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Ghost Boats & Lost Souls

Ghost Boats & Lost Souls

Recovery of bodies from Titanic took weeks.

The Canadian vessel Mackay-Bennett was tasked with collecting them, and they were overwhelmed with the job--there were more bodies than the ship could hold.

On board with crew and supplies were a priest and an embalmer.

First-class passengers were embalmed and stored in coffins; second-class, the same except for canvas instead of coffins. Third-class corpses and many crewmembers were buried at sea. Of these 116, only 56 were identified.

Recovery of a Titanic victim by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett.


Out of over 1,500 dead, a total of 328 bodies were found by the Mackay-Bennett, and 306 of those were recovered. Still, this was far more than they had prepared for.

In addition, the bodies were saltwater-bleached, bruised, crushed, with broken limbs and all cut up. The sinking is often portrayed as sanitary, depicting vistims that died frozen but otherwise unharmed.

In truth, it was gruesome.

Captain and crew of the Mackay-Bennett, taken between 1910 and 1915. From the George Grantham Bain Collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Multiple crewmembers of the Mackay-Bennett suffered PTSD for the rest of their lives, including one man named Clifford Crease, who, at the end of his long life, even elected to be interred mere feet from the grave of a Titanic victim whose recovery had irrevocably scarred him. He honored the memory of this unidentified passenger all of his life.

Frederick Hamilton, a cable engineer on Mackay-Bennett, wrote about the reaping in his diary.

The tolling of the bell summoned all hands to the forecastle where thirty bodies are ready to be committed to the deep, each carefully weighed and carefully sewn up in canvas. It is a weird scene, this gathering. The crescent moon is shedding a faint light on us, as the ship lays wallowing in the great rollers. The funeral service is conducted by the Reverent Canon Hind, for nearly an hour the words For as must as it hath pleased - - ' we therefore commit his body to the deep' are repeated and at each interval comes, splash! as the weighted body plunges into the sea, there to sink to a depth of about two miles. Splash, splash, splash.

© Caption.

Even then, there were others to find, and many more that never would be.

Collapsible A had been launched only moments before submersion--so close to, in fact, that it was washed away without the officers being able to pop up its canvas sides.

Thus, even though people found it and boarded it, it had taken on water--so much, in fact, that those people were standing on it were knee-deep in water, and dying.

They did this for hours until they were rescued by Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, who was the only officer to attempt rescue of more people from the water.

Out of the thirty or so survivors who made it to Collapsible A, Officer Lowe found no more than a dozen survivors.

And many frozen corpses.

Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, the only Titanic officer to return for survivors.


Lowe left three bodies in Collapsible A, which he commented on in his characteristically straightforward tone during the United States Senate Inquiry.

As to the three people that I left on her - of course, I may have been a bit hard hearted, I can not say - but I thought to myself, "I am not here to worry about bodies; I am here for life, to save life, and not to bother about bodies," and I left them.

...The people on the raft told me they had been dead some time. I said, "Are you sure they are dead?" They said, "Absolutely sure." I made certain they were dead, and questioned them one and all before I left this collapsible.

On May 13, 1912, the crew of the Oceanic were approximately 200 miles from the wreck site when the spotted a strangely shaped plank in the flat distance. Using binoculars, they realized it wasn't a plank. It was a lifeboat.

And it wasn't vacant.

Sire Shane Leslie, on board Oceanic, recalled, "Orders from the bridge dispatched a lifeboat with an officer and a medical officer. What followed was ghastly."

Collapsible A, boarded by crewmembers of Oceanic on May 13, 1912.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (photo taken prior to 1923)

Six Oceanic crewmen rowed out to meet the partially collapsed Collapsible A.

Slumped within, faces blackened from rot and a month under Atlantic sunlight, were three "unrecognizable" corpses: two firemen, and one wearing a dinner jacket.

According to the firsthand account by Sir Shane Leslie, the arms of one corpse snapped off in the crewmember's hands.

Two sailors could be seen, their hair bleached by exposure to sun and salt, and a third figure, wearing evening dress, flat on the benches. All three were dead and the bodies had been tossing on the Atlantic swell under the open sky ever since it had seen the greatest of ocean liners sink.

The names of the sailors, reported to be firemen, are to date unknown, but the well-dressed corpse was identified: First-class passenger Thomson Beattie, 37, from Canada.

Thomson Beattie, whose body was recovered from Collapsible A on May 13, 1912, one month after Titanic sank.


The Oceanic crew wrapped the three corpses in canvas, said a prayer, and buried them at sea.

Upon hauling the lifeboat on board, the Oceanic discovered something else: a gold wedding ring. Inscribed in its band was "Edvard to Gerda."

It would later come to light that the wedding band belonged to Swedish third-class passenger Elin Gerda Lindell. She and her husband Edvard had boarded Titanic bound for a new life in Hartford, Connecticut.

After sliding down the steepening deck into the ocean, the couple had both made it to Collapsible A.

But Gerda had been too cold, and the others too weak, to pull her aboard. She eventually fell silent and still, and Edvard was forced to let her drift away.

Before he let go, he removed her wedding band.

Gerda Lindell’s wedding band, as displayed in Titanic: The Exhibition in New York City, 2022.

© soliloquism, 2022. Courtesy of #TitanicExhibitionNYC.

According to survivor August Wennerstrom, "Edvard's hair turned all gray in lesser time than 30 minutes".

Edvard died shortly thereafter, bereft at the loss of his wife, and still cradling her wedding ring. It is thought that his body was pushed overboard to lighten the load of the partially submerged Collapsible A, but the wedding ring was dropped in the process.

Neither Edvard nor Gerda Lindell were ever recovered.

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“In Death They Were Not Divided”: Isidor & Ida Straus

“In Death, They Were Not Divided”: Isidor & Ida Straus

Isidor Straus was nine years old when he first set foot on American soil in 1854.

He, along with his three younger siblings, had been brought to New York by their mother. They then set forth to reunite with Isidor’s father Lazarus, who had already settled in Georgia two years prior to establish his mercantile business, which thrived—partly due to Lazarus’s pre-existing connections with wholesale merchants in Philadelphia, and partly due to the prosperity of local cotton plantations.

Reportedly, the Strauses were the sole Jewish family in their new hometown of Talbotton.

In 1861, sixteen-year-old Isidor was ultimately turned away from the Confederate Army of the United States; he was simply too young, he was told.

So, in 1863, after becoming the secretary to a Confederate agent, young Isidor Straus elected to become an international spy.

