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“Steadfast in Peril”: Titanic’s Post Office

"Steadfast in Peril": Titanic's Mail Room

Titanic’s “R.M.S.” designation meant “Royal Mail Steamer.”

The White Star Line, unremarkably, was under contract with the British government to efficiently and expediently transit mail.

And Titanic did in fact carry mail.

3,364 bags of it, to be precise. 

These thousands of sacks, containing multiple millions of pieces of mail, arrived on board at all three port destinations reached.

Most mail bags embarked at Southampton and Cherbourg, with 1,758 at the former port and 1,412 at the latter. A comparatively small amount of 194 followed at Queenstown, before Titanic turned toward the open sea.

Receiving and sorting this mail by journey’s end was the sole responsibility of only five mail clerks. 

Two of these men, James Williamson and John Richard Jago Smith, reported from the ranks of the Royal Mail.

Three American clerks—Oscar Woody, John March, and William Gwinn—joined them from their employ within the United States Postal Service.

Maritime postal clerks were esteemed, to say the least.

These men were elite, with most having been recruited from the Railway Mail Service and Foreign Mail Section after extended service. Such clerks have been noted to sort an average of 60,000 pieces of mail per day with minimal error.

And the five clerks on board Titanic were no exception to this rule of excellence.

Titanic’s postal quarters were split between two deck levels: the Post Office on G Deck, and the Sorting Mail Room on Orlop situated directly beneath it. They were located forward on the starboard side, within the fourth watertight compartment.

Titanic's mail facilities were by all accounts more polished--and far more generous--than any that the postal clerks had previously experienced. 

On most vessels, the mail sorting room was distant from the hold that stored the still-bagged mail, and it was typically constricted and dingy.

Titanic, on the other hand, provided such spacious accommodation. And it boasted an infinitely efficient design: the two rooms were “stacked” one over the other, with a wide companionway connecting them for easy access.

The expansive post office had racks and cubbies for envelopes. Additionally, there was a broad sorting table and even a latticework gate that allowed the clerks to separate registered mail from the rest.

The sleeping quarters originally assigned to Titanic's postal clerks were situated among steerage cabins.

The Postal Museum in London possesses letters from the ship’s inspection on April 9th, the day before her maiden voyage. Therein, the writer(s) take umbrage with conditions of the clerks’ accommodations among Third-Class passengers--and in derogatory terms.

"The [sleeping] Cabins are situated among a block of Third Class cabins, and it is stated the occupants of these latter, who are mostly low class Continentals, keep up noisy conversation sometimes throughout the silent hours and even indulge at times in singing and instrumental music…if their [id est, the mail clerks] work during the day is to be performed efficiently it is essential that they should enjoy a decent sleep at night."

Consequently, the mail clerks were swiftly given alternate, more peaceful accommodations.

They were also reassigned a private dining room on an upper deck--a saloon they shared with the two Marconi operators.

From the moment the Titanic set sail, the five postal clerks would have been at work sorting through the literal thousands of bags of mail in the hold: categorizing all parcels and post according to their intended destinations. 

Additionally, the First- and Second-Class Reading and Writing Rooms had postal boxes stationed outside their doors for passenger use.

The clerks, therefore, may have been alternately tasked with retrieving any such mail—and certainly worked to sort all of that, too.

The goal was to have all mail successfully dispatched at the so-called “quarantine station” in New York Bay, where all incoming ships had to tarry for health inspections.

Therefore, the mail would have disembarked even before the ship’s passengers.

At the time of the iceberg strike, the five men were in their private dining area celebrating the imminent birthday of American postal clerk Oscar Woody.

He would be turning 41 years old the next day, on April 15th.

Upon feeling the collision, the five mail clerks immediately made their way to the post office on G Deck.

Mail on board a ship was considered seriously precious cargo, and the clerks were duty- and honor-bound to safeguard it at all costs. 

And so the men set to bundling and transferring all the mail they could manage into sacks and closing them up for transport to the upper decks.

Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall was sent down to the mail room by Captain Smith.

At the American Senate Inquiry, Boxhall retold his story of meeting the postal clerks. 

Looking down into the open companion way that connected the post office where they stood to the mail hold directly below them, Boxhall stated he saw full-up mail bags floating by.

[Senator Fletcher] 3682. Did you do so?
- I was proceeding down, but I met the carpenter. 

3683. What did you say to him?
- I said, "The captain wants you to sound the ship." He said, "The ship is making water," and he went on the bridge to the captain, and I thought I would go down forward again and investigate; and then I met a mail clerk, a man named Smith, and he asked where the captain was. I said, "He is on the bridge." He said, "The mail hold is full" or "filling rapidly." I said, "Well, you go and report it to the captain and I will go down and see," and I proceeded right down into the mail room.

3684. What did you find there?
- I went down as far as the sorting room deck and found mail clerks down there working.

3685. Doing what?
- Taking letters out of the racks, they seemed to me to be doing.

3686. Taking letters out of the racks and putting them into pouches?
- I could not see what they were putting them in.

3687. You could not see what disposition they were making of them?
- I looked through an open door and saw these men working at the racks, and directly beneath me was the mail hold, and the water seemed to be then within 2 feet of the deck we were standing on.

3688. What did you do in that situation?
- (continuing): And bags of mail floating about. I went right on the bridge again and reported to the captain what I had seen.

In a contemporary report, Officer Boxhall reportedly recounted his time in the mail room with further detail.

According to Boxhall, the clerks continued their work even as the post office began to flood not five minutes later.

They began hauling the heavy sacks--at least 100 lbs each, one under each arm--moving waist-deep through the frigid seawater.

Over and over again.

"When he got down to E deck, where the mailroom was located, he says he found it awash. Gwinn was there in his nightclothes, having rushed down from his room two decks above. Three other clerks were also there and all were bundling registered mail in sacks. It is estimated that its value was $800,000.

Boxhall says that the four men loaded themselves with heavy sacks of mail and stumbled on decks. at that time the boats were being launched."

Eventually, the struggling mail clerks appealed to the stewards for aid, and bedroom steward Alfred Theissinger obliged.

Alfred later recalled the following.

"I urged them to leave their work. They shook their heads and continued at their work. It might have been an inrush of water later that cut off their escape, or it may have been the explosion. I saw them no more."

All in all, Titanic’s postal clerks salvaged approximately 200 bags of mail from the post office on G Deck—but in the end, none were saved.

Tragically, nor were they.

All five men—Woody, Smith, Williamson, March, and Gwinn—died that night.

Two of their bodies were retrieved from the sea by the MacKay-Bennett: John March, and Oscar Woody.

The United States Postmaster General stated the following in a recommendation to the Postal Committee of the House of Representatives.

"The bravery exhibited by these men," [Postmaster General] Hitchcock said, "in their efforts to safeguard under such trying conditions the valuable mail intrusted [sic] to them should be a source of pride to the entire Postal Service, and deserves some marked expression of appreciation from the Government."

In Britain, a memorial was dedicated in Southampton: it reads “Steadfast in Peril.”

In 1999, a documentary revealed that the mailroom was accessible via the front cargo hatch. 

Inside the post office on G Deck, the underwater robot--called Robin--found the mail sorting table, overturned and slowly rotting. Nearby, the latticework fence that segregated registered mail from the rest was open.

