I got on board than I sought out Mr. Nicholas Martin, the General Manager of the White Star Line Paris bureau, to see if it would not be possible to collect my luggage and book by a later steamer, as I was frankly afraid. Mr.Martin said he would gladly release me from the sailing, if I felt that way, but he could not get my luggage off. "You are just nervous. You are perfectly safe. This ship is unsinkable. You can get off if you want to, but your luggage will have to go on to New York." I answered: "My luggage is worth more than I am. I had better remain with it." So to pacify me, Mr.Martin said: "I will make a special concession. We will give you a large stateroom next to your own room where we will put your trunks and boxes, and then you will feel happier, and you can keep any eye on them."
I then stood aside and watched for more than an hour, a regiment of cooks, bakers, and sailors staggering under the weight of huge wooden boxes they were transferring from the tender to the "Titanic". I asked one of the stewards what this meant, and he said: "These are rare canned vegetables, pate de foie gras, caviar, fruits of all kinds and other things to eat ... provisions for the trip over and the return." He added: "We have a pretty good crowd on board, but it is nothing to what we anticipate coming back." I never saw so many boxes in my life!
I then took the lift to "A" Deck, where my room was. I had always liked meeting new people and talking to them, and I remember my conversation with the young boy who was operating that elevator. "I am so proud", he said, "this is my first trip at sea and they have made me a lift boy. I am only thirteen, you know. It's a bit of an honor." His first and last trip.
I found I had been allocated a very large cabin with bath and a window looking out on to the promenade deck with immediately opposite, the same type of cabin for my luggage. The cabins were almost the farthest forward, at the end of a small corridor. I was practically detached from the rest of the ship.
After the usual bustle and excitement, we weighed anchor at about 8.30 p.m. I freshened up a bit and went down to the dining room, where I stood aghast at the size. Words are not adequate to describe it. The ship with its extravagance of that time had a curious effect on me, as can be sensed from a letter I wrote to my secretary in Paris, Horace J. Shaw: "My Dear Mr.Shaw, This is the most wonderful ship you can think of. It is a house of about eleven storeys, as long as from the corner of the Rue de la Paix to near the Rue de Rivoli. Everything imaginable. Swimming pools, Turkish Baths, gymnasium, squash court, cafes, tea gardens, smoking rooms, a long room bigger than the Grand Hotel lounge, huge drawing rooms, bedrooms larger than any Paris hotel room, and altogether it is a monster. I cannot say I like it, as I feel as though I were in a big hotel, instead of on a cosy ship. Everyone stiff and formal. Hundreds of help; bell boys, stewards, stewardesses, lifts; but though its magnificence is unquestionable, there is not the cosy shipboard feeling of former years. We are now off Queenstown. I just hate to leave Paris and will be jolly glad to get back again. I am going to rest on this ship, as I am tired, I can tell you, but I cannot get over my feeling of depression and premonition of trouble. I wish it were over"*
*The original of this latter is in the possession of Mr.Horace B. Shaw. It was posted from Queenstown, Ireland, and is on "Titanic" notepaper dated April 11, 1912
The first days of the trip were uneventful, marked by the usual making acquaintances, promenades on deck, tea in the Winter Garden, and so forth. It was only by looking out to sea that one realized one was on the ocean. I wore a blue cloth coat lined with figured linen cretonne. It was something the famous Paul Poiret had created for me in his shop "Martine" in the Faubourg St. Honore. This was the first instance of using flower-printed cretonne for a coat lining and it attracted considerable attention.
I met Mr.J. Clinch Smith, who had lived in Paris for many years, brother-in-law of the famous architect, Stanford White. There were many celebrities on board. I got to know Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus and Mr. W.T. Stead, the famous writer and publisher. The latter showed considerable interest in me, on account of my various accidents and pre- monition. He was a great believer in spiritualism but at no time did he mention any fear of disaster on this trip. Major Archibald Butt, who was military aide to President Taft, and occasionally Frank Millet, the noted American painter, would join us. There were, too, a number of buyers on board from various department stores throughout the United States, returning after their regular buying trips, and also Mr.Brandeis, owner of the well-known department store of Omaha, Nebraska. Mr. Benjamin Guggenheim and Mr. and Mrs. B. Goldenberg were also aboard the ship. He was a very well-known lace importer of New York and a keen dog fancier. He had on board some 35 of the finest bulldogs, which he had shown in England, where he had won a number of prizes. As a dog lover, I was deeply in sympathy with his con- cern for his dogs. He immediately went to the kennels at the time of the accident, to be with his dogs. On Sunday, April 14, it was brilliantly sunny, but so intensely cold that it seemed the only sensible thing to do was to stay in bed to keep warm, which I did until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. I then went out on deck, and noticed a large crowd of men passengers looking down at the water being thrown up from the blades of the propellers. The foam whirled in a great cascade, made blood-red by the rays of a glorious setting sun. It looked like a crimson carpet stretching from the ship to the horizon. I remember commenting to a group of people standing there about this beautiful and awesome waterfall, and then I walked forward in the ship. I was never to see any of these people again.
