"Like Locusts on a Midsummer Night": Jack Thayer

Jack Thayer boarded Titanic at all of 17 years old, as a First-Class passenger with his parents John and Marian, and Marian's maid Margaret Fleming.

Jack Thayer in his youth.


On April 14, at 11:40 p.m., Jack was winding his watch and preparing for bed when he felt the breeze coming from his open window stop altogether, and the engines ceased their turnings.

He wrote, "The sudden quiet was startling and disturbing. Like the subdued quiet in a sleeping car, at a stop, after a continuous run."

Throwing on a coat over his pajamas, Jack hollered to his parents he was "going out to see the fun" and went up to the boat deck, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary. He moved toward the bow and, as his vision became accustomed to the night, saw pieces of ice on the well deck.

Jack retrieved his parents. On the way, they all noted that Titanic was listing to port.

The Thayers returned immediately to their stateroom and dressed. Jack, in a fit of clarity, put on two vests and a coat to try to safeguard himself from the cold.

Jack, his parents, and Miss Fleming banded together on boat deck until the Women-And-Children-First decree, when they parted ways with Marian and her maid at the top of the Grand Staircase.

Jack and his father assumed Marian and Margaret were safely off the ship, until a steward informed them otherwise. They chased the ladies down, and while John, Marian, and Margaret wandered off looking for a lifeboat, Jack was left behind.

Jack's mother Marian circa 1900, taken when Jack was 6 or 7 years old.


It's possible that Jack was caught up in conversation with Milton Long, an acquaintance he'd only made earlier that same evening over coffee.

Jack and Milton went searching for boats, but the boys were impeded by the melee and missed out. At one point, they paused in between a set of empty lifeboat davits and traced a star's movement as it rose in between the davits, to determine how quickly the ship was going down.

Two collapsible boats were available, but the boys felt uneasy, having seen how precariously the traditional, all-wood lifeboats had been launched.

So they elected to remain on board Titanic instead of seeking placement in any of the collapsible lifeboats.

As Jack and Milton went back and forth on how to proceed, a man came out through a nearby door and staggered by, pounding down an entire bottle of gin as he went. Jack recalled thinking, "If I get out of this, that's one man I'll never see again."

Jack's father, John.


As the ship's angle grew more drastic, the boys heard "deadened explosions" within. Jack was haunted by the sound of it all.

It was like standing under a steel railway bridge while an express train passes overhead, mingled with the noise of a pressed steel factory and wholesale breakage of china.

Excerpt from "The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic" by Jack Thayer.

Jack wanted to jump in and swim for it as he saw people doing down by the stern, but Milton was reticent as he was not a strong swimmer. Eventually, though, Milton relented.

Milton climbed over the railing, and with his legs dangling down, paused and called back, "You are coming, boy, aren't you?" Jack said he'd be right behind him, and Milton slid down the side of the ship.

Jack never saw him again.

Milton Long's corpse was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett, and listed as follows.

CLOTHING - Black clothes; flannel vest, and black and white vest; white shirt marked "M. C. L."; handkerchief marked "M. C. L." (monogram), and brown boots.
EFFECTS - Gold wrist watch; gold ring with crest; three gold studs; keys; pocket box; £30.00 in gold; 12s. 1 1/2d. in purse; letter of credit.

Jack jumped in feet first almost immediately after Milton disappeared in the water. He guessed in his account that Milton was sucked in by the deck, instead of pushed out by the backwash as he himself had been only moments later.

Jack surfaced a fair distance away from the ship, and was transfixed by the sight.

The ship seemed to be surrounded with a glare and stood out of the night as though she were on fire. I watched her. I don’t know why I didn’t keep swimming away. Fascinated, I seemed tied to the spot. Already I was tired out with the cold and struggling, although the life preserver held my head and shoulders above the water.

Excerpt from "The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic" by Jack Thayer.

Jack Thayer's survival is particularly notable because he was one of the minority who insisted that Titanic had broken in half, and never faltered in his assertions.

Suddenly the whole superstructure of the ship appeared to split, well forward to midship, and blow or buckle upwards. The second funnel, large enough for two automobiles to pass through abreast, seemed to be lifted off, emitting a cloud of sparks. It looked as if it would fall on top of me. It missed me by only 20 or 30 feet. The suction of it drew me down and down.

Excerpt from "The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic" by Jack Thayer.

When Jack managed against all odds to resurface, he struck his head on the overturned Collapsible B lifeboat.

Jack was pulled up onto the back of the upside-down "canvas craft," where there were, he guessed, four or five other men already on board.

[Titanic's] deck was turned slightly toward us. We could see groups of the almost 1,500 people still aboard, clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly...