Then Robin descended further into the mail room on Orlop deck.

There, the submersible encountered canvas bags, grown over with sea life, and still full of mail.

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“A Ship Full of Flowers”: Sensory Titanic

"A Ship Full of Flowers": Sensory Titanic

When passengers embarked on the RMS Titanic on April 10, 1912, in Southampton, they legitimately could smell the fresh paint.

And by many accounts, it was pretty awful.

Much like anywhere else—and despite the impressions of austerity invariably imparted by black-and-white photographs—Titanic was a world of scents. Some were pleasant, most were reportedly overpowering.

And all collaborated in a perfume at once chemical, decadent, and grim.

According to multiple firsthand accounts, Titanic reeked of fresh paint and varnish. 

The exterior was painted, of course, with the iconic red portion of the hull protected with a so-called anti-fouling medium made by Suter, Hartman & Rahtjens.

But the rooms and corridors, newly painted a pristine and untouched swan feather white, are what inspired passenger complaints.

Lillian Asplund, a steerage passenger who was six years old when she boarded Titanic, later recalled, "I remember not liking the smell of fresh paint."

Meanwhile, Second-class passenger Kate Buss wrote in a letter home, "The only thing I object to is new paint so far."

Third-class passenger Jane von Tongerloo was so displeased with the smell, recalled her daughter, that she left the cabin door ajar just to get a modicum of fresh air.

The combination of oil-based paint and linseed oil was a heady aroma under the best of circumstances, but could prove particularly difficult to overcome, when ventilation was primarily achieved via portholes. Opening these, of course, subjected the room to the fickle April chill.

The smell of paint even sickened some passengers, causing symptoms such as head pain.

The White Star Line reportedly made attempts to mask the chemical odors with an absolute excess of floral arrangements.

White Star flooded both suites and various public spaces with bouquets--to such a degree that one passenger later described Titanic as "a ship full of flowers."

The plentitude of flowers on board Titanic were all provided by a single nursery: F.G. Bealing & Son of Southampton.

The horticultural florist firm had begun supplying the White Star Line when the company arrived on the scene in Southampton in 1907. It was a connection achieved via Bealings's existing relationship with Oakley & Watling, White Star Line's exclusive fruit supplier.

In the evening hours of April 9th, Mr. Frank Bealing, his son, and his foreman Bill Geapin loaded all the flowers, palms, and potted plants into mule-drawn carts, and pulled up alongside the mammoth liner in its quay.

The men set down all the flowers on a tarp in one of Titanic's main foyers, and set to work distributing them about the ship.

Decorative plants were staged partly at the direction of White Star staff and partly per the Bealings's tastes, although they likely would have attempted to mimic the placements they'd done on Titanic' elder sister Olympic.

Fresh-cut flowers, meanehile, were stored in the Titanic's G-Deck storage room labeled "Passenger Fruits & Flowers."

It is also rumored that Bealing buttonhole carnations were handed out to the First-Class passengers on sailing day, and many likely found their ways down into the water below. A local boy who went to see Titanic off recalled that "all the people on deck were waving and throwing flowers down, and they were all going into the sea."

There are varying reports of the substance of floral bouquets upon First-Class dining tables for each meal.

Perhaps each table was alternately arranged with a unique bouquet, suggesting a theme; perhaps the variations in their retellings are simply mistakes of memory.

Lady Duff-Gordon wrote of her dinner table in the A La Carte restaurant on April 14th, "We had a big vase of beautiful daffodils on the table, which were fresh as though they had just been picked."

Meanwhile, Mahala Douglas recalled that while attending the dinner party for Captain Smith on the at very same evening that those tables were adorned with bouquets of pink roses and white daisies.

And Lily May Futrelle recalled with a flourish that her dinner table boasted a "great bunch" of American Beauty roses.

In addition to all the flowers already on board, a number of passengers received “Bon Voyage” flower baskets from acquaintances—among them, First-Class passenger Ida Straus.

"You cannot imagine how pleased I was to find your exquisite basket of flowers in our sitting room on the steamer. The roses and carnations are all so beautiful in color and so fresh as though they had just been cut."

Citation courtesy of "On Board RMS Titanic," by George Behe. 2012.

Lady Duff-Gordon also boarded with a basketful of flowers: lilies of the valley--her signature bloom--gifted to her on the train platform in Paris as she departed for the port of Cherbourg, by the salon girls in her employ.

Floral arrangements within First-Class suites and cabins reportedly consisted of carnations, and were changed daily.

This routine apparently included a rotation of flower vases in the bathrooms, as Lady Duff-Gordon recounted in her survivor account.

"Just then, a steward knocked. 'Sorry to alarm you, madame, but Captain's orders are that all passengers must put on lifebelts.'

Before we followed him out of the cabin, as I looked round it for the last time, a vase of flowers on the washstand slid off and fell with a crash to the floor."

It should be noted, however, that botanical fumes in First-Class cabins were not exclusively due to zealous floral placement.

They also emanated from bath products supplied by the White Star Line.

Titanic, much like any hotel, also provided complimentary toiletries to its guests.

In particular, White Star provided “Vinolia Otto Toilet Soap” exclusively to its esteemed First-Class clientele on all of its vessels.

The soap was produced by the Vinolia Company Limited, an English company that existed as early as 1894.

Vinolia Otto was advertised as the “standard of Toilet Luxury and comfort at sea… perfect for sensitive skins and delicate complexions… and for regular Toilet use there is no soap more delightful.”

Vinolia likewise claimed its product was “just the soap to counteract the effect of the salt sea upon the skin.”

It reportedly had strong scents of roses and lemon, leading to reasonable assumption that the soap was named after its source botanical component: rose oil, which is more elegantly referred to as “an attar of roses” or “Rose Otto”.

Speaking of roses: perfumes were of course in use in 1912, and likely would have also contributed to Titanic's olfactory atmosphere.

And although determining which branded perfumes may have been on board Titanic is speculative at best, enthusiasts have made some informed guesswork based upon the popularity of various perfumes in the spring of 1912.

Two such perfumes were by Jacques Guerlain: called Jicky, and L’Heure Bleu.

The former was made up of vanilla and lavender with a secondary citrus essence, while the latter left a powdery, dusky impression due to spicy aniseed and violet notes. A stroll across Titanic's decks may very well have been visited by one of these scents woven into the cool salt air.

It is likely that same walk down the promenade would also have been accompanied by the rich aroma of tobacco.

Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes were welcomed throughout the vessel, save for a few areas, such as the First-Class Dining Saloon during mealtimes and the corridors.

Smoking was likewise forbidden in the Palm Court on A Deck, a  point of contention that turned the room into a de facto playground on Titanic’s sister Olympic.

But smoking was otherwise permissible in most locations. It was so ubiquitous, in fact, that during a review of the Olympic, White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay advocated for additional cigar-holders to be installed above the urinals in the men's lavatories.

Additionally, the Cafe Parisien on B Deck seemed particularly popular for fashionable young cigarette smokers on board the Titanic.

Crew members were only permitted to smoke while off-duty, although surely this rule was bent to break.

Stewardess Violet Jessop wrote in her memoir that she caught at least one steward defying the rule on the boat deck, in the middle of evacuations.

"A steward stood waiting with his back to the bulkhead, cigarette in mouth and hands in his pockets. It struck me forcibly as the first time I had ever seen a steward stand thus amid a group of distinguished guests."