There was much commenting on the intense cold, and some of the men said they had heard notices were posted that we were in icefields. However, that did not seem to make very much difference. We were going full speed ahead and would positively arrive in New York and on the following Tuesday, as it was intended the ship should make a record trip. And with this calm sea and perfect weather, there was no reason why we should not do so.
- II -
"IF YOU DON'T WANT TO GO, STAY !"
On Sunday night I dressed in a white satin evening gown, as there was a gala dinner. The men were all in their evening clothes and the ladies in full dress. But I wish to say there was no dancing. British ships do not, or did not at that time, permit dancing on the Sabbath night. Nor was there excessive drinking on the part of the Captain or anyone else, as has been frequently stated. It was a calm, well-behaved crowd of people.
I distinctly remember the lounge, a very beautiful spectacle, everyone sitting about in evening clothes, the orchestra playing. About 9.30 p.m, having some letters to write, I went up to the drawing room and, incidentally chatted with a little lady from Los Angeles. Her husband came along and said he was going to the smoking room to play bridge. "Play all the bridge you want to", she said, "but under no circumstances do I want you to come down and wake me. I want to have a good night's sleep." Both perished. I had been writing for some time when the library steward called: "Lights out, please, it's 11.30". I handed him a number of letters, telling him that I did not have my purse with me but would pay for the stamps the next morning. I took a couple of books from the library to read and walked from the stern of the ship to my room, which was way forward on the same deck. I was just turning on the electric light, when I felt a very slight jar, then a second, a little stronger, and a third, accompanied by a heavy shock, strong enough to make me cling to my bed-post. I noticed immediately that the floor of my room had a decided list. The ship seemed to have come to a dead stop; but as I thrust my head out of the stateroom window, I noticed a huge white mass, like a mountain, slowly drifting by. I put on my fur coat and ran round to a friend's room and said, "Come along, let's go out and see what has happened".
We were quickly joined by several others in various stages of undress. We all looked at this white mass, and someone said, "It's an iceberg!" I must say I was overjoyed, because I had always wanted to see an iceberg, from the time of my school days. Someone said icebergs showed only one-ninth above water, and another remarked that this one must be a "corker" under the surface. It towered well above the smoke stacks of the ship. I found out afterwards that an iceberg has a light side and a dark side. Unfortunately destiny decreeed that the dark side should be towards the ship.
We all regarded it as a great joke that we had hit an iceberg, and ran to the forward part of the ship, picking up bits of ice and snow which lay scattered along the deck. Someone suggested a snowball fight and we were soon throwing snow at one another.
Looking down towards the Cabin Class deck, I noticed a number of stokers walking across it and going down below, the ice crunching beneath their boots. Someone said: "Why, they are walking on a solid ground of ice." Nobody had any fear or thought of danger. The calm sea and brilliant, starry sky, completely reassured us. The only disagreeable factor was the intense cold, enough to numb one's face and hands.
We walked about the deck, and I spoke to several officers and asked them what it was all about. They saud: "We have struck an iceberg. There is nothing to worry about. The best thing to do is to go back to bed." After about three-quarters of an hour, decided I would do so, to get warm. I re- turned to my room, started to undress, and was ready for bed, when a young man I had met earlier in the day called through my door: "An order has been given that we are to put on lifebelts." I called back: "What for?" "Well," he said, "that's the order." I threw a wrap around me, went out to talk to this young man in the corridor and found him trembling and crying and very much unnerved. "Well, if we have to put on lifebelts, we shall have to put them on", I said. I had no opportunity to thank this young man - I never saw him again.
I went back into my stateroom and quickly slipped on a dress. I was still wearing velvet slippers with imitation diamond buckles, and the thinnest sort of silk stockings, and I had on no underwear. I just seized anything that came to hand quickly, and put on a long fur coat, a knitted wool cap and a fur scarf, and rushed out into the lounge. But before doing this, I did what later seemed a most unusual thing; I took all the dresses in my room, went into the other stateroom opposite, where my trunks were, threw the dresses into them, shut the trunks, locked them, closed the stateroom windows, and took the trunk keys with me, and locked the cabin door. Shall I ever forget my last look into my stateroom? The soft pink light of a table lamp, this pink down quilt, the warm radiator casting a soft glow, everything so cosy, so comfortable. How I hated to leave it.