He hopped a ship from Charleston to Liverpool, which ran the union blockade. Isidor hid himself away—his life savings of $1200.00 in gold was sewn into his undershirt.

And after a layover of some months, staying with relatives in his birthplace of Otterberg, Bavaria, Isidor settled in London. He worked as an aide in financial deals for the Confederacy, and at all of nineteen years old, he even took on a mission to Cuba.

Isidor returned to Georgia in 1865, once the Civil War had ended. He found his family’s business destroyed, and so he convinced his family to reconsider their planned relocation to Philadelphia, in favor of New York City.

So Isidor arrived in New York broke, because he insisted on paying all of his debts prior to his departure, in spite of the fact that Confederate money had been rendered worthless.

In 1871, Isidor married Rosalie Ida Blun, whom he had met in 1863 while traveling to England.

They would go on to have seven children.

Isidor & Ida Straus's marriage portrait, 1871.


By 1871, Isidor had already been in business with his father for five years. Isidor’s brother Nathan and their brother-in-law joined in by 1873, thereby creating L. Straus & Sons, purveyors of crockery and fine china.

In 1874, L. Straus & Sons entered into an agreement with Rowland Hussey Macy, founder of Macy’s Department Store, to open a glassware department in the basement.

L. Straus & Sons became internationally successful. In 1888, Isidor and Nathan were invited into official partnership at Macy’s, which at the time boasted just over 2,000 employees.

And by 1896, Isidor and Nathan owned Macy’s outright.

Entrance to Macy’s Department Stire on 34th Street, Manhattan, circa 2022.

© soliloquism, 2022.

Isidor and Ida were reportedly a shining example of love throughout their lives.

They traveled together constantly and were rarely apart. Even when Isidor served in the United States Congress from January 1894 through March 1895, he and Ida exchanged daily correspondence.

Perhaps out of love as well as pragmatism, Isidor declined to seek reelection.

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


They had wintered together in Europe in 1911 through 1912, spending most of their holiday at Cape Martin in southern France.

The Strauses had not planned to travel on Titanic. Like many other passengers, however, they found themselves with no other option due to the ongoing coal miners' strike.

Their daughter had been holidaying with them, but she did not board Titanic with her parents.

The Strauses’ time on board was evidently pleasant. Thanks to the account of Colonel Archibald Gracie, we are privy to an insight as to how Isidor and Ida spent the day of Sunday, April 14.

During this day I saw much of Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus. In fact, from the very beginning to the end of our trip on the Titanic, we had been together several times each day. I was with them on the deck the day we left Southampton...

During our daily talks thereafter, he related much of special interest concerning incidents in his remarkable career, beginning with his early manhood in Georgia when, with the Confederate Government Commissioners, as an agent for the purchase of supplies, he ran the blockade of Europe. His friendship with President Cleveland, and how the latter had honored him, were among the topics of daily conversation that interested me most.

On this Sunday, our last day aboard ship, he finished the reading of a book I had loaned him, in which he expressed intense interest. This book was 'The Truth About Chickamauga,' of which I am the author...

I recall how Mr. and Mrs. Straus were particularly happy about noon time on this same day in anticipation of communicating by wireless telegraphy with their son and his wife on their way to Europe on board the passing ship America. Some time before six o'clock, full of contentment, they told me of the message of greeting received in reply. This last good-bye to their loved ones must have been a consoling thought when the end came a few hours later.

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

On the night of the collision, Isidor and Ida found themselves at Lifeboat 8--the same lifeboat where Victor Penasco was desperately trying to get his sobbing bride, Pepita, to leave him and save herself.

Ida Straus stepped in, she expected Isidor to sit next to her; instead, thinking his wife out of harm's way, he stepped back on deck.

Ida immediately removed herself from the lifeboat and refused to reenter without her husband. Other First-Class passengers tried to secure a spot for Isidor aside Ida, but he refused.

Archibald Gracie described the scene as he witnessed it.

The self-abnegation of Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus here shone forth heroically when she promptly and empathically exclaimed: 'No! I will not be separated from my husband; as we have lived, so will we die together;' and when he, too, declined the assistance proffered on my earnest solicitation that, because of his age and helplessness, exception should be made and he be allowed to accompany his wife in the boat. 'No!' he said, 'I do not wish any distinction in my favor which is not granted to others.' As near as I can recall them these were the words which they addressed to me. They expressed themselves as fully prepared to die, and calmly sat down in steamer chairs on the glass-enclosed Deck A, prepared to meet their fate.

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

First-Class passenger Hugh Woolner was another survivor who witnessed this, and testified to as much during the Senate Inquiry.

She would not get in. I tried to get her to do so and she refused altogether to leave Mr. Straus. The second time we went up to Mr. Straus, and I said to him: "I am sure nobody would object to an old gentleman like you getting in. There seems to be room in this boat." He said: "I will not go before the other men."

Then, when Idisor tried in desperation to persuade Ida to get back in her seat, she again refused.

She was overheard by several witnesses, including steward Alfred Crawford, who testified at the Senate Inquiry, as stating, "We have lived together for many years; where you go, I go."

It is likewise reported that Ida Straus said, "I will not be separated from my husband. So we have lived, so we will die--together," but witness accounts do not seem to support this very particular word choice.

Archibald Gracie IV.


In any case, Ida gave her chambermaid, Ellen Bird, her fur coat to keep warm in the lifeboat. Ida simply told Ellen that she would no longer need it.

And Lifeboat 8 was lowered away without the Strauses.

Miss Ellen Bird, maid to Ida Straus.


Some say Isidor and Ida were last seen holding each other on deck, weeping. Others insisted that they were sitting on deck chairs, holding hands until a wave washed them into the sea. Others still attested only to the couple, arm-in-arm, on deck.

Isidor & Ida Straus.


Isidor's corpse was the 96th body recovered by the Mackay-Bennett. It was listed as follows.

CLOTHING - Fur-lined overcoat; grey trousers, coat and vest; soft striped shirt; brown boots; black silk socks.
EFFECTS - Pocketbook; gold watch; platinum and pearl chain; gold pencil case; silver flask; silver salts bottle; £40 in notes; £4 2s 3d in silver.

Ida's corpse was never found.

The last devotion of Isidor and Ida was a tale immediately and widely told, and it galvanized an outpouring of public sentiment and admiration.

Forty thousand people attended the memorial at Carnegie Hall in New York City, which could hold a mere fraction of the mourners.

Isidor was posthumously lauded by the New York Times as “a representative of humanity in its best form.”