Excerpt from "Titanic Survivor: The New Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop," written by Violet Jessop and edited by John Maxtone-Graham. 1997.

Officers were assigned their own Smoking Room, and it is reasonable to assume it was frequented.

Fifth Officer Harold Lowe was photographed with a pipe on multiple occasions throughout his career, as was Second Officer Charles Lightoller. First Officer William Murdoch was reportedly a smoker as well.

Cigars, meanwhile, were the proud enjoyment of many an elite gentleman on board, including Captain E.J. Smith. Smith's daughter once recounted that her father was so precious with his cigars that he would insist that other people in the room stay utterly still, so as not to disturb the blue-smoke haze.

On to a less pleasant smell than all the others: the iceberg that sank Titanic. Multiple survivors attested to the rank odor of nearby icebergs on the night of April 14th.

Crewmember Frank Winnold Prentice stated, "You could smell ice; I knew it, because you can smell it… keenness, a keenness in the air. There’s something about ice you can smell," in a filmed interview in 1983.

In his testimony before the British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry, lookout George Symons also recalled that he could smell ice in the vicinity.

Had you noticed anything to lead you to think you might meet icebergs before you got that message?
- Yes; just a small conversation, I think, about 9 o'clock. My mate turned round from time to time and said, "It is very cold here." I said, "Yes; by the smell of it there is ice about." He asked me why, and I said, "As a Rule you can smell the ice before you get to it."

Perhaps the recollection of Elizabeth Weed Shutes, however, is the most evocative of all.

Elizabeth was restless on the night of April 14th, irked and unnerved by the foul scent pervading her cabin.

"Such a biting cold air poured into my stateroom that I could not sleep, and the air had so strange an odor, as if it came from a clammy cave. I had noticed that same odor in the ice cave on the Eiger glacier."

Citation Courtesy of "On Board RMS Titanic," by George Behe. 2012.

The crash came moments thereafter.


Hyslop, Donald, Alastair Forsyth, and Sheila Jemima. "Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage." Sutton Publishing Limited, 1997.

Behe, George. "On Board RMS Titanic: Memories of the Maiden Voyage." The History Press, 2012.

Jessop, Violet. "Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop Who Survived Both the Titanic and Britannic Disasters." Annotated by John Maxtone-Graham. Sheridan House, Inc., 1997.

"Titanic: A Question of Murder," 1983. Youtube URL:

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“Let Go the After Fall”: Lead Stoker Frederick Barrett

"Let Go the After Fall": Lead Stoker Frederick Barrett

There isn’t too much information available about Frederick William Barrett’s early years. He was born and baptized in 1883, near Liverpool, England; in 1891, he was noted on the census as a wheelwright, also known as a carman.

It is unknown when exactly Frederick Barrett turned to the sea, although rumor has it that he did so after discovering that his wife was having an affair with another man while he was at work. 

Regardless, he is first discoverable on a crew manifest in 1903, as a fireman aboard the Campania.

The RMS Campania, Fred Barrett's first known vessel. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Fred signed onto Titanic on April 6, 1912, as a lead stoker. Curiously, he was one of two men named “Frederick William Barrett” who were hired onto Titanic as firemen.

Immediately following departure on Wednesday, April 10, Fred received orders alongside about a dozen other firemen to empty out the coal bunker in Boiler Room 6 because of a fire. It took three full days, until Saturday, to get it done.

Fred reported that he noted warping and fire damage in the bulkhead.

When Titanic struck the iceberg on Sunday night, Fred was once again in Boiler Room 6. He was speaking to an engineer named James Helsketh when a bell rang and a red light flashed on; Fred immediately called for the dampers to be shut.

Almost simultaneously, there was an enormous crash and water shot into the boiler room from the ship’s side. Fred and James managed to get into Boiler Room 5 just in time, as the watertight door was descending and about to lock. Then they saw it.

The water was flooding into that room, too.

Fred went back into Boiler Room 6 with another engineer, Jonathan Shepherd, within 15 minutes of the collision, and testified later that the water was already 8 feet high.

All firemen were then ordered to go up top on deck. But Fred was ordered to stay behind.

While he waited with Jonathan and another engineer, the lights extinguished, and Fred was sent to retrieve lamps. 

Shortly thereafter, Fred was ordered by Junior Assistant Engineer Herbert Harvey to lift the manhole cover in order to get at some valves. As this was happening, Jonathan Shepherd ran past, and in the thick steam, did not notice the hole. And he fell in and broke his leg.

Fred and Herbert carried Jonathan away to the pump room to care for him as best they could. 

Soon, the bulkhead between Rooms 5 and 6 buckled, and sea water rushed in. Herbert Harvey screamed an order to Fred: to go up top immediately.

That was the last time Fred, or anyone else, saw Herbert Harvey or Jonathan Shepherd.

Fred climbed a hatchway all the way up to A Deck, and found that there were only two wooden lifeboats still aboard: Lifeboat 13, and Lifeboat 15, both on the starboard side and under the supervision of First Officer William Murdoch.

Fred chose Lifeboat 13.

He later testified that the boat was close to capacity when he literally jumped in, and that a handful of people followed his example. From up above, he heard one of the officers shout that no more should be let in the lifeboat, because the falls would break. Next door, so to speak, Lifeboat 15 also began lowering.

When 13 reached the water, it began drifting due to the water discharged from Titanic’s side.

And it drifted directly underneath Lifeboat 15.

Everyone in Lifeboat 13 shrieked and hollered for those above to stop lowering Lifeboat 15, but they couldn’t be heard. Fred began screaming to the officers up top to “Let go the after fall.”

Lifeboat 15 was bearing down on them and closing the distance fast. Fred scrambled over everyone and dashed to cut through the falls with his knife.

Fred push the boat away within seconds of Lifeboat 15 splashing down beside them.

Lawrence Beesley, who was one of the few men from Second Class to survive, was an occupant of Lifeboat 13 and described the near-disaster as follows. (It should be noted that he mistakes the other lifeboat as No. 14, when it was in fact Lifeboat 15.)

'Stop lowering 14,' our crew shouted, and the crew of No. 14, now only twenty feet above, shouted the same. But the distance to the top was some seventy feet and the creaking pulleys must have deadened all sound to those above, for down she came- 15 feet, 10 feet, 5 feet, and a stoker and I reached up and touched her swinging above our heads, but just before she dropped another stoker sprang to the ropes with his knife.

'One," I heard him say. 'Two,' as his knife cut through the pulley ropes, and the next moment the exhaust steam has carried us clear while boat no. 14 dropped into the water into the space we had the moment before occupied, our gunwales almost touching.

Written by survivor Lawrence Beesley, as cited in "On Board RMS Titanic: Memories of the Maiden Voyage" by George Behe.

And that is how Fred Barrett saved himself and the approximate 70 other people in Lifeboat 13.

There were so many people in Lifeboat 13 that the gunwale was maybe 6 inches above the water.

Once the lifeboat was clear of Titanic, Fred realized that there was no officer in the boat. And so he took command, despite the fact that he was wearing nothing more on his shoulders than the thin shirt he’d been wearing on duty when the collision occurred.

Q. What officer was in charge?

A. No officer in it. Because I had no clothes I felt myself giving out and gave it to someone else. I do not know who it was.