Here it seemed to pause, and just hung, for what felt like minutes. Gradually she turned her deck away from us, as though to hide from our sight the awful spectacle.

We had an oar on our overturned boat. In spite of several men working it, amid our cries and prayers, we were being gradually sucked in toward the great pivoting mass. I looked upwards — we were right underneath the three enormous propellers.

For an instant, I thought they were sure to come right down on top of us. Then, with the deadened noise of the bursting of her last few gallant bulkheads, she slid quietly away from us into the sea...

I don’t remember all the wild talk and calls that were going on on our boat, but there was one concerted sigh or sob as she went from view.

Probably a minute passed with almost dead silence and quiet. Then an individual call for help, from here, from there; gradually swelling into a composite volume of one long continuous wailing chant, from the 1,500 in the water all around us. It sounded like locusts on a midsummer night, in the woods in Pennsylvania.

Excerpt from "The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic" by Jack Thayer.

Jack wrote that, after the sinking, 28 men ended up on the back of Collapsible B.

Every moment was spent desperately trying to keep the upside-down lifeboat from going completely underwater by maintaining a precarious balance on its back.

For hours, all the men on board held utterly still in the oddest and most painful of positions, to keep from slipping into the lethally cold water.

We were standing, sitting, kneeling, lying, in all conceivable positions, in order to get a small hold on the half-inch overlap of the boat’s planking, which was the only means of keeping ourselves from sliding off... I was kneeling. A man was kneeling on my legs with his hands on my shoulders, and in turn somebody was on him. Once we obtained our original position we could not move.

Excerpt from "The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic" by Jack Thayer.

The men prayed.

They sang hymns.

And when daylight finally broke, the Carpathia followed slowly. The men moved to stand, shifting their weights to and fro to the counter the swells as the air pocket that kept the lifeboat afloat continued to diminish. Every moment, more water overtook it.

Finally, hearing the cries from Collapsible B, Lifeboats 4 and 12, which were lashed together, crept over to take the surviving men on board.

Jack's mother was on Lifeboat 4.

He did not notice her. She did not notice him.

The recovery of Collapsible B by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett.


When Jack reunited with his mother on Carpathia, she was reported to have embraced him and asked, "Where's daddy?"

Jack told her that he did not know.

John B. Thayer, Sr., did not survive, and his corpse was not recovered. For the remainder of his life, Jack was dogged by shame and remorse about his father. "I only wish I had kept on looking for my father. I should have realized that he would not have taken a boat, leaving me behind."

Jack was loaned pajamas and a bunk, and before crumpling into bed, he took a desperate shot of brandy, only then realizing it was his first encounter with hard liquor.

Once rested and in possession of his full faculties, Jack spoke with Carpathia passenger L.D. Skidmore, who, while listening to Jack's story, sketched his recollections of Titanic's break.

Jack Thayer's account of Titanic breaking, sketched by Carpathia passenger L.D. Skidmore as Jack spoke to him.


Jack kept a stiff upper lip and by all accounts, persevered to honor Titanic. When Colonel Archibald Gracie--a man whom Jack had shared space with on Collapsible B--passed away in December of 1912, Jack and his mother attended the funeral services.

And when Jack received a letter from the bereaved father of Milton Long, the friend that he had made while on board Titanic, Jack wrote the following reply.

My dear Sir:

I received your letter this morning. Mother and I were very touched by it. Words cannot express how much we sympathise with you and Mrs. Long.

...Your son was perfectly calm all the time and kept his nerve, even to the very end. I wish I had more to tell you, but I hope this will be of some comfort to you. I am sending you my picture, thinking you might like to see who was with him at the end. I would treasure it very much if you could spare me one of his.

With our heartfelt sympathy, believe me,

Sincerely yours, John B. Thayer, Jr.

Jack went on to graduate from UPenn and pursue a banking career, get married, and have six children: three daughters and three sons, although one boy did not survive infancy. Both of Jack's surviving sons, Edward and John, served in the Second World War.

Edward Thayer had signed on as a bomber pilot, and was lost in the conflict when his plane was shot down in the Pacific theater in 1943. His remains were never recovered.

And the following year, on April 14--the anniversary of Titanic's collision with the iceberg--Jack's mother died. Doubly and profoundly bereaved, Jack's depression deepened.

He went missing in September of 1945, when he was 50 years old. He hadn't been seen for days. When he was finally found, he was dead in his car, parked alongside a trolley loop in Philadelphia.

He had slit his wrists, as well as his own throat.

When Jack's belongings were posthumously sorted, a small booklet was discovered; produced in 1940, it was one of 500 copies made for family and friends.


Cornwall, Thomas [compiled & edited by.] "Titanic: The John B. "Jack" Thayer Jr. Chronicles." 2019.


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