A small memorial was erected in Manhattan, located off of 106th Street. The landscaped plot, aptly christened Straus Park, bears a bronze statue of a water nymph that once gazed upon a reflecting pool. This water feature was transformed into a flower bed in the 1990s with the consent of the Straus family.

Straus Park was dedicated on April 15, 1915, exactly three years to the date of the Titanic disaster. Isidor’s younger brother, Oscar, was one of many in attendance.

Dedication of Memorial to Isidor & Ida Straus on April 15, 1915. Courtesy of Library of Congress.


Isidor's brother, Oscar Straus, at the dedication to the memorial of Isidor & Ida Straus on April 15, 1915. Courtesy of Library of Congress.


Isidor Straus was laid to rest in the couple’s mausoleum in the Bronx. Because Ida’s remains were not recovered, the Strauses collected ocean water from the wreck site in an urn and interred it beside Isidor.

The Straus mausoleum is thusly engraved.

Many waters cannot quench love -- neither can the floods drown it.

In 1913, approximately 5,000 Macy's employees donated their meager wages toward a memorial plaque for the Strauses, who were much beloved, particularly Isidor.

It's been reported that "'Mr. Isidor,' as he was known, regularly walked the shop floor, a pink carnation boutonnière stuck in the lapel of his dark suit jacket as he greeted workers by name."

The memorial plaque was re-dedicated in 2014 at the so-named "Memorial Entrance" on 34th.

It reads, "Their lives were beautiful and their deaths glorious."

Memorial plaque at Macy's 34th Street Entrance.

© soliloquism, 2022

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“It’s a CQD, Old Man”: Distress Signals

"It's a CQD, Old Man": Distress Signals

It's been my experience that those who aren't obsessed feel like Titanic sank passively, in spite of logically understanding that they were, of course, calling for help.

Titanic, like any vessel, was equipped with emergency gear. According to the report issued following the sinking, Titanic carried 36 distress rockets. Second-Class passenger Lawrence Beesley wrote of them in his account of the sinking.

"Up it went, higher and higher, with a sea of faces upturned to watch it, and then an explosion that seemed to split the silent night in two, and a shower of stars sank slowly down and went out one by one. And with a gasping sigh one word escaped the lips of the crowd: 'Rockets!'"

Except from "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic" by Lawrence Beesley.

Rockets meant disaster. As one man testified: "A ship isn't going to fire rockets at sea for nothing." The passengers waiting for lifeboats began to panic.

Although, just for fun, here's Lightoller correcting the British Inquiry (and us).

INQUIRY: Now, then, about signals from your boat. You have rockets on board, have you not? Were they fired?
LIGHTOLLER: You quite understand they are termed rockets, but they are actually distress signals; they do not leave a trail of fire.
INQUIRY: Distress signals?
LIGHTOLLER: Yes. I just mention that, not to confuse them with the old rockets, which leave a trail of fire.

Whatever, Lights.

The color of these DISTRESS SIGNALS is sometimes debated--most say white, some say multicolors. I think the latter is probably just a mis-perception from the falling starburst.

Fourth Officer Boxhall set off the distress signals, at intervals of a few minutes each, next to Lifeboat 1 on the starboard side. He said he didn't count how many--most historians accept eight to ten, maybe a dozen. Fifth Officer Lowe said he was "nearly deafened by them" and though he didn't know at the time who was watching alongside him, he was standing next to White Star Chairman Bruce Ismay.

Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, who fired Titanic's distress signals.


No one answered the distress signals. But someone saw them.

James Gibson, apprentice on the Californian, testified to the following.

 I then got the binoculars and had just got them focused on the vessel when I observed a white flash apparently on her deck, followed by a faint streak towards the sky which then burst into white stars.

Yes. There was a ship within miles of Titanic--so close that Captain Smith ordered some lifeboats to row for its lights. And it did nothing.

The Californian should and one day might be its own post, but suffice it to say that everything from hypothetical cold-air mirages to the Californian's passive, overly cautious captain prevented it from rescuing Titanic.

The ships each used Morse lights to try to communicate with each other as the sinking progressed, but results on each end were unclear. The captain's reaction to the aforementioned distress signals was that they were probably frivolous "company signals," and to continue trying to reach the ship with the Morse lights. Because of the aforementioned conditions, each message flickered out by one, appeared un-replied to by the other.

But one rescue component is absent from the Californian's efforts to reach Titanic as she sank: the wireless.

And that was because a) the Californian's captain never ordered that it reach out to the mysterious "large liner" via wireless and b) the wireless operator, Cyril Evans, TURNED HIS FREAKING RADIO OFF and went to bed only minutes before Titanic struck the iceberg.

And yet, the Californian crew was aware Titanic was nearby, because earlier in the night (pre-iceberg), the captain had ordered Evans to send a warning to Titanic, once the Californian itself was stopped by ice for the night.

So Evans did send that warning, his second to Titanic over the course of the evening. But he sent it rather unprofessionally, using language that was reserved for casual chats between operators. Meanwhile, the Senior Marconi Operator on Titanic, Jack Phillips, was overtired and working through an enormous backlog of messages that all had to be sent now that the ship was in range of Newfoundland.

Because of this, Evans was "famously rebuked" by Phillips--a moment that I consider to be chronically misrepresented in a sensationalist attempt to assign blame. But I digress.

So after Jack told Cyril to stop interrupting his work, he just listened in on Titanic's transmissions until about 11:25pm. And then he went to sleep until approximately 3:30 a.m.

Titanic, meanwhile, had struck the iceberg at 11:40 p.m.

Junior Marconi Operator Harold Bride, circa 1912.


Jack and Junior Marconi Operator Harold Bride were desperately calling to any ship in proverbial earshot, using the universal distress call "CQD", as well as "SOS". The latter, which was brand new and is so familiar to us today, was not first used by Titanic, despite many rumors. Harold Bride did, however, advised Jack Phillips to use it, joking that it might be their only opportunity to use the newfangled call.

The ships that received and replied to the distress signals included Titanic's sister, Olympic, the Mount Temple, the Frankfurt, the Baltic, the Asian, the Celtic, the Caronia, the Virginian, the Cincinnati, and, of course, the Carpathia.

Illustration of Titanic's wireless and the ships that responded. Originally published on April 17, 1912. Image courtesy of The Atlantic, from The Day Books of Chicago.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (published prior to 1923)

The following are a mere selection of the distress messages sent by Jack Phillips, assisted by Harold Bride. Even in clipped Morse, you can feel the mounting desperation and frustration. As one article recently put it, "It was like trying to organize a rescue by Twitter."