But after enduring for an hour in the raw chill, Fred became too cold to carry on, and forfeited the tiller to another man.

A woman wrapped Fred Barrett in a cloak, and he fell asleep. Hours later, when the Carpathia was in sight of the lifeboats, those occupants of Lifeboat 13 rowed toward it, all while singing the hymn "Pull for the Shore."

Fred was called before the Senate Inquiry. And in May of 1912, when Senator William Alden Smith, the head of the Inquiry, toured RMS Olympic, he was informed by the captain that “one of [his] stokers” had been on board Titanic. So Fred Barrett was joined by Senator Smith in the boiler rooms to discuss Fred’s firsthand experience.

Fred Barrett went on to marry in 1915, and stayed at sea until the early 1920s. He was widowed after only 7 years of marriage, in 1923.

Fred Barrett died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1931, at the age of 48. His one surviving child, a son named Harold, was 10 years old.

The other Fred Barrett on board Titanic did not survive the sinking.


Behe, George. "On Board RMS Titanic: Memories of the Maiden Voyage." The History Press, 1912.

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“Honor and Glory Crowning Time”: The Grand Staircase

"Honor and Glory Crowning Time": The Grand Staircase

It is a truth universally acknowledged that one cannot think of Titanic without seeing, in the mind’s eye, the Grand Staircase.

And for good reason. The Grand Staircase was installed in all three Olympic-class vessels, and was the opulent centerpiece of each ship. 

Titanic’s Grand Staircase, in particular, has achieved an almost otherworldly status, though, because it’s so often recreated in media.

Despite the impression this often gives, the Grand Staircase was, of course, designed to do what any proper staircase does: functionally connect floors.

The Grand Staircase reached from Boat Deck all the way to E Deck. Elevators were also located just forward of the Staircase from A through E Decks.

First-Class elevators on RMS Olympic, circa 1911.


The Grand Staircase was constructed from Irish oak in the William & Mary style.

And at its top was an astonishing and elaborate dome made from glass and wrong iron, from the center of which hung a gilted crystal chandelier.

“It was an object of great splendour,” proclaimed the White Star Line. “A fitting crown as it were these the largest and finest steamers in all the world.”

The glass dome was backlit during the evening hours thanks to a protective box that was installed around it, to protect it from the worst of the sea elements.

On A Deck, the floor of the landing was comprised of linoleum tiles, which were milk-colored and interspersed with onyx medallions.  Blue sofas and armchairs, as well as potted palms, decorated this landing, as well as each subsequent level of the Grand Staircase.

There was also a piano on the Boat Deck level, so the band could entertain in the stairwell.

At the base of the Grand Staircase on A Deck was a bronze cherub holding a torch; replicas are thought to have decorated the bases of B and C Decks. On D Deck, the base of the Staircase boasted an electrically lit gilt candelabra.

Color illustration of Grand Staircase from White Star Brochure, circa 1911.


White Star released a promotional brochure in 1911 for both Olympic and Titanic, and did they love them some Grand Staircase.

We leave the deck and pass through one of the doors which admit us to the interior of the vessel, and, as if by magic, we at once lose feeling that we are on board a ship, and seem instead to be entering the hall of some great house on shore. Dignified and simple oak panelling covers the walls, enriched in a few places by a bit of elaborate carved work... 

In the middle of the hall rises a gracefully curving staircase, its balustrade supported by light scrollwork of iron with occasional touches of bronze, in the form of flowers and foliage. Above all a great dome of iron and glass throws a flood of light down the stairway...

Looking over the balustrade, we see the stairs descending to many floors below, and on turning aside we find we may be spared the labour of mounting or descending by entering one of the smoothly-gliding elevators which bear us quickly to any other of the numerous floors of the ship we may wish to visit.

As written in the White Star promotional brochure "Olympic" / & "Titanic" / Largest Steamers in the World," 1911.

The portion of the Staircase that you’re probably envisioning right now—with the glass dome and the famous clock—was A Deck, which was considered dual-level.

The interior balcony with the ornate arched windows and potted ferns (that looked down onto A Deck with the dome directly overhead) was Boat Deck.

Grand Staircase, Boat Deck Level, on RMS Olympic. Taken by William Herman Rau.


The Grand Staircase was accessible exclusively to First-Class passengers. It functioned as the point of entry to First-Class public rooms and staterooms; the rooms that could be accessed from each deck were as follows.

Boat Deck: opposing corridors granted access to the Officers Quarters and the Marconi Room. The entrance to the First-Class Gymnasium was next door to the Starboard entrance to the Grand Staircase.

A Deck: access to the Reading & Writing Room, as well as the Lounge, which were entered through revolving doors. Also granted entrance to the Promenade Deck, and First-Class staterooms.

B Deck: Both of the “Millionaires’ Suites” were accessible from B Deck, as well as the most lavish of the First-Class staterooms.

C Deck: The Purser’s office, as well as the Enquiries office, were immediately off the Staircase to the Starboard side. More First-Class staterooms were also accessible via companionways.

D Deck: Opened directly onto the Reception Room, and the Dining Saloon was adjacent to that. First-Class staterooms were once again accessible behind the staircase.

E Deck: Only cabins were accessible via E Deck. From here, a modest staircase could be taken down to F Deck to get to certain athletics facilities that were located on F Deck, such as the swimming pool and the Turkish baths.

The well-known ornate clock on A Deck, which was located directly below the glass dome, actually had a name, so to speak. It was called “Honour and Glory crowning Time.” 

The clock was carved from solid oak, and its design was inspired by a "monumental" chimney that had been designed for none other than Napoleon Bonaparte.

That chimney was illustrated in the publication “Recueil de decorations interieures” in 1812; it was made of white marble and gilt bronze, and was installed in 1810. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a fire in 1871.

Plate of "monumental" chimney, designed for Napoleon Bonaparte by Percier and Fontaine, 1812.


“Honour and Glory crowning Time” was a so-called slave clock.

This meant that it, along with 24 other clocks within the ship, were beholden to a master clock located in the wheel house that all worked in synchronity. There were two master clocks on Titanic, each of which controlled 25 slave clocks.

A man by the name of Charles Wilson carved the central portion of the clock.

Mr. Wilson recalled that when Titanic departed from Belfast on April 3, 1912, the timepiece was not ready. A circular mirror, therefore, was installed as a holdover until the clock face was ready.

Charles Wilson, therefore, reasoned that the completion of clock had to have occurred while Titanic was docked in Southampton, between April 3, 1912, and her departure on April 10.

Grand Staircase of RMS Olympic, first published in "The Shipbuilder" in 1911.


While A Deck had the allegorical clock, Decks B through E had oil paintings installed on their landings. 

There was also an Aft Grand Staircase located between the third and fourth funnels; unlike its counterpart, it only reached only from A Deck to C Deck. From the Aft Grand Staircase, passengers could reach the Smoking Room and Lounge, as well as the A La Carte Restaurant the Cafe Parisien. 

The Grand Staircase does not exist within the wreck. It is thought that each segment of the Staircase broke apart and floating out during the sinking, or was shattered by the hydraulic blast caused by the bow’s impact with the seabed. Otherwise, it simply rotted away prior to the discovery of the wreck in 1985. 