In going down the corridor, I passed the open door of a friend's room who had purchased a beautiful dog in France. The dog was whining, and I remember tucking it under the bed cover, patting it, and then closing the door.
I went to the lounge on "A" Deck where I saw my bedroom steward, Wareham. He was fully dressed, with a black coat and bowler hat.
"Miss", he said, "I am glad indeed to see that you are up and dressed."
"Wareham, do you think there is any danger, or is this just one of those English rules that re- quires us to put on lifebelts?"
He replied: "It is a rule of the Board of Trade that in time of danger lifebelts must be worn by the passengers. But please don't be alarmed."
"Wareham, what about my dresses and the other things... Do you think they will transfer the luggage?"
To this he replied: "Now, if I were you, I think I would go back to my room and kiss them goodbye."
"In that case, do you think the ship is going to sink?"
"No, Miss. She certainly ought to be able to hold out a good 48 hours anyway."
"Wareham, I think it would be a good idea if I had my mascot with me. I left it on the dressing table. Would you mind going to the stateroom to get it for me?"
And as I saw him going back down the corridor to fetch it, I noticed that there was an incline from the drawing room down the passage. As I learned after- wards, it was beneath my stateroom that the iceberg had torn into the ship's side, directly under the swimming pool, and had then come up against the water-tight bulkheads, which were holding the ship up for the time being.
Wareham brought me back my toy pig, and the people all around me smiled. I felt a little more reassured. I never saw Wareham again, but remember his wistful remark "I hope we get out of this alright. I have a wife and five little kiddies at home. The stewards, in fact all employees of the "Titanic" were an exceptionally fine lot of men and women, all glad that they were transferred from the "Olympic" where nearly all of them had served. They undoubtedly knew there was danger, but at no time did they portray their fear to the passengers. No words can adequately praise these magnificent officers and crew.
The lounge began filling with passengers, some dressed and some only half dressed, some of them quite displeased at being roused out of bed at this hour. I overheard Colonel Washington Roebling, grandson of the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge saying: "Whatever the trouble is, I doubt if there is any real emergency. The "Titanic" has 15 watertight bulkheads which truly makes her unsinkable. A leak might slow down her speed a few knots, but it would not do very much more than that." Colonel Roebling subsequently perished.
Just them a deck officer called an order from the lounge door: "All women and children only, come this way please. Proceed to Boat Deck."
I went up to the Boat Deck and remember seeing quite a lot of men standing about. We waited and stood around aimlessly and then another order was shouted: "All women and children will immediately return to "A" Deck."
Again I stood quite a long time wondering what it all meant. Then yet another order: "Women and children back again up to the Boat Deck." I thought this was just a farce, a sort of boat drill, for frankly I did not know what it could mean. So I disregarded these instructions, went back into the lounge, found a nice comfortable armchair, and sat down where it was warm and cosy. There were four or five men passengers seated around the lounge, and one of them said he had heard they had launched five lifeboats.
"Surely there is no danger," I said. And he answered: "No, but you know these English. They are the greatest people for rules and regulations and the greatest sticklers for this sort of thing."
"Well, if it is only a question of rules and regulations, I for one do not propose to go out on that deck and freeze to death", I retorted.
Just then I saw an officer and called out to him: "Mister officer, should I leave in a lifeboat? Is there any danger?" To this he replied: "No, I do not know that there is any immediate danger, but this ship is damaged and she certainly cannot proceed to New York. She may be towed into the nearest harbour. We expect the "Olympic along in the next two or three hours. They will take the passengers off. However, there is no immediate danger, Madam. You can use your own judgement in this matter." By this time the Purser had offered to return the valuables which passengers had checked with him at the beginning of the voyage, and I noticed quite a line of people in front of his desk. This seemed ridiculous to me, and I chose to leave my own jewelry safely locked up in the ship's strong box. It is still there today. I only saved one piece of jewelry which was pinned to my dress, and my wrist-watch [.] The order was again shouted: "All women and children must immediately proceed to the Boat deck." As this was called, I noticed what seemed to be a regiment of white-clad bakers going up the steps with loaves of bread as tall as a man. I remember saying with a laugh to someone standing by me, that this looked like the carnival parade at Nice. I wondered afterwards what became of all that bread, as there certainly was none in my lifeboat.