12:17 a.m. CQD CQD SOS Titanic Position 41.44 N 50.24 W. Require immediate assistance. Come at once. We struck an iceberg. Sinking

12:20 a.m. Come at once. We have struck a berg. It's a CQD, old man. Position 41.46 N 50.14 W

12:26 a.m. Yes, come quick!

12:40 a.m. SOS Titanic sinking by the head. We are about all down. Sinking. . .

1:10 a.m. We are in collision with berg. Sinking Head down. 41.46 N. 50.14 W. Come soon as possible

1:10 a.m. Captain says, “Get your boats ready. What is your position?”

1:27 a.m., when Olympic asked, "Are you steering southerly to meet us?" We are putting the women off in the boats

1:30 a.m. We are putting passengers off in small boats

1:30 a.m. Women and children in boats, can not last much longer

1:35 a.m Engine room getting flooded

1:45 a.m. Come as quickly as possible old man: our engine-room is filling up to the boilers

1:50 a.m., when Frankfurt asked, "What is the matter with u?" You are a fool, stdbi - stdbi - stdbi and keep out

Sometime between 2:15 a.m. and 2:20 a.m., this last message is caught SOS SOS CQD CQD Titanic. We are sinking fast. Passengers are being put into boats. Titanic

© Caption.

Calls from Titanic were crackled and broken as power was diminished and inevitably lost, but Phillips kept at it. Phillips and Bride remained at their posts until water was flooding the wheelhouse nearby--yes, the last possible second, and well after Captain Smith had ordered them to abandon their posts.

Distress signal to S.S. Birma.


Even when the two Marconi operators knew--better than anyone else--that there was NO hope of a ship reaching Titanic in time, it was reported by a station officer that there was "never a tremor" in Phillips' Morse transmissions as Titanic went down.

Harold Bride survived the sinking. Jack Phillips did not.

Jack Phillips, Senior Marconi Operator on Titanic.


It was the sudden silence of Titanic's wireless radio that clued in New York Times editor Carr Van Anda that something was gravely wrong. While other papers hedged, the New York Times headline on April 15, 1912, announced what no one wanted to: Titanic was gone.

New York Times dated April 15, 1912.


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“So That We Might All Live Happily Together”: Michel Navratil & ‘The Titanic Orphans’

"So That We Might All Live Happily Together": Michel Navratil & 'The Titanic Orphans'

Michel Navartil, 32, was a Slovakian tailor who had been living in Nice, France, when he married Marcelle Caretto in 1907. They had two sons, Michel Jr. and Edmond, nicknamed Lolo and Momon by their parents.

Michael Navratil, taken prior to his voyage on Titanic in 1912.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (Photo taken prior to 1923)

By 1912, Michel's business was struggling, and he suspected Marcelle, 21, of cheating on him, so they separated. Even though the boys, 4 and 2 years old, were in the custody of Marcelle, she let Michel take them for the Easter break.

Thing is, Michel had no intention of returning them.

After a stopover in Monte Carlo, he brought them to England, where he bought three second-class tickets on Titanic. He registered himself as Louis M. Hoffman--the name of a friend who helped him accomplish the abduction--and registered his boys as "Louis" and "Lola". They boarded at Southampton.

Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912. Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK.


When asked, "Mr. Hoffman" told other passengers that he was a widower, and aside from a cardgame during which he let a Swiss girl babysit them, he never let them stray from his side. He wrote back to his mother in Hungary, hoping that his sister and brother-in-law would help take care of the boys if they were not permitted or able to stay in America.

Michel, Jr., had no notion of any wrogdoing on his father's part. He recalled that Titanic was

A magnificent ship! ...I remember looking down the length of the hull... My brother and I played on the forward deck and were thrilled to be there. One morning, my father, my brother, and I were eating eggs in the second-class dining room. The sea was stunning. My feeling was one of total and utter well-being.

On April 14, upon learning of the collision, a still unidentified passenger helped Michel dress the boys and bring them up on deck.

Michel, Jr., said of his father and the stranger carrying them up on deck, "When I think of it now, I am very moved. They knew they were going to die."

The only lifeboats left were the 4 collapsibles, and the only one secure and ready to go was Collapsible D, presided over by Second Officer Charles Lightoller.

Collapsible D, which contained the Navratil boys, as taken from on board Carpathia on April 15, 1912.


Officer Lightoller was gravely serious about the "Women and Children" order. Due to the maddened crush of third-class passengers--most of them men--Lightoller had ordered a locked-arm circle around the lifeboat, so only women and children could board.

Michel passed his little sons through to be minded in the boat.

Even in his later years, Michel, Jr., recalled his father's last words to him.

"My child, when your mother comes for you, as she surely will, tell her that I loved her dearly and still do. Tell her I expected her to follow us, so that we might all live happily together in the peace and freedom of the New World."

We know a little bit about Michel's and Edmond's night in Collapsible D not from Michel's recollections, but from First-Class passenger Hugh Woolner. Hugh and another passenger had taken their chances together and jumped down into Collapsible D when they noticed room in the bow portion of the lifeboat.

Hugh testified in the American Inquiry, and he recalled how distraught young Michel was.

A sailor offered some biscuits, which I was using for feeding a small child who had waked up and was crying. It was one of those little children for whose parents everybody was looking; the larger of those two... I should think it was about 5, as nearly as I can judge... It looked like a French child; but it kept shouting for its doll, and I could not make out what it said before that. It kept saying it over and over again.

Michel Navratil, Sr., did not survive to be reunited with his sons. His body was recovered and listed as follows.

CLOTHING - Grey overcoat with green lining; brown suit.
EFFECTS - Pocket book; 1 gold watch and chain; silver sov. purse containing £6; receipt from Thos. Cook & Co. for notes exchanged; ticket; pipe in case; revolver (loaded); coins; keys, etc; bill for Charing Cross Hotel (Room 126, April 1912).

"Louis" and "Lola" were the only orphaned survivors of Titanic. And like other young children, they were hauled on board in burlap bags.

On board Carpathia, it was realized that they only spoke French. Survivor Margaret Hays was concerned that the brothers would be separated, so she offered to take them under her care in New York City. The boys spent most of their time playing with Lady, Hays' little Pomeranian, which was one of only three dogs to survive the sinking.

Michel (left) and little Edmond with his toy cat. From the George Grantham Bain Collection, courtesy of Library of Congress.