Where the Grand Staircase once was, is a deep and lightless well. But this has allowed for quite convenient ROV entry into Decks A through D.

Recognizable elements of the foyers that surrounded the Grand Staircase are still visible and intact, such as ceiling fixtures and a few carved pillars, as well as oak beams.

The Aft Grand Staircase was summarily decimated, because it was located where Titanic ruptured and broke. 

It should be noted that all of the photos included herein are of Titanic's elder sister, the RMS Olympic. No photos of Titanic's Grand Staircase are known to exist.

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“We Must Get Them Into the Boats”: Colonel Archibald Gracie IV

"We Must Get Them Into the Boats": Colonel Archibald Gracie IV

Archibald Gracie IV was the All-American sort of American.

He was born in Mobile, Alabama, in January of 1858. At the onset of the American Civil War, his father defied his Unionist family and in 1862, he became a general in the Confederate Army. He was killed while he was looking through a spyglass at Petersburg in 1864, when an artillery shell exploded in front of him.

The young Gracie wasn’t yet 6 years old when his father died, and that same year, was sent to boarding school in New Hampshire. Gracie IV grew up to attend (but not graduate) from West Point and become a colonel in the 7th New York Regiment.

Archibald Gracie IV.


Colonel Gracie ended up on Titanic after a solo trip to Europe to decompress; he had spent 7 years writing a book about the Battle of Chickamauga, which his late father had been in.

Gracie spent his time as one would expect a dapper gentleman of stature to, and we know a great deal about how he occupied himself thanks to his account of the sinking, written shortly after the disaster in 1912.

And did he enjoy himself.

During the first days of the voyage, from Wednesday to Saturday… I had devoted my time to social enjoyment and to the reading of books taken from the ship’s well-supplied library. I enjoyed myself as if I were in a summer place on the sea shore, surrounded with every comfort—there was nothing to indicate or suggest that we were on the stormy Atlantic ocean.

Excerpt from "Titanic: A Survivor's Story," by Archibald Gracie, 1912 (reprinted by Sutton Publishing, 2008.)

During his time on “this floating palace,” Colonel Gracie offered his services to a group of women traveling alone. This was a common practice at the time, to escort unaccompanied ladies to ensure their safety and well-being.

Colonel Gracie also spent a great deal of time with Isidor and Ida Straus, whose story of tragic devotion is easily the most famous of all the couples on board Titanic.

Colonel Gracie and Isidor were both armchair historians, and they made a hobby out of discussing the American Civil War, as they had both been affiliated to the Confederate cause. Gracie lent Isidor a book about Chickamauga—his own book, naturally.

Isidor returned it with gratitude to the Colonel on Sunday, April 14, 1912.

Isidor Straus, taken on February 6, 1906. From the George Grantham Bain Collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Gracie was also an esteemed member of an impromptu and exclusive club called “Our Coterie,” a group of seven writers, including Hugh Woolner and Edward Austin Kent, who met every day. It was essentially Titanic’s Finer Things Club.

On Sunday morning, Colonel Gracie spent a concentrated amount of time exercising, and made a point to take advantage of Titanic’s many athletic facilities, including the gymnasium, the racquetball court, and the heated swimming bath. The latter activity clearly caused him some mental anguish as he thought back on the sinking.

When Sunday morning came, I considered it high time to begin my customary exercises… I was up early before breakfast and met the profession racquet player in a half hour’s warming up, preparatory for a swim in the six-foot deep tank of salt water, heated to a refreshing temperature. In no swiming [sic] bath had I ever enjoyed such pleasure before. How curtailed that enjoyment would have been had the presentiment come to me telling how near it was to being my last plunge, and that before dawn of another day I would be swimming for my life in mid-ocean, under water and on the surface, in a temperature of 28 degrees Fahrenheit!

…Such was my morning preparation for the unforeseen physical exertions I was compelled to put forth for dear life at midnight, a few hours later. Could any better training for the terrible ordeal have been planned?

Excerpt from "Titanic: A Survivor's Story," by Archibald Gracie, 1912 (reprinted by Sutton Publishing, 2008.)

This was hardly Colonel Gracie’s only moment of irony within his written narrative. He also wrote of returning a book to the First-Class library, and remarked, "How little I thought that in the next few hours I should be a witness and a party to a scene to which this book could furnish no counterpart."

Gracie was awoken by the collision with the iceberg. He testified to hearing the ship’s steam sound off. He also felt the engines cease, though it was only “slight.”

All through the voyage the machinery did not manifest itself at all from my position in my stateroom, so perfect was the boat. I looked out of the door of my stateroom, glanced up and down the passageway to see if there was any commotion, and I did not see anybody nor hear anybody moving at all; but I did not like the sound of it, so I thought I would partially dress myself, which I did, and went on deck.

I went on what they call the A deck. Presently some passengers gathered around. We looked over the sides of the ship to see whether there was any indication of what had caused this noise. I soon learned from friends around that an iceberg had struck us.

Presently along came a gentleman… who had ice in his hands. Some of this ice was handed to us with the statement that we had better take this home for souvenirs. Nobody had any fear at that time at all.

Colonel Gracie went about assisting people into boats—including the ladies that he had made his special charges—and was witness to some of Titanic's most noted partings, including those of the John Jacob Astor and his pregnant young wife. Gracie was also one of those who tried to persuade Mrs. Straus to part with Isidor and get into a lifeboat, but she refused.

I had heard them discussing that if they were going to die they would die together. We tried to persuade Mrs. Straus to go alone, without her husband, and she said no. Then we wanted to make an exception of the husband, too, because he was an elderly man, and he said no, he would share his fate with the rest of the men, and that he would not go beyond. So I left them there.

Unsurprisingly, Colonel Gracie did not take to a lifeboat.

He spent most the sinking assisting Second Officer Charles Lightoller in filling lifeboats and providing those passengers with blankets.

Gracie was also vital to the launch of the so-called "collapsible" lifeboats, handing over his penknife to help cut the boats free from the roof of the officers quarters. They successfully loosed Collapsibles A, C, and D.

But as they worked frantically on Collapsible B, the bridge dipped; Gracie and his friend, who he had been with for most of the ordeal, moved toward the stern. Caught in the crowd of passengers, the water rushed up to meet them.

Colonel Gracie jumped with the wave and grabbed for the bottom rung of a ladder, and pulled himself onto the roof.

So the ship went down.

And Gracie with it.

Down, down I went: it seemed a great distance. There was a very noticeable pressure upon my ears…

Just at the moment I thought that for lack of breath I would have to give in, I seemed to have been provided a second wind, and it was just then that the thought that this was my last moment came upon me. I wanted to convey the news of how I died to my loved ones at home. As I swam beneath the surface of the ocean, I prayed that my spirit could go to them and say, ‘Goodbye, until we meet again in heaven.’

Finally I noticed by the increase of light that I was drawing near the surface. Though it was not daylight, the clear star-lit night made a noticeable difference in the degree of light immediately below the surface of the water... Looking about me, I could see no Titanic in sight. She had entirely disappeared...

What impressed me at the time that my eyes beheld the horrible scene was a thin light-gray smoking vapor that hung like pall a few feet about the broad expanse of sea that was covered with a mass of tangled wreckage.

Excerpt from "Titanic: A Survivor's Story," by Archibald Gracie, 1912 (reprinted by Sutton Publishing, 2008.)