I then went out up to the Boat Deck and found myself standing next to Mr. Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director of the White Star Line, who was wearing his black evening trousers and a nightshirt with frills down the front. He was shouting orders/ A number of men on the other side of him were banked up almost in a solid mass near the cabin bulkhead. He spied me and called out: "What are you doing on this ship? I thought all women and children had left! If there are any more women and children on this ship, let them step forward and come over to this stairways immediately."
Mr.Ismay practically threw me down a narrow iron stairway to the deck below. There has been much criticism of Mr. Ismay, but he certainly saved my life. I passed between two lines of sailors to the rail. Two burly sailors got hold of me and attempted to throw me head foremost into the lifeboat which was suspended alongside. But when I noticed how far from the rail that lifeboat was, swinging on its davits from above, I became terrified -- so much so that my legs and feet went rigid and my slippers fell off. I screamed to the two men: "Don't push me!" One replied, "If you don't want to go, stay!"
I then looked about in the gutter of the deck for my slippers, which I found minus a diamond buckle that had fallen off. I never found the buckle. Then I looked up again at the rail and at the lifeboat which was swinging so perilously far from it, about seven storeys from the sea. The boat was very full and slightly tilted to one side. The thought of getting up on that rail and jumping petrified me. With the narrow skirt I had on, as in those days of 1912 the skirts came low to the ankle and certainly were less than a yard wide, it seemed to me a feat that only an acrobat could perform. So there I stood with my little pig under my arm. One of the sailors reached forward and exclaimed: "If you don't want to go, we'll save your baby anyway", and he grabbed my little pig which, perhaps, in the excitement he mistook for a baby, and threw it into the lifeboat. I stood looking towards the lifeboat thinking: "There is my mascot. I promised my mother it would be with my always".
Just then I heard a very quiet voice next to me saying: "Madam, if you will put your foot on my knee and put your arm around my neck, I will lift you to the rail, and from there you will be able to jump into the boat with less danger, and you will not be so frightened."
"Would you really go?" I asked this young man, "if you were me?"
He answered: "Yes, without a doubt".
He then made a chair of hands with one of the sailors (such as we do in playing games), each one holding the other's wrist, and lifted me. I jumped and fell into the lifeboat, landing on my head at the bottom of the boat, where I groped about for my mascot and found it almost immediately with its little legs broken. I struggled into an upright position. The man who had helped me leaped in immediately afterwards, and then came the order: "Lower away!"
By a strange coincidence, the gentleman who helped me into the lifeboat was the one to whom I had remarked on the tender that I was afraid of the ship, Philip E. Mock, the painter.
We were lowered towards the water very slowly, with a decided tilt, and someone in the boat cut the fall ropes before we actually touched the water. One of the men near me said: "Shove her off quickly, or we are going to be sucked under." I did not quite understand what he meant.
- III -
"SHE WON'T HOLD OUT MUCH LONGER"
Looking up from the lifeboat, the "Titanic" seemed the biggest thing in the world. I saw many people hanging over the rail. I dis- tinctly heard music, but I do not remember hearing "Nearer my God To Thee". As we drew away, everything was calm and still, with the reflection of the lights on the water, passengers leaning over the rails...nothing to predict the horror of the next few minutes.
A great deal has been said about the screams in the water. I personally heard none, but many stories have been related about survivors in the water clinging to overturned lifeboats and having to be pushed away for fear of the lifeboats being overturned.
After striking out, one of our first thoughts was to look in the boat for a lantern, as we feared another lifeboat might collide with us. We had on board a mate and three young cabin stewards, a number of cabin-class women passengers, seven babies who were separated from their parents, the Turkish bath stewardess, my own room stewardess, and six first-class passengers. I remember that some of them were later very seasick, and the babies were continually screaming and crying. We were lucky to have some men in our boat, as a number had only women, who rowed all night.
Some of the earlier lifeboats had left with few passengers, so reluctant were they to leave the ship; but ours was decidedly overloaded with its 68 passengers. It was scarcely possible to change places for fear of capsizing the boat, and the men could not use the oars properly because of being pressed in on all sides.