In New York, the boys were motherless for some time. According to contemporary newspaper articles, they only answered "oui" to inquiries from Consul representatives, and as little children are prone, they were much more interested in playing with their new toy boats.

The following was reported in "No Light on the Mystery Hiding the Identity of Two Waifs of the Sea," an article published in the Evening World dated April 22, 1912.

Under the shadow of a giant azalea they sat yesterday afternoon, each with a brand-new boat in hand with which they entertained themselves while the French Consul to New York strove vainly to extract some enlightening word from the elder boy, whose age has been given as three and a half.

To every question the little curly haired chap replied with a polite and baffling "Oui" and said nothing more.

   "Do you like to play with your boat?" asked the Consul, taking the little fello [sic] on his knee.
   "Oui," came the monotonous reply.
   "What city do you come from?"
   "Do you remember the big boat that brought you away from France?"

Yet the children are by no means stupid. They are sweet, well-mannered, gentle little fellows, and my only hope for them is that having survived the perils of the iceberg and the open sea they may not be adopted by some American family which was born with a gold knife in its mouth.

For what it's worth, the author of this particular article also found the gifts of little toy boats a bit untoward, writing, "Probably I am the only person to whom it seemed in the least incongruous that these two babies should be playing with brand new tin boats."

Edmond (left) and Michel with their toys.


Many photos were taken of "Louis" and "Lola" to be circulated worldwide. But in addition to their inability to speak English, the boys had been given fake names by their late father, so tracking down their mother was proving impossible.

When asked if the orphans could be traced via their father's tickets, Margaret Hays' father illustrated the fatal class divide perfectly in his response. "I have never travelled second cabin or steerage," he said, "so I don’t know anything about such matters."

Michel, Jr., recounted coming to the realization that, had they not been in Second Class, he and his brother would surely have died.

Michel (left) and Edmond. Courtesy of the National museum of the U.S. Navy.


Meanwhile, in France, their mother Marcelle was desperately, frantically searching for her sons with no leads. She was entirely unaware that they had even left the country, let alone sailed on the Titanic.

Marcelle knew nothing of the so-called 'Titanic Orphans' until she saw their photos in a newspaper. Marcelle sailed to New York City courtesy of the White Star Line, and was reunited with her boys on May 16, 1912.

Permitted to meet them alone, she found Michel reading an alphabet book on a window seat, and Edmond on the floor, playing with puzzle pieces.

Growing wonder spread over the face of the bigger boy, while the smaller one stared in amazement at the figure in the doorway. He let out one long-drawn and lusty wail and ran blubbering into the outstretched arms of his mother. The mother was trembling with sobs and her eyes were dim with tears as she ran forward and seized both youngsters.

She reportedly was asked if she would talk to them about Titanic, and said, "I do not want them to think about that," she said. "They must only be happy from now on—only happy; no more distress."

Michel and Edmond reunited with their mother. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Edmond died in 1953, after having served in the French Army in WWII.

Michel, Jr., accomplished a doctorate in philosophy, and was a professor. He was one of the longest-lived survivors, and the last-living male survivor. He died in 2001, having said throughout his life that since four years old, he had "been a fare-dodger of life. A gleaner of time."

Because of the fake surname he used when boarding, Michel Navratil Sr. was interred in the Halifax cemetery that was designated for Jewish victims. The headstone has since been replaced to reflect his true identity.

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“Not Damn Likely!”: Second Officer Charles H. Lightoller

"Not Damn Likely!": Second Officer Charles H. Lightoller

If there's only one way to describe Charles Lightoller, it's this: the man was a goddamned survivor.

Charles Lightoller, circa 1920s.


Charles Herbert Lightoller was born to a family of cotton millers in England; his mother died shortly after birth, and his father abandoned him to live in New Zealand. So at all of thirteen years old, Charles looked to a life at sea, because he wanted to avoid being fated to factory labor.

But after surviving a shipwreck on a desert island, a cyclone, a fire at sea, and malaria, Charles said goodbye to the sea, and tried his luck in the Yukon for the gold rush.

This plan didn't come to fruition. So he then became a cowboy.

That didn't work either, so he became a hobo, riding the train rails back across Canada.

Then he bartered passage across the Atlantic as a cattle wrangler on a cattle boat. When he got back to England in 1899, Charles Lightoller was destitute.

Then, at last, in January of 1900, he began working for the White Star Line.

A glimpse of what Lightoller's pre-Titanic career may have looked like: miners waiting to register their claims in the Klondike Gold Rush. Courtesy of the Canadian National Archives.


Lightoller signed onto Titanic two weeks before departure as First Officer, and acted in that capacity during sea trials. Captain Smith, however, renamed his Chief Officer, bumping Officer William McMaster Murdoch to First Officer, and consequently, Lightoller to Second Officer. His on-board nickname quickly became "Lights."

On the night of April 14, 1912, Lightoller was stationed at the helm for the 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. watch. He retired to bed after First Officer Murdoch reported to replace him, and he advised that the lookouts had been instructed to keep a weather eye for ice.

At 11:40, Lightoller felt a grinding motion in the ship, and ran to the boat deck in his pajamas, where he was met by Third Officer Herbert Pitman, also disturbed from sleep. But there seemed to be no alarm on the bridge, so they returned to their cabins.

But not ten minutes later, Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall ran into Lightoller's room saying there was "water up to F Deck in the Mail Room." Lightoller threw clothes over his pajamas and reported to the bridge.

Lightoller (smoking) with Third Officer Pitman outside the Senate Inquiry.


Lightoller, a veteran of shipwrecks, took the situation seriously, but he later admitted that at the time, he did not believe the ship would founder. He took to loading the even-numbered lifeboats on the port side; Murdoch took the odd-numbered boats, starboard.

Lightoller took the "Women and Children First" decree literally, and rarely let any men aboard lifeboats--the sole exception was Major Arthur Peuchen into Lifeboat 6 because he was a yachtsman. He even tried to eject a thirteen-year-old boy from Lifeboat 4, but was persuaded by the boy's father.

Lightoller worked so fervently that despite the freezing air, he was sweating through his clothes. As the water reached C Deck, Lightoller briefly joined Dr. John Simpson, Chief Purser Hugh McElroy, and others, where Dr. Simpson teased in greeting, "Hello, Lights. Are you warm?"

In the chaos, Chief Officer Wilde found Lightoller and demanded to know where the firearms were kept. Lightoller led them to the locker in the First Officer's quarters, where Wilde slapped a gun into Lightoller's hand, insisting he might need it. Later, a group of men swarmed Lifeboat 2; Lightoller jumped in, brandished his gun, and threatened them all to get out.