Gracie grabbed a hold of a wooden crate and found his way to--of all lifeboats--Collapsible B, which had floated away upside down when Titanic's deck was submerged.

By Gracie's estimates, there were approximately a dozen men on top of the capsized boat when he managed to pull himself aboard, and about a dozen followed him. All in all, Gracie guessed there were about 30 on Collapsible B.

The boat was kept afloat by an air pocket that inevitably diminished as their weight bore down and the night wore on; multiple survivors speak of the water washing over them.

No one could move. And it was this precarious situation, as the lifeboat sank deeper, that caused the survivors on Collapsible B to deny other survivors who swam near.

Colonel Gracie turned his head away, lest he be begged and made to refuse. There are reports of men being beaten away with oars. And a report, supported by Gracie and another survivor, that a man who was told off replied with, "All right, boys; good luck, and God bless you."

With the morning came the swell of the sea, and the air pocket within leaked. Second Officer Lightoller, the ad hoc leader of Collapsible B and the highest-ranked officer to survive, arranged for the men to stand and shift their weights to counteract the swells.

By the time they were rescued, the water was up to their knees, and multiple men had died.

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


Colonel Gracie had to drag himself into Lifeboat 12 when they pulled up alongside Collapsible B. Per his account, there was a dead man in the boat, whose identity has never been determined. Gracie said that he tried desperately to revive him, but it was in vain.

On board Carpathia under a pile of blankets, Colonel Gracie found his body and legs had been cut; he had, it turned out, also sustained a wound to his head.

He was graciously nursed by other survivors, including Frederic and Daisy Spedden, as well as their son’s nursemaid Elizabeth Burns, who provided him with warm drinks. He made a point of thanking them in his manuscript.

Colonel Gracie testified in the resulting Senate Inquiry and set immediately to write a book about the sinking. It is, as you have seen, extraordinarily detailed. He spent a considerable amount of time performing research, curating peer survivor accounts, and determining who was in each lifeboat.

But however bombastic he seems in his writing, the truth is that Colonel Gracie’s vitality, if not his life, was lost to Titanic. He was a diabetic, and the hypothermia he suffered took a severe toll on his health.

At only 54 years old, Colonel Archibald Gracie died on December 4, 1912.

…The members of his family and his physicians felt that the real cause was the shock he suffered last April when he went down with the ship and was rescued later after long hours on a half-submerged raft. The events of the night of the wreck were constantly on his mind. The manuscript of his work on the subject had finally been completed and sent to the printers when his last illness came. In his last hours the memories of the disaster did not leave him. Rather they crowded thicker

His final request was that he be interred in the same clothes he had worn when Titanic sank.

Colonel Gracie's funeral was widely reported. Multiple Titanic survivors were in mournful attendance, including Jack Thayer, a seventeen-year-old who had also survived the night on the back of Collapsible B.

Col. Archibald Gracie's final wish that he be buried in the clothes he wore
when rescued from the sinking Titanic was carried out when he was laid to
rest in Woodlawn cemetery, New York city [sic], yesterday.

The obsequies were held in Calvary church and among those present to pay the
last tribute were many of his fellow survivors from the doomed liner,
including Mrs. John Jacob Astor, Mrs. Edward W. Appleton, Mrs. J. B. Thayer,
and her son, J. B. Thayer, and Mrs. J. J. Brown.

Colonel Gracie’s last words were, “We must get them into the boats. We must get them all into the boats.”


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“When Picked Up Out of the Sea”: First-Class Barber Augustus Weikman

"When Picked Up Out of the Sea": First-Class Barber Augustus Weikman

Augustus Henry Weikman was Philadelphia-born in 1860, and aged 52 when he boarded the RMS Titanic. He and his wife, Mary, had wed in 1884. They had four living children.

Augustus worked as a barber for First-Class passengers, and signed on to work on Titanic directly from his same position on the Olympic. He was evidently very glad for his luck in being assigned to the maiden voyage, as he stated in a telegram to his wife from Southampton.

Augustus Weikman.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (photo taken prior to 1923)

Augustus had been working for the White Star Line since 1892, and he had the distinction of being the oft-reported sole American White Star employee on Titanic.

Mr. Weikman's seniority and skill had distinguished him among the elite passengers of First Class. He reportedly had an excellent rapport with his regular clients, and enjoyed talking about the stock market with Philadelphia millionaire George D. Widener, and even J.P. Morgan. It was reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in its April 19, 1912, issue that old J.P. would let no other man attend to him whilst traveling at sea.

J.P. Morgan, circa 1910.


The First-Class barbershop was located only a little ways off the after Grand Staircase, on C-Deck.

It was a pretty nice setup for its specialized services: installed with two swivel chairs and matching sinks, as well as a leather waiting bend and a marble counter. For a shilling, the dapperest of passengers would get a shave, a shampoo, and hairdressing. That shilling, along with any tips paid by happy customers, made for a nice paycheck for Augustus.

The Aft Grand Staircase on R.M.S. Olympic.


The barbershops on Titanic—plural, because there was Second-Class counterpart to the first—also served as little souvenir shops.

It was here that passengers could purchase postcards, tobacco, pens, flags, wallets, chocolates, as well as necessary items such as collars and combs, and a whole array of bric-a-brac, all boasting the White Star logo.

Strung from the ceiling were plenty of little trinkets, including hats, dolls, and penknives.

It’s been speculated that teddy bears might have also been available, as they were quite popular at the time and peer liners such as the rescue ship Carpathia had them available for sale.

Since there was no “stock list,” so to speak, of which sundries were kept in these shops, it’s a lot of reasonable speculation.

The Second-Class barbershop on R.M.S. Olympic. Taken for the White Star Line in the late 1910s.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (Taken prior to 1923)

Very few souvenirs from Titanic’s First-Class barbershop exist, but those that have survived include few engraved spoons, a hat ribbon with “R.M.S. Titanic” on it, and a pin cushion that Fr. Francis Browne bought for his niece while on board from Southampton to Queenstown.

It is a lifebuoy with the Union Jack, the American Flag, and "Titanic" on the ring. In the letter that accompanied it, Fr. Browne wrote that the little gift was “not beautiful, but it may be useful.”

Oh, painful irony.

Match tin souvenir from the R.M.S. Olympic, circa 1911. Courtesy of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.


The First-Class barbershop was only open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but Augustus was evidently a night owl, because he testified in his affidavit to the Senate on April 24, 1912, that he was chilling in the barbershop upon Titanic’s collision with the iceberg at 11:40 p.m.

For note, this affidavit is contrasted by Augustus’s report to the North American on April 20, 1912, in which he spun a much more dramatic yarn.

“I had closed my shop," he continued, "and was taking a turn on the promenade. Looking through the windows I could see the passengers in the main saloon playing cards and reading. Suddenly, I was startled to hear the hoarse voice of a lookout command “Port your helm!"

There was a dead silence for a moment and then I felt the vessel lurch slightly and heard the side plates of the ship wrench and scrape. The bell in the engine room then clanged out the signal for reversing the engine, and I knew that we had struck something.

Augustus said that it was only a “slight shock,” but he never the less immediately made his way to A-Deck.

He met Thomas Andrews along the way. When Augustus asked what the damage report was, Thomas is reported to have replied, “My God, it’s serious.”