All of the seats having been taken some time before I entered the boat, I spent the night sitting on the upright edge of a kind of centerboard, between two oarmen. All the time they rowed I had to lean alternately forwards and backwards, so as not to impede them, but with every stroke, I was nevertheless caught by an oar, either on my chest or on my back. It was this constant thumping which later caused me to develop neuritis - fulfilling the prophesy of Madame de Thèbes, for I did indeed lose my singing voice for all time, and even my speaking voice was seriously affected for two years. (Fortunately I had just been an amateur singer, although with aspirations.) Despite the many stars in the sky, it was the blackest night I have ever seen. The mate, who was in some sort of command, had found a piece of rope. He would light it and let it flare for a few minutes, swinging it around as a signal, and then extinguishing it. His idea was that by flourishing this light he could warn other lifeboats in the vicinity and so prevent our being rammed.
The search for a lantern continued for a long time, but we could not find one; nor could we find a compass or food or drinking water and there were insufficient oars. These things may have seemed rather unimportant for a lifeboat carried by an unsinkable ship. I now looked towards the starboard light of the "Titanic", shining bright green. I noticed that this light seemed to be getting lower, nearer to the water. We had left the liner at about 1.45 a.m. At 2.00 a.m. I looked at my wrist-watch. One of the stewards rowing made the remark: "She won't hold out much longer."
I did not realize even then what he meant, but I heard him say to the other steward: "Let's lean into it and get away or she may still suck us under."
Gradually the green starboard light dropped closer to the water. At about two o'clock green rockets were fired from the upper deck of the ship, her very last call for help. At 2.20 I saw the starboard light disappear into the water. The stern of the ship, fully lighted, stood up to the sky - suggesting a skyscraper by night, so high and straight did it rise into the air. Then it seemed to shoot down into the water, every light blazing. There was a heavy explosion beneath the water, then a second and a third. Contrary to what the men in our boat had feared, these explosions actually thrust us farther away, as by an invisible hand.
Just before the ship went down, there came a huge roar from her, as though from one throat. The men in our boat asked us all to cheer, saying that what we heard were shouts of joy indicating that all aboard had cleared the ship and were saved. And everyone in our boat did actually cheer three times. This, of course, was merely a device to distract us from the awful sound as the ship went down, and it did at least serve that purpose. Somehow or other we were still quite incapable of realizing the full extent of the tragedy in which we were participants.
The only sense of danger was that the cabin boy, searching for the lantern, crawled over our feet in the overcrowded boat, lighting matches and throwing them half burned into the bottom of the boat amongst the few blankets. We begged him not to do this as we feared fire. He said he did not fear fire, but he was terrifying most of us. I also asked the rowers not to smoke, as we might possibly need the few matches for a better purpose later on, and if bits of burned tobacco flew amongst the inflammable clothing of the women and children, it would be dangerous, but this request was ignored. The sea was absolutely calm and there were stars out, but the night was so black that we could see the silent iceflows around us only when our boat came close upon them. Against this background of cold "tranquility" a number of women in the boat had become half hysterical with apprehension over absent husbands and children. The babies fretted and cried all night and I played "La Maxixe" to calm them, twirling the pig's tail around and around to produce the music. Next day the pig could hardly play, so many times had he been called upon.
All the time we were in the boat we noticed a distant light which seemed to come from another ship. I found afterwards it was the "Californian" which, had it come to our rescue, might conceivably have saved all of us. The official enquiry disclosed that their wireless operator had not received our signal, having gone to bed, for this was before the days of round-the-clock radio watches. It also developed later that the "Californian" had tried to signal the "Titanic" by light, to see if we were in trouble, but getting no answer from our stricken ship, assumed that we were alright. Not wishing to risk going further through the icefields at night, the "Californian" just stopped where she was. But how she could have sat there and watched our distress rockets without doing anything, will remain a mystery.
Finally that intense cold which precedes dawn, settled on the water. Only those who have stood a night watch of any kind can realise the peculiarly penetrating chilliness of the half-hour that divides night from morning. In searching for extra clothing for one of the stewards, we suddenly came upon a passenger in the bottom of the boat whom we had not noticed before, although he had been lying practically at my feet. By now there was enough light to recognize him as a stoker. The poor fellow was dead. I suppose he may have jumped head first into the boat, knocked himself unconscious, and had frozen to death without being noticed.
Presently I saw another light on the horizon, and told the young man rowing next to me about it. He was too depressed to believe me. "Madam, don't get imaginative. There is no light and there will not be any light. It's no use looking for good things when none are coming." Another seaman echoed this pessimism. "This is my third shipwreck", he said. If I get out of this one, I'm going back home to be a milkman."