With the help of Captain Smith and First-Class passenger Archibald Gracie, Lifeboat 2 was launched just before 2:00 a.m., 20 minutes before submersion; it took a mere fifteen feet for the lifeboat to hit the water.

It should have taken seventy feet.

Chief Officer Henry Wilde, who Lightoller openly defied multiple times during the sinking.


While launching Collapsible Lifeboat D, Chief Officer Wilde ordered Lightoller to accompany it. Defying his senior officer, Lightoller yelled over the melee.

I stood partly in the boat, owing to the difficulty of getting the womenfolk over a high bulwark rail just here. As we were ready for lowering the Chief came over to my side of the deck and, seeing me in the boat and no seaman available said, “You go with her, Lightoller.”

Praises be, I had just sufficient sense to say, “Not damn likely,” and jump back on board; not with any idea of self-imposed martyrdom—far from it—it was just pure impulse of the moment, and an impulse for which I was to thank my lucky stars a thousand times over, in the days to come. I had taken my chance and gone down with the rest, consequently I didn’t have to take any old back-chat from anyone.

As Lightoller was trying to free Collapsible B, Titanic plunged forward; water washed the boat deck and the lifeboat floated away upside down.

Charles Lightoller stayed on board until there was no board. This moment later served as a dramatic highlight during the American Senate Inquiry.

SENATOR SMITH: What time did you leave the ship?

LIGHTOLLER: I didn't leave it.

SENATOR SMITH: Did the ship leave you?


The falling first funnel almost crushed him. Then Lightoller was sucked down with the ship and pinned against a grate, but by some miracle, when there was an explosion within the ship, the force of it shot him back to the surface.

And there he found, and clung to, the overturned lifeboat Collapsible B.

Recovery of Collapsible B by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett.


About thirty men, many crew, found their way onto the hull of Collapsible B. The boat was already partially submerged, so Lightoller immediately took charge.

At Lightoller's direction, the men each balanced on its back, staggered and moving this way and that, to keep it functionally above water as the air bubble beneath it diminished. Harold Bride, the junior Marconi operator, even suffered frostbite to one foot for it, and his other foot was crushed in the lifeboat's mechanisms.

Junior Marconi operator Harold Bride being carried off Carpathia due to injuries to his feet sustained on Collapsible B. Courtesy of Library of Congress.


Throughout the night, Lightoller called out the names of potential rescue ships to try to bolster the other survivors.

Still, one by one, men died.

The men on Collapsible B united in rounds of prayer. Around dawn, after Lightoller relentlessly blowing on his whistle for other lifeboats to come about, Lifeboats 4 and 12 approached, and the remaining survivors of Collapsible B were transferred to safety.

There is still debate about who may have lived and died on Collapsible B.

Second Officer Charles Lightoller was the very last Titanic survivor to board Carpathia, only after having ensured that all surviving passengers and crew were secure on deck.

Tthe surviving officers of the sinking of the Titanic (Lightoller center, standing.)


Charles Lightoller was the highest ranking officer to survive Titanic's sinking, and testimony at the subsequent inquiries was vital, especially as he was not only testifying, but also defending himself, his employer, and his departed crewmates.

Lightoller went on to serve in the First World War, during which he was awarded with both the Distinguished Service Cross and the Reserve Decoration, and was promoted to Commander.

He saw combat again in World War II, when he crossed the English Channel to aid the Dunkirk evacuation, rescuing over 120 soldiers in his yacht, called "Sundowner." On the way back, Commander Lightoller encountered enemy aircraft and was attacked with gunfire, which he miraculously evaded thanks to a technique he had learned from his youngest son, who was R.A.F. and had been killed in action in 1939.

Still, Lightoller--like most surviving crewmembers--found that Titanic was still a black mark on his record, and encountered financial difficulties. Lightoller went on to try his hand at property speculation, boatyard management, inn-keeping, and chicken farming.

In 1934, he released his autobiography at the insistence of his wife.

Charles Lightoller died at 78 years old.

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“Just Like Little Canaries”: Victor & Maria Josefa Penasco

“Just Like Little Canaries”: Victor & Maria Josefa Penasco

Victor Peñasco y Castellana, born October 24, 1887, was just 24 years old and newly wed when he boarded the RMS Titanic at Cherbourg.

Young Victor was kind and athletic. He was also spectacularly wealthy, and family to the minister of the King of Spain.

And on December 8, 1910, Victor married Maria Josefa Perez de Soto y Vallejo, an heiress who was two years his junior and affectionately called Pepita. Their combined affluence ballooned to obscene proportions.

By all accounts, the newlyweds were carefree, pretty, and very much in love.

Victor and Pepita spent almost two years on their honeymoon, leaving a trail of receipts for precious gemstones throughout Europe. Because Pepita loved herself some fancy jewelry.

While whiling away in Paris, they happened upon a flyer for Titanic's maiden voyage. They longed to extend their honeymoon a little further by going to New York, but Victor's mother, Purificacion, had forbidden ocean travel--it was a truth universally acknowledged that it was very bad luck on one's honeymoon.

So the Penascos had their butler, Eulogio, stay behind in Paris, and left him with a collection of pre-written postcards to be sent intermittently to Victor's superstitious mother, boasting of trips to Notre Dame Cathedral, the Palace of Versailles, and the opera.

Victor and Pepita then absconded to have some fun in New York and return in secret. Purificacion would be none the wiser.

Victor Penasco y Castellana.


The Penascos boarded Titanic with Pepita's maid, Fermina, on the evening of April 10, 1912. The party occupied stateroom C-65.

They were not the only Spanish passengers, but they were the only ones in First Class.

Reports vary as to the Penascos' fluency in English, but multiple sources say they spent most of their time speaking with their fellow Spanish-speaking passengers. And there would have been a number, particularly from Argentina and Mexico.

Victor at the very least must have been proficient in the English language, but historical accounts reflect that Pepita was not.

Regardless of any language barrier, Victor and Pepita were apparently the darlings of any First Class coterie that beheld them.

Survivor Helen Bishop said of them, "[Pepita] and her husband were just like little canaries... …They were so loving… and were having such a happy honeymoon that everyone on the Titanic became interested in them."

On the night of the collision, Victor and Pepita were readying themselves for bed. Fermina, Pepita’s maid, had stayed awake because Victor and Pepita were late returning from dinner. Working to mend a corset while waiting to tend to the couple, Fermina felt a jolt and a shudder.

