"The Spectacle Was Quite Fairylike": Pierre Marechal

Pierre Marechal was 29 years old when he boarded Titanic in Cherbourg, France, on the evening of April 10, 1912.

Pierre, a reportedly adroit businessman in the field of aviation, was also a notable son: his father was Eugene Albert Marechal, Vice Admiral of the French Navy, who had passed away 8 years prior in 1904.

French Aviation postcard, circa 1916.


Pierre had been purchased a First-Class ticket. He was assigned to travel to New York on business by his employer, Louis Paulhan & Compagnie, which had been named after the world-famous aviator. Pierre was sent to America to secure the company's new contract with Curtiss Aviation Company.

Pierre was noted by Mr. Dickinson Bishop in his account to Archibald Gracie as “Marechal, the French aviator.” By other accounts, Pierre was the director of Paulhan. Perhaps he was both.

Famous aviator Louis Paulhan circa 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, from the George Grantham Bain Collection.


Pierre was Parisian by birth. And so, while on board Titanic, he naturally fell in with fellow French-speaking First-Class passengers: namely Paul Chevre, a noted sculptor born in Brussels to French citizens, and Alfred Omont, a cotton merchant from Havre.

During the late hours of April 14, Pierre, Paul, and Alfred were playing whist, or as alternately reported, auction bridge, with American First-Class passenger Lucien Smith.

It is sometimes reported that the men were gathered in Pierre’s suite; other times, they are placed in the Cafe Parisien or First-Class Lounge.

Cafe Parisien aboard Titanic, circa March 1912. Photographed by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


Titanic, along with all other vessels in the White Star family, had specially manufactured playing cards exclusively available for its First-Class passengers, and used in the First-Class lounge. These were produced by Chas. Goodall & Son, Ltd., a company which shuttered due to the Great Depression and has since been picked up by the Bicycle brand.

These exclusive cards were “Linette,” because of their refined linen-grain texture. The box, which was featured in red and off-white, read as follows.

LINETTE or Linen-Grained Playing Cards

Duplex. Round corners. Thin. Containing the Joker.

The special feature in these Cards consists in the fact that the surface of both back and face is Granulated or ‘Linen-Grained’ instead of being quite smooth as usual. S very pleasing feel is thus imparted to the Cards in play — they are very easily dealt, and the chance is a mis-deal is considerably lessened.

CHAS GOODALL & SON, Ltd., Camden Works, London, N.W.

The reverse of each playing card featured a White Star design, with the iconic red burgee (id est, flag) surrounded by an ornate Art-Nouveau illustration of gold vines and leaves against a minty green palette. 

And they had gilt edges. But of course.

The group of four reportedly played long into the night—until Titanic struck the iceberg at 11:40pm.

We were startled and looked at one another under the impression that a serious accident had happened. We did not, however, think for a catastrophe, but through the portholes we saw ice rubbing against the ship's sides.

Pierre and his compatriots swept up their fans of cards and pocketed them for their eventual return to the game. Lucien then parted ways with the others to go wake his wife in their cabin, while Pierre, Alfred, and Paul went directly up on deck, despite Paul insisting that it was too cold to go out and investigate. He suggested in vain that a steward just open a porthole.

It was on deck where the three men overheard an officer or steward was overheard snarking a female passenger who inquired about the accident.

“Don’t worry,” the officer apparently told her. “We are only cutting a whale in two.” 

They also witnessed Captain Smith, who they said appeared to encourage lifebelts in an abundance of caution—while chewing nervously on a toothpick.

So Pierre took briefly to his stateroom to put on his coat and lifebelt, and in the moment, decided to grab the book he had brought along on the trip: Sherlock Holmes.

Pierre, Paul, and Alfred were encouraged to board Lifeboat 7 in order to set an example for the numbers of women who were reticent to leave the ship and their spouses. It was further reported by the Elmira Star Gazette that even though Pierre had jumped down into the lifeboat, he had immediately sought to be a gentleman, and along with Paul and Alfred, did what they thought was best to reassure the ladies.