But before long, we all saw the white light and then a red one beneath it, which signified the arrival of the "Carpathia". As the sun rose, beautiful and clear, we rowed as best we could toward the rescue ship, amid ice peaks which made me think of the mountains rising out of the Italian lakes. Brilliantly lighted, she seemed so big that we thought she might be the "Olympic", and we feared her suction.
As we drew closer to the rescue ship, we saw other lifeboats also making for her, and I noted a collapsible raft with Bruce Ismay. At about 8 a.m. my lifeboat, number 11, drew alongside the "Carpathia". Up to that time the sea had remained absolutely calm, but now a great many whitecaps appeated. We were tossing and rolling. Having left the "Titanic" at about 1.45 a.m. this made about 6 1/2 hours that I had spent in the lifeboat, but it seemed only an hour.
The first person to leave our boat was a baby boy, who was hoisted up in a canvas sack and the other babies were hoisted aboard in the same way. One little baby struggled madly and did not want to leave at all.
After this, a "Boatswain's chair", very much like an old-fashioned swing, was lowered for the grown-ups. The women were told to sit on the little wooden seat, close their eyes, and hold on tight to the ropes. Thus we were hoisted with great speed up and into the "Carpathia". Welcoming hands were stretched out to receive us.
Aboard the "Carpathia" survivors stood waiting for other lifeboats to come alongside. By 9 a.m., sixteen boat loads had been picked up, and the captain, convinced that there were no more, gave orders to get underway. The agony of those survivors awaiting the possible arrival of loved ones, was indescribable. The "Californian" was on the scene and was to remain there in case there were still more survivors to be picked up. We were all under the impression that the "Californian" had on board most of our fellow passengers, and few of us anticipated the full extent of the tragedy.
There was nothing on the surface of the water to indicate the horror of the night before except a slight brownish discolouration and bits of straw and wood floating about. Banks of ice extended as far as the eye could see. It was brilliantly sunny but still intensely cold. After we had been underway for about three-quarters of an hour, the ship slowed down and the bodies of six sailors who had been taken on board, but who had died of exposure, were buried in the sea. A priest aboard delivered a prayer.
Soon after our arrival on the "Carpathia", most of us sought out the Wireless Operator, Mr. Cottam, and tried to send messages to our families and friends. We learned from him that he had intercepted the call for help from the "Titanic" and his dramatic wakening of Captain Rostron who brought the ship to our rescue. Mr. Cottam was in the habit of staying up to listen to the late news, and were it not for this, he would not have picked up the S.O.S. from the "Titanic".
At about 11 o'clock on Monday evening, our first night aboard the "Carpathia", there were three blinding flashes of lightning, followed by thunder- claps of such deafening intensity that a number of us from the "Titanic" dashed out on deck. We were still very much on our nerves, and I suppose we felt that perhaps we had escaped one disaster only to run into a greater one. Instead of which, the "Carpathia" simply ran into a dense fog, and the monotonous wailing of her fog signals did not cease from then until we were alongisde the pier in New York on Thursday night, April 18, after 10 p.m. It is no exaggeration to say that with 711 of us added to her own capacity of crew and passengers, this ship was fully loaded. "Carpathia" passengers un- selfishly gave up their own cabins for the most serious cases among the survivors, but most of us willingly bedded down as best we could, on drawing room sofas and even, as in my own case, on dining room tables.
Meanwhile, many of the survivors, buoyed up by false hopes about the safety of their friends and relatives, showed energy and activity. Meetingers were held and resolutions passed. A number of these have since borne fruit, such as those concerning the launching of lifeboats and the creation of ice patrols to warn ships of icebergs.
Many anecdotes were told by survivors.
A Mr.Speddon, disturbed by the "New York" incident as the "Titanic" was leaving Southampton, had made his own inspection of safety devices on board and had observed that there were only 16 lifeboats and 4 collapsible boats, enough for about one-third of the ship's total carrying capacity. He had said to his family: "If anything goes wrong, let us all five stick together." They did, and were saved together. A Monsier Rheims, an importer from Paris, told how before jumping from the ship, he had embraced and said good-bye to his brother-in-law, knowing that the latter could not swim and fearing that they would never see each other again, which they never did. Monsieur Rheims, together with a number of others, had later managed to climb aboard an overturned collapsible boat. There they maintained a precarious balance all night, literally half-submerged in the water. Among them there had been a young woman, thought to have been a Miss Evans from Boston, who had given up her place in a lifeboat to a mother and child. She stood upright, as was necessary, as long as she could. Finally she said to M.Rheims: "I cannot stand any longer. I just must sit down." He told her: "We have to stand to balance the boat or we will drown." She stood a little longer. Her body bent closer and closer to the water until finally she was submerged. She lay dead at his feet for some time, then a wave carried her body out of the boat to the open sea. There was nothing they could do to recover her without upsetting the boat. When M.Rheims was brought aboard the "Carpathia", he could think only of this courageous and unfortunate young woman, although his own suffering had been considerable and his legs were frozen.