She immediately alerted Victor and Pepita. Later, Pepita would attest that the impact was so faintly felt that not a drop had spilled from a bedside glass of milk.

Victor dressed himself and left to seem information from officers. Met with the grim news, he hurried to collect Pepita and Fermina.

Victor outfitted his wife and Fermina with lifebelts and hurried to escort them to the boat deck.

Victor the ladies into the care of Second Officer Charles Lightoller, who was preparing to lower in Lifeboat 8.

It became a vessel well-known as the site of multiple lovelorn declarations that occurred that night--in particular, that of Isidor and Ida Straus.

Isidor & Ida Straus, who lost their lives in the Titanic disaster and remain its most famous love story.


Rumor has it that Victor dashed back below deck for his wife's famed jewels. When he returned, he implored Pepita to get into the lifeboat, but in tears, she refused.

Speaking Spanish, in the midst of heartbreak and chaos, no one understood the exact words of their desperate exchange.

But the Countess of Rothes did try.

The Countess's cousin, Gladys Cherry, recalled the Penascos parting as a "terrible scene."

As patience in the waiting lifeboat wore thin, the Countess gently interceded in French, which she recalled in her letter to Walter Lord, the author of "A Night to Remember."

Pepita was no less inconsolable for the Countess’s polite intervention. Finally, according to Gladys, Victor "threw [Pepita] in our arms and asked us to take care of her."

There is the occasional report that Victor was last spotted on the boat deck, taking to his knees in prayer.

But he was never seen again.

Pepita wailed and wailed for him as the boat descended and pushed away from Titanic.

The Countess of Rothes described her time with Pepita in heartrending detail in the April 21, 1912,  issue of the New York Herald.

Then Signora de Satode Penasco began to scream for her husband. It was too horrible. I left the tiller to my cousin and slipped down beside her to be of what comfort I could. Poor woman! Her sobs tore our hearts and her moans were unspeakable in their sadness.

As the darkness bore down and the women rowed Lifeboat 8, the Countess of Rothes continued to try to comfort Pepita, who was beside herself with grief.

When the awful end came, I tried my best to keep the Spanish woman from hearing the agonizing sound of distress. They seemed to continue forever, although it could not have been more than ten minutes until the silence of a lonely sea dropped down. The indescribable loneliness, the ghastliness of our feelings never can be told.

When the rescue ship Carpathia deposited the survivors in New York, Victor's mother had no idea her son and daughter-in-law had sailed, let alone that her son had died.

It's said she found out via a Madrid newspaper, and was as baffled as she was heartbroken. How could it be true, when she'd been receiving her son's postcards from Paris all along?

A suit owned by Victor Penasco y Castellana. Courtesy of Titanic: The Exhibition, New York City, 2022.

© soliloquism

Soon, the bereft family of Victor Penasco was soon faced with financial dilemma on top of the tragedy of his loss.

Contemporary Spanish law dictated that even though Pepita was legally widowed, she could not inherit Victor's fortune.

This was because without a body as proof of death, Victor could not be declared deceased for 20 years.

So unless Victor’s remains were found, their combined downries eould remain bound and untouchable in a savings account.

Figuratively cornered by the law, the family made an unusual choice: they bribed someone.

According to descendants, Victor’s family supposedly bought an unnamed victim's corpse, Fermina then identified it as Victor, which was substance enough to issue the death certificate.

However it happened, the result was the same: Pepita, though grieving, was that much wealthier.

Pepita married again about 6 years later and had three children; Fermina continued to work for her through retirement.

Pepita died at the age of 83.

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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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“Lead, Kindly Light”: Noel Leslie, the Countess of Rothes

"Lead, Kindly Light": Noel Leslie, The Countess of Rothes

The Countess of Rothes, whose name was Noel Lucy Martha Leslie, was reknowned for her beauty, her gracefulness on the dance floor, her lifelong philanthropy. But when it comes to Titanic, she is famed for her relentless optimism and being the fiercest woman on the sea.

Noel was 33 when she boarded Titanic with her parents, cousin-in-law Gladys Cherry, and maid Roberta Maioni, at Southampton. Before setting sail, she was interviewed and stated that she was going to America to see her husband, and that they hoped to purchase a pretty little orange grove.

When the reporters derisively asked her if she looking forward to leaving the glamour of London society for a "California fruit farm," she replied, "I am full of joyful expectation."

The Countess's parents disembarked at Cherbourg, and the others carried on.

On April 14, the crash woke the ladies in their suite, and they sought out Captain Smith, who insisted they immediately find lifevests and head for lifeboats. The three were put into Lifeboat 8 around 1am, which was launched off the port side.

Captain Smith put approximately 4 men with experience at sea in Lifeboat 8; unfortunately, they were experienced stewards and the like, not sailors. After they had lowered, and were attempting to push themselves out from Titanic, the ladies on board were critical of their ineptitude, and it certainly didn't help.

Doing their damnedest, stressed, scared, and frustrated, it was reported by a Mrs. White at the Senate Inquiry that one crewman said to another, "If you don’t stop talking through that hole in your face, there’ll be one less in this boat."

The person this vitriol was directly at was Thomas Jones, the lone seaman in Lifeboat 8, only 32 years old, who had been assigned to it by Captain Smith at the last minute. But it was the Countess who immediately took charge.

Jones famously said of the Countess that, because he had to row, "she had a lot to say, so I put her to steering the boat."

And she damn well did, stopping only briefly after an hour so she could take to comforting a fellow passenger, an almost-teenaged newlywed, who was distraught about leaving her husband.

The Countess said "the most awful thing was seeing the rows of portholes vanishing one by one" beneath the water, and later, the sounds of the dying, and the eventual absence of sound from the dead.

She, Tom Jones, and some others wanted to row back for more people, but were overruled for fear of the boat being overturned. Tom Jones is remembered as having said, "Ladies, if any of us are saved, remember, I wanted to go back. I would rather drown with them than leave them."

Tom's comment about the Countess having "a lot to say" has been intepreted in recent memory as snide, or some sort of punishment for a woman daring to speak out of turn, but he meant it in earnest. He said, "I heard the quiet, determined way she spoke to the others, and I knew she was more of a man than any we had on board.”

According the the Countess herself, "We were lowered quietly to the water, and when we had pushed off from the Titanic's side I asked the seaman if he would care to have me take the tiller, as I knew something about boats. He said, 'Certainly, lady.'"