Augustus made his way to the First-Class gymnasium and found John Jacob Astor and George Widener standing at leisure together, watching men hit at a punching bag. When Augustus suggested to Mr. Widener that he should put on a lifevest, Mr. Widener laughed at him.

"What sense is there in that?" Widener is claimed to have replied. "This boat isn't going to sink."

Augustus later saw the same two men standing together on the deck after they had bid farewell to their wives. This is the last known sighting of either Astor or Widener.

John Jacob Astor, circa 1909.


Augustus spent the sinking assisting women and children into lifeboats, reportedly alongside White Star Chairman J. Bruce Ismay, whose conduct during the sinking--id est, saving himself--Augustus later defended with vehemence.

Because, according to Augustus, "the lifeboats offered no opportunity for the savings of a humble barber," he at some point took the time to go change his clothes and grab a pair of gloves. He said he didn't want to ruin his new uniform.

Augustus appears to have recounted the details of his own rescue a little differently in every contemporary journalistic retelling, but the basics go something like this: he seems to have been washed off his feet by the vertical rising of the deck, and was submerged—possibly against the railing alongside a dozen deckchairs all tethered together.

The Camden Post Telegram reported the following in its May 15, 1912, issue.

The crisis came while I was aiding in getting loose the last collapsible boat," said [Weikman]. "All at once the bow of the Titanic dipped down into the ocean about 500 feet and the stern reared itself in the air about 350 feet. No person under deck at this time had a possible chance to escape, and all on deck were hurled into a jumble in the center of the boat. I was covered with ropes, timbers and chains and while endeavoring to extricate myself could hear the shrieks, yells and moans of the dying. Finally I got loose except for a rope fastened about my foot. This gave me considerable trouble, but I finally got free and began to swim away from the ship.

I had not gone more than fifteen feet when there was an explosion on the boat and I was hurled about 100 feet away from her with a lot of the ship's appliances falling about me. In the wreckage were a dozen or so deck chairs tied together. This fell near me and saved my life.


When Augustus resurfaced, he climbed on board the nearby deckchairs and used them as a raft. He stated that if he had hauled himself entirely aboard that the entire thing would have been submerged, so his feet and legs were dangling off of it.

Augustus stated that, while the deck chairs were literal life-savers, that they had struck him when he was thrown into the air. He believed that the blunt force he sustained from them did some damage to his spine.

He saw a lifeboat in the near distance and paddled his way to it with only his hands and his bottom half dragging in the water, because he realized that he would be more likely to be saved the closer he was to it.

As he got closer, it’s reported that someone aboard called out, “Gus, is that you?”

The lifeboat had looked crowded from afar, but when he finally approached, he was surprised to find the opposite. Augustus realized that the crowd had thinned because the lifeboat was several inches underwater and barely floating, so every time the craft lurched, people were thrown into the water and lost to hypothermia.

There were a number of people clinging to ropes on the side as well; when Augustus expressed his surprise that they did not try to pull themselves up and aboard, he found out that they were frozen dead.

There is little discoverable information about which lifeboat this was, but its submersion has led many Titanicophiles to conclude that it had to be Collapsible A, which had been washed off the deck before its side could be pulled up.

Collapsible A was finally approached by Fifth Officer Harold Lowe in Lifeboat 14, and its few survivors suffered from extensive damage to their legs and feet, which Weikman likewise sustained.

Because of the extent of his injuries, the severe cold, and a friendly hit of brandy, Augustus is reported to have passed out and brought up onto Carpathia barely conscious.

Titanic survivors waiting to board Carpathia. From the George Grantham Bain Collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


And according to his grandchildren, he was so deeply unconscious and his pulse so faint that he was mistaken for dead.

They say that Augustus's effects, including his watch, were stripped from him, and he woke up in a body bag in the makeshift morgue on board Carpathia. As the story goes, he literally kicked and screamed his way out until someone came to his aid.

While I cannot find any primary source for this story, it is never the less borne out by the fact that Augustus was originally not listed among Titanic survivors.

In fact, his wife was reportedly in the midst of being consoled by neighbors on April 17, 1912, when the miraculous telegram arrived: Augustus Weikman was, against all odds, alive.

Per the Trenton Evening Times, which published an interview with Augustus taken when the Carpathia docked in New York City, “Weikman showed the effects of the terrible experiences through which he had just passed, and at time his talk was almost incoherent.”

Augustus Weikman took quite some time to recover from his injuries; he was confined to a wheelchair, and it was feared he might lose his feet. But he made a full recovery, and his great-grandson has stated that, according to family lore, Augustus used a poultice of chicken manure to regain circulation in his legs.

When Augustus returned to his home in Palmyra, New Jersey, he was celebrated as a hero; his neighbors are reported to have lined the street just to shake his hand as he was wheeled inside his house.

August kept some invaluable mementos of the sinking, including a one-dollar bill that he’d found in his pocket once rescued. He inscribed it thusly.

“This note was in my pocket when picked up out of the sea by ‘S.S. Carpathia’ from the wreck of ‘S.S. Titanic’ April 15th, 1912/A.H. Weikman, Palmyra, N.J.”

As inscribed by Augustus Weikman on the dollar bill he found in his pocket after surviving the sinking of Titanic.

In July of 1912, upon hearing of fundraising for a Titanic memorial by Mrs. John Hays Hammond, Augustus Weikman sent the inscribed dollar bill, enclosed in a letter recounting his experience.

Augustus also treasured his pocket watch, almost lost when he was given up for dead on board the rescue ship, if not for the fact that it was engraved with his initials.

It was stopped forever, as he said, on 1:50 a.m.

Weikman had sworn off the sea in April, but by August of 1912, he was offered the position of Admiral's Barber on Titanic's elder sister Olympic once he had recovered from his injuries. He chose instead to sign on to the Lusitania, which was reported by the New York Times on August 6, 1912.

[Augustus Weikman] is unable to content himself ashore. Mr. Weikman said after his experiences that he would never go to sea again, but he has arranged to resume his old position as chief barber, and will sail from New York on the Lusitania to-morrow.

Mr. Weikman has been traversing the ocean for a number of years, and says that when on land he is like a fish out of water, and it is impossible for him to be content except on the ocean.

"After all,' he said to-night, "an accident like the Titanic's may never occur again, and I think I will risk it, anyway."

Augustus Weikman died on November 7, 1924, in Pennsylvania.

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First-Class Athletic Facilities


Titanic's gymnasium was accessible from the boat desk, adjacent to the second funnel. It was outfitted with elaborate equipment, especially during an era in which exercise was more of a hobby, or a quaint way to pass some time.

It would seem that prior to sail, it was open for exploration by both genders and other classes of passengers. But once Titanic departed Queenstown, it was a first-class exclusive, and was used separately by ladies and gentlemen.

The gym was the domain of Thomas McCawley, a spry moustache master always seen at his post, and always wearing his white flannels and plimsolls (canvas athletic shoes), the primmest and dapperest Edwardian fitness instructor you could ever imagine.

Colorized version of photo of Titanic's gymnasium, taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


The gym was available for a shilling a ticket, which would be paid, of course, to Chief Purser Hugh McElroy prior to use, and would be good for one session.

The gym was exclusive to the ladies from 9am to noon, children 1pm to 3pm, and the men 2pm to 6pm. Tom McCawley was said to be precise to the minute in opening the gym for these scheduled shifts.