After all these years, the memory of the grief of som many brings tears to my eyes. The stories told on the "Carpathia" showed how little the full danger had been realized. One lady who had broken her arm a few hours before the tragedy, had her jewel box with her as she was about to get into a lifeboat. She turned to her husband and gave him the box, saying: "It's too risky for me to carry this with my broken arm. You keep it and bring it to me tomorrow at breakfast." We had all been told by the officers that we would all meet in the morning at breakfast.
Another lady who had given her jewels to her maid about to leave in a lifeboat said: "No, they are far safer with me on the ship." Senator Clark's son was with his wife on their wedding trip. Mrs.Clark asked him to go back to their stateroom to get her pearl necklace that had been given to her as a wedding present. She never saw her husband again.
Most of the passengers seemed to have felt that the order for the women and children to leave the ship was merely a matter of rules and regulations, and that we would later be brought back on board, or that somehow we would all "have breakfast together" in Halifax. I don't know how many times I heard this idea expressed. It simply was inconceivable that this magnificent ship could run afoul of anything so old-fashioned as disaster: or that we should suffer anything greater than a temporary inconvenience which would be set aright with the return of daylight and reality. Similarly, the first newspaper reports in New York said: "Titanic Being Towed to Halifax".
Speaking of being towed to Halifax, while I was playing the music to calm the children, I was constantly sending out a telepathic message to my father to insure my luggage. This was not through any mercenary intent on my part, but I was very much concerned because the clothes I was bringing back from Paris belonged mostly to clients in the States, and I was motivated by my obligation to them. Strangely enough, at that same time my father was cutting the pages of a magazine at our home in Long Island. He was reading in bed and was cutting the pages with a knife given to him by Captain Smith on the "Olympic", the previous year. The blade flew off and he turned to my mother and said: "It's queer, but I am getting odd messages from Edith, telling me to insure her luggage. She seems to be in trouble." My mother answered: "Don't be silly. She's alright." But my father could not sleep. He waited until he heard the newspaper being thrown on to our porch, as they do in country places, and when the saw the headline, TITANIC BEING TOWED TO HALIFAX, STRUCK AN ICEBERG, he rushed up to my mother who said: "Oh well, she'll get to see another place. Edith loves to travel." However, my father took an early train to New York, went to his insurance broker and took out a large policy to cover me. The broker quoted a very low rate and told him to come back to noon to pick up the policy. When my father returned, the premium was 50% and the broker was not at all keen to complete the insurance. Then came rumours of disaster. My father was an agnostic, but he told me later that on leaving his broker's office, he went into every church he could find, of every denomination, and prayed fervently that I should be saved. From that time on he had an abiding faith.
The individual stories were as varied as life itself:
Lady Duff Gordon, of dress fame, was safe on the "Carpathia" with her husband, but she had lost her entire collection of French dresses which she was taking to America. Mrs. Jacques Futerelle, the novelist, was one of the most pathetic cases. On the "Carpathia" she said: Jacques and I were childhood sweethearts. We married when he was 20 and I was 18. We have had 18 years of complete happiness. My forte is writing love stories. How can I continue writing romances when the only real romance I have ever had in my life lies at the bottom of the sea?"
Mrs. Isidor Straus would not leave her husband and stayed on the "Titanic" with him. The "unsinkable" Mrs. Brown, as she was later called, was very busy aboard the "Carpathia" getting up resolutions. Mrs. Brown had made history in Denver when, as a miner's wife she put 350.00 dollars in a stove for safekeeping, forgot about it and then started a nice warm fire. Major Peuchen, of Toronto, and Mrs. Astor, the pregnant, had rowed a lifeboat all night long. Colonel Astor has remained on the ship with his beautiful dog. A notorious gambler who made a living by voyaging on big ships and playing cards, was among thos saved, ironically. One young man forcibly dressed in woman's clothing by his mother, was saved. Mrs. Widener, of Philadelphia, whom I met on the "Titanic" came to me and said: "You told me before we left the "Titanic" that we were only obeying Board of Trade rules and regulations, that I would meet my husband and son at breakfast. Now here I am alone and I fear that they are lost."