At the subsequent inquiries, the Countess also made sure to emphasize that Thomas had wanted to turn the boat back.

If that isn't sufficient to refute the impression that Jones was being vindictive, the Countess bestowed an engraved silver pocket watch upon Thomas Jones in gratitude for his saving their lives. In reciprocation, he sent her the plaque from Lifeboat 8. They remained friends for the rest of their lives, writing to one another every Christmas; the Countess's letter was always sent with a pound enclosed, according to Jones's daughter. The plaque and pocketwatch now both belong to the Countess's family.

The Countess of Badass rowed, alternating with other women, through the night. When the rescue vessel Carpathia was finally sighted, the boat began singing "Pull for the Shore" and "Lead, Kindly Light."

Once on board Carpathia, the Countess was intent on helping steerage survivors, in translating, acquiring medicine, and making clothes. The London periodical Daily Sketch reported, "Her Ladyship helped to make clothes for the babies and became known amongst the crew as the 'plucky little countess.'"

According to her great-granddaughter, Angela Young, The Countess wrote a letter to her own parents, detailing her many busy hours on board Carpathia. In that letter, Noel wrote that she worked closely with the doctors to help feed the children on board so their mothers might recuperate. She was also sought out by the doctors to aid in calming a "hysterical" French woman who they feared might commit suicide; in addition, the young widow Pepita Penasco, who the Countess had comforted in the lifeboat, clung to her "like a baby" as she spoke no English and knew not a soul but one in America.

It further reported that a stewardess had lauded the Countess, telling her, "You have made yourself famous by rowing the boat."

Noel Leslie, Countess of Rothes, replied, "I hope not. I have done nothing."

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“Surrounded by Mothballs and Memories”: Quigg Baxter & Berthe Mayne

"Surrounded by Mothballs and Memories": Quigg Baxter & Berthe Mayne

The Baxters--matriarch Helene, her daughter Zette, and her son, Quigg--were an affluent family from Montreal. They had been traveling Europe through 1911, after Helene had sold her property in Montreal to absolve herself of her late husband's embezzling. I guess that's what you get when you marry yourself a man nicknamed "Diamond Jim."

Zette, 27, was married, and defied her husband's wishes by traveling with her family.

Quigg was 24, and had been a lauded football and hockey player back in his school days, until he was blinded by a stick to the eye in 1907. He continued to coach, though, and even set up one of the first international hockey tournaments in Paris.

Whiling away in a cafe in Brussels, Quigg met a young cabaret performer named Bella Vielly. Her real name was Berthe Antonine Mayne, and she was "well known in Brussels in circles of pleasure."

Quigg was mad about her, and they quickly fell into a secret affair. When he learned his family was returning stateside, he pleaded with Berthe to come back with him. She relented, and he purchased a ticket separate from and unknown to his family, installing his lover in a first-class cabin on C-Deck under the name Mme. De Villiers, a throwback to a prior lover of hers named Fernand de Villiers, a soldier in the French foreign legion who was eventually sent off to the Belgian Congo.

Helene Baxter had spent most of the journey on Titanic laid up with seasickness and nausea, and suffered weakness as a result.

When Titanic struck the iceberg, Quigg sought to discover what happened, and in so doing came across Captain Smith and Bruce Ismay in the hall. Captain Smith told him everything was just fine; Ismay, on the other hand, demanded that Quigg get his mother and sister to the lifeboats.

Helene had an anxiety attack when Titanic ceased moving, having taken comfort in the constant turning of the engine. Quigg carried his mother in his arms to the boat deck, and loaded her and his sister into Lifeboat 6.

He then went to fetch Berthe, and in what must have been the world's worst time to meet your future mother-in-law, Berthe was introduced to the Baxter women.

She did not want to get into the lifeboat, but Molly Brown helped persuade her. Quigg asked his mother and sister to be good to Berthe, and handed his mother his silver brandy flask. Now, the Baxter children had been raised to speak English to their father, and French to their mother, but it's reported that when he gave Helene the flask to keep warm with, she started in on him,wishing he wouldn't drink so much. But Quigg cut her off to ask if she was alright, and then bid everyone fare well.

Quigg Baxter died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

Helene Baxter never fully recovered from Titanic, and died in 1923. Zette moved to California, and according to her nephew, lived "surrounded by mothballs and memories" until her death on the last day of 1954.

And Berthe, the benefactor of the family's last promise to dear Quigg, stayed with the Baxters in Montreal for some time before returning to performance in Paris. She never married.

As an elderly woman, she told fanciful, ridiculous stories about having sailed on Titanic with a tragic Canadian millionaire, which no one in their right mind would believe. Until after her death in 1962, when her nephew discovered a curious shoebox among her effects.



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“See You Soon, Darling”: Joseph & Juliette Laroche

"See You Soon, Darling": Joseph & Juliette Laroche

Joseph Phillipe Lemercier Laroche was a gifted engineer from Cap Haiten, Haiti.

He was the only known black passenger on Titanic.

Joseph was 25 years old when he boarded Titanic in Cherbourg, France. He traveled with his two young daughters, Simone and Louise, and his wife Juliette, who was pregnant with their third child.

Joseph Laroche was born in Haiti in 1886. His mother, Euzelie, was 24 years old and a wildly successful business woman who made her substantial wages in trade. She was also a single mother.

Joseph was Euzelie's only child, and she prioritized her son's education. When she was absent and he was not in school, he attended cockfights and won handily in games of marbles with his friends. He was remembered as good-natured, but not particularly talkative.

Time wore on, and Joseph had been sent to study in France at just 15 years old with his teacher, Monsignor Kersuzan, Lord Bishop of Haiti.

And in the course of his studies in France, Joseph made a fateful connection. During an outing to the Parisian suburb of Villejuif, Joseph made friends with another young man named Maurice LeFargue. After a chat, Maurice invited Joseph back to his father's house for some food and drink.

Joseph certainly enjoyed the meal, but took even more pleasure in meeting the person who had prepared it: Maurice's sister, Juliette.

Within minutes, Joseph and Juliette were evidently besotted, and by the end of the meal, they had promised to write each other while he continued his studies a distance away. Soon enough, he was spending weekends with the LeFargues.

Joseph married Juliette on March 18, 1908, when he was 22 years old and she, 19. The ceremony was held at the local church in Villejeuf. At the reception, Joseph led his bride in a dance, and even showed his skills dancing the merengue.

Now a married man, Joseph immediately undertook an intense job hunt. His application was at last accepted by the