The gymnasium was equipped with punching bags, Indian clubs, stationary bicycles with giant red meters for monitoring one's progress, a rowing machine, and mechanical horses. It was also installed with an "electric camel", which mimicked the back-and-forth motion of a camel ride when sat upon, and which was lauded as "good for the liver."

Lawrence Beesley, a second-class passenger, on the stationary bicycles with an unnamed friend. originally published in London Illustrated News, April 20, 1912.


There was a racquetball court presided over by instructor Frederick Wright on G Deck with an entrance on D Deck, and an observation gallery on F Deck. That would set you back two shillings for one half-hour of play.

Titanic also boasted Turkish baths, which offered massages, shampoos, and electric baths. The central feature was the Cool Room, and it was decorated in a lavish Arabic style--all teak wood, green and blue tiles, a marble fountain, and a scarlet ceiling with guilded beams and hanging lanterns. It was littered with lounges, folding chairs, and Damascus tables.

In 2005, they rediscovered the Cool Room in a remarkably preserved state. Because it had flooded early on, and its location was deeper inside the ship, it was largely protected from damage when the bow crashed into the seabed. And because it's so far within the ship, hungry microorganisms can't really get at it, so the woodwork, stained glass windows, and even the recliners are still recognizable.

Illustration of the Cool Room of the Turkish Baths on R.M.S. Olympic, which was Titanic's elder sister.


To most people, the most delightfully ironic of Titanic's fitness features was a heated saltwater swimming pool, (or "bath," as they referred to it).

It was 30x14ish feet and was tiled in blue and white. It also had a marble staircase descending into the water; this was because the water was 3 feet below the lip of the pool, to try to prevent water from sloshing out with the motion of the ship. There were shower stalls and changing cubicles along its side.

Swimming pool of the R.M.S. Olympic, which can be discerned from Titanic's due to the presence of a diving board.


The swimming bath was open only to First Class, of course; the use of a swimming suit was included in the fee of a shilling.

It was the second of its kind ever put to sea; the first was that of RMS Olympic, and the only notable difference between it and Titanic's was that Olympic's swimming bath had a diving board, while Titanic's was absent of the same. This was decided upon because the sloshy water made the diving end shallower than it appeared, and it caused a hazard to passengers.

First-Class survivor Colonel Archibald Gracie used the swimming bath to his great enjoyment. He took a refreshing swim on the morning of April 14, 1912--and later mused upon the irony of the same, stating he probably wouldn't have enjoyed it so much if he had known the next swim he was about to take.

Archibald Gracie IV, Titanic survivor who used the swimming bath on April 14, 1912.


The swimming bath was across the hall from the Turkish baths, but within the wreck, it is blocked by a watertight door. Given the relatively immaculate state of the Turkish baths, it is assumed the pool is in similarly excellent shape.

The gymnasium was a central location during the sinking; many people who rushed to the boat deck found themselves too cold while waiting for lifeboats, and crowded into the gymnasium for warmth.

It was here that John Jacob Astor was witnessed slitting open a life-vest with his penknife, to reassure his young wife about the buoyancy of cork. A few passengers peddled on the stationary bikes to keep warm.

And the entire time, Mr. McCawley manned his post. When asked about a life-vest, he declined to wear one; he insisted it would inhibit his swimming once the ship went down.

Thomas McCawley died in the sinking. He was 36 years old.



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Dining Facilities

Dining On Board

Behold, what First-Class passengers were eating for lunch on April 12, 1912.

There is a noticeable disparity in quality to the modern eye between this fare and the menu options for Second and Third Class, but in 1912, First-Class passengers had never felt more adored, and Second- and Third-Class passengers had never felt more privileged.

The White Star Line commissioned work with various companies for proprietary silverware, china, dishes, pots, and state-of-the-art electric equipment for the kitchens. All menu items were coordinated by 2nd Steward Andrew Latimer, whose recipe book was left behind in Southampton.

First-Class passengers had a dining saloon. They also had exclusive access to the Verandah Cafe, which was more often called 'the Palm Court' because of its trellis walls cloaked in ivy and its potted plants on pretty tile floors. It was also replete with wicker chairs and oversized windows to make full use of the soft light.

The Palm Court on R.M.S. Olympic.


They were also privy to "The Restaurant," which was available exclusively to their class of ticket.

Tables in The Restaurant had to be reserved in advance; lucky passengers could even get a seat with Captain Smith, or White Star Chairman J. Bruce Ismay. An Italian restauranteur was in charge of The Restaurant; he in turn brought in his head chef from Olympic, a Frenchman by the name of Rousseau.

Adjacent to The Restaurant was Cafe Parisien, which the White Star Line hyped as a "charming sun-lit veranda, tastefully decorated in French trellis-work with ivy and other creeping plants." It was, naturally, exclusive to First Class.

Moreover, Cafe Parisien was also exclusive to Titanic herself, as it had been installed to replace what was an oft-untrod promenade deck on her older sister ship Olympic.

Cafe Parisien on Titanic. Taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


First-Class passengers could also get room service. Given how gargantuan Titanic was, a hot water jacket was used to keep the meals warm on the commute from kitchen to suite, which had a separate dining area.

Second-Class options were expectedly less highfalutin.

The Second-Class dining area hosted crewmembers as well as passengers, and its kitchen was shared with First Class, but the diners did not enjoy all the same luxuries.

For instance, silverware, although likewise silver-plated, was more utilitarian. Whereas First-Class passengers were given the extremely vital grape scissors at their tables, for example, Second-Class passengers were expected to pull the wanted grape from its bunch by hand.

In addition to Second Class, Titanic had a dining area for the maids and servants of first-class passengers on C Deck, which was accessed just off the Grand Staircase. Their silver napkin rings were engraved with the word "SERVANTS," lest they forgot themselves.

Third Class had plainer fare but no want for enthusiasm.

The Second-Class Dining Saloon on Titanic's elder sister, R.M.S. Olympic, circa 1911.


In addition to Second Class, Titanic had a dining area for the maids and servants of first-class passengers on C Deck, which was accessed just off the Grand Staircase. Their silver napkin rings were engraved with the word "SERVANTS," lest they forgot themselves.

Third Class had plainer fare but no want for enthusiasm.

Many Third-Class passengers had never eaten better--or received better treatment--than they had on board. Not only were the chairs unbolted to the floor as was customary for Third Class, but the tables had linens, and they were given tissue napkins printed with the White Star logo.

In a marketing bid, Third-Class passengers were encouraged to keep their menus, which doubled as a postcard that White Star hoped they would send back home, thereby enticing their family and friends to buy a steerage ticket and experience the luxury. Despite the opulence that so often springs to mind at the mention of the RMS Titanic, First-Class tickets were not White Star's bread and butter: steerage, thanks to immigration to America, paid the bills.

Third-Class Dining Saloon on R.M.S. Olympic. Courtesy of Bedford Lemere & Co.


A single Third-Class menu card, dated April 14, 1912, survives. It was safeguarded in the purse of steerage passenger Sara Roth, who was in Collapsible Lifeboat C.


Babler, Gunter. "Guide to the Crew of Titanic: The Structure of Working Aboard the Legendary Liner." The History Press, Gloucestershire, England. 2017.

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