The late Colonel Archibald Gracie came to me on board the "Carpathia" and told me that Mr. J. Clinch Smith had jumped with him at the last moment, but he never saw Mr. Smith after striking the water. He told me he had lost his little girl a year before, crushed in a lift accident in Paris. "My manuscript", he added, "fruit of many years labor has gone down with the "Titanic". I am too stunned to get over this. I shall write a story of the "Titanic" and then I shall fold my arms on my chest and die." He wrote a very good book on the "Titanic" disaster and within a year he died.
The rapidity and unexpectedness of the end of the "Titanic" may account for the absence of panic. The ship was so long, too, that it was not very apparent to us, way back where the last lifeboats were being loaded, that the bow had already sunk far into the water. Moreover, the Captain, officers and crew were magnificent. They eventually realized the full extent of the disaster, and they willingly sacrificed their lives to enable the few of us to survive and to keep those who remained on board in a calm frame of mind. Incidentally, this was to have been Captain Smith's last voyage before retirement.
I have always felt that the reason for the disaster was not so much carelessness in navigation as over-confidence in the unsinkableness of the ship. It had affected everyone; passengers had not even been assigned lifeboat stations and no drill had been held.
I have often been asked: "Who paid for your lost merchandise?" It took three years of intensive sacrifice to repay my debts, as the steamship company paid only a small percentage of my personal property losses.
Speaking of debts, before my mother died, she said: "Edith, you must remember to pay your debts," to which I answered: "Why mother, you know it took three years of my life to pay my debts after the "Titanic". I always pay my debts." "I don't mean that", she said. "Because you have been in so many extraordinary accidents and have always been spared, you owe a great debt and each day of your life you should do a kindness to a person or an animal, to show your gratitude." I have tried for years to follow this advice.
During the rest of the voyage in the "Carpathia" the discomforts of overcrowding were more than balanced by the wonderful kindness of everyone on board. It was soon over anyway, and on Thursday as we crept up New York harbor in the heavy fog, the "Carpathia" was suddenly surrounded by boatloads of newspaper men and photographers. These new arrivals yelled at us from their boats through megaphones, offering to pay high prices to any survivors who could produce written accounts or photographs of the disaster, urging us to throw them overboard in bottles. Captain Rostron, ever solicitous of our welfare and feelings, became angry with them; in fact I heard him shout through a megaphone that he would shoot any one of them who tried to come aboard! (Fortunately he did not have to make good this threat.)
While the "Carpathia" was still quite far downstream in New York harbor, some evening newspapers were brought on board from a tug. I was startled to read my name among the missing, fearing the shock this would give my parents.
As we steamed slowly upstream we began to see dimly through the fog the brilliantly lighted buildings. I believe it was the slow tolling of bells as we thus approached the land, which confirmed to us that the sinking of the "Titanic" had indeed been a terrible disaster.
Up to that time, we had not given up hope that the "Californian" or some other vessel, might have picked up many of those who had to remain aboard the sinking ship.
Once alongside the White Star pier, we were told upon leaving the ship to go immediately to the partitions where the initials of our surnames were displayed. I went straight to 'R' and looked around.
I shall never forget that pier. There were thousands of people there, but not a sound - an intense silence - a silence of death. There was no one waiting for me. Did my family really think I was dead? I waited some 10 minutes by the letter 'R' and then, not being able to stand the suspense any longer, ran back towards the gangway. There I found my family! There had been conflicting reports. In some papers I had been reported as missing and in others as saved. My family missed me as I came down the gangway, as they did not recognize me. I had been such a fashion plate and in my long fur coat and wool cap, I was almost disguised.
The quiet of the scene was broken by cries and sobs. Many nurses and doctors were in attendance. Apparently it had been expected that a number of survivors would have to be carried off the "Carpathia" on stretchers, but nearly all those who had been saved were able to walk down the gangway. It is difficult to describe the cruel intensity of that spectacle; the huge but quiet pier, the crying and sobbing among those who had come to meet the ones they loved, buoyed up by a hope to be confirmed or broken. All the time the bells kept tolling, and outside there was a cold drizzle of rain. Under these circumstances, the cannonade of flashes from photographer's lamps as we went into the street seemed a cruelly inappropriate thing.
I had no luggage - only my little pig mascot, which I held tightly under my arm as I walked up the street with my family. That pig is still with me today.
The tragedy of the "Titanic" has remained with me, as it will to my last day. Had it not been for my promise to my mother never to be separated from the toy pig, I would not have been the next-to-last passenger in the last lifeboat of the "Titanic".
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