[Pierre Marechal] then went on deck and when he saw a boat descending from the davits, with but a partial load of passengers, Marechel [sic] dropped the height of one boat and landed in the boat. The first person he encountered was a woman in a decoleite gown, who had been in the salon enjoying the concert when the collision occurred. Marechel removed his overcoat and placed it about the woman, and then busied himself at the oars. There were only three other men with him in the boat, and Marechel says that he and his male companions devoted themselves entirely to a strain of bombastic talk of how soon their rescue would come in order to assure the minds of the women passengers.

Lifeboat 7, launched by First Officer William Murdoch, was the first to depart from Titanic at about 12:45am. And so Pierre observed the entirety of the sinking from a distance.

When our boat had rowed about half a mile from the vessel the spectacle was quite fairylike. The Titanic, which was illuminated from stem to stern, was perfectly stationary, like some fantastic piece of stage scenery. The night was clear and the sea perfectly smooth, but it was intensely cold…

Strange to say, the Titanic sank without noise and, contrary to expectations, the suction was very feeble. There was a great backwash and that was all. In the final spasm the stern of the leviathan stood in the air and then the vessel finally disappeared - completely lost.

Lifeboat 7 hosted some elite and unusual people, including film star Dorothy Gibson and a self-proclaimed German count who insisted on spending the night firing off all of his revolver cartridges at the sky. 

But in spite of any shenanigans, this particular description of the aftermath is haunting.

Suddenly the lights went out, and an immense clamour filled the air. Little by little the Titanic settled down, and for three hours cries were heard. At moments the cries were lulled, and we thought it was all over, but the next instant they were renewed in still keener accents. As for us we did nothing but row, row, row to escape from the obsession of the heartrending cries. One by one the voices were stilled.

Later, it was erroneously reported that Pierre did not take to Lifeboat 7 on deck, but instead was pulled in after swimming for 40 minutes. Fancifully, it was said that the always-pristine aviator never even dislodged his monocle during his made-up struggle in the ocean.

The Carpathia arrived as dawn ascended. It was cheered by the occupants of the lifeboats. Pierre, Paul, and Alfred made the collective effort to thank the Carpathia passengers and crew directly.

We cannot praise too highly the conduct of the officers and men of the Carpathia. All her passengers gave up their cabins to the rescued women and the sick, and we were received with every possible kindness.

Once on board the rescue ship Carpathia, the three Frenchmen convened. In a moment of prescience, they each autographed the playing cards that had escaped from Titanic in their pockets. They then sent the autographed cards off to family and unnamed friends back in France. 

To the best of knowledge, the Marechal family received at least the Two of Hearts card.

Pierre disembarked in New York, still in possession of the signed playing cards, his light reading, and of course, his actually-not-magical monocle. Having lost all of his identification papers, he listed his mother, who was back home in Paris, as his next of kin and his destination as the Knickerbocker Hotel.

And then he moved on to Hammondsport, NY, to conduct his business as planned, and he successfully closed the deal with Curtiss Aviation. He had then intended to spend a month-long jolly holiday as a houseguest of the President of Curtiss.

Famous aviator Henri Farman in the Grand Prix d-Aviation, January 13, 1908. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, from the George Grantham Bain Collection..


But after Titanic, Pierre did not have the wherewithal for a month away from his home. And so he boarded the Savoie bound for France on April 25, one week to the day after the Carpathia arrived in New York.

According to some reports, members of the press were present there to bid him adieu.

On April 20, 1912, the Times published the collective personal account on behalf of Pierre Marechal, Paul Chevre, and Alfred Omont. Unless otherwise noted, it is quoted throughout this post.

Pierre returned home safely and eventually settled down in London with his lover, Lily Castelli. They had one son, Jean-Pierre Marechal.

In subsequent years, during the First World War, newspaper misreported acts of heroism on the part of “well-known aviator” Pierre Marechal, when he was not even enlisted in military service, having been deemed medically unfit due to a prior leg fracture. 

(For note: the mistaken accolades should have been directed at an aviator named Anselm Marechal.)

Pierre Marechal died in 1942.

His son Jean-Pierre went on to race hydroplanes and later, motorcars. Unfortunately, he died just 7 years after his father had in 1949, when his Aston Martin crashed during the Le Mans 24-hour race in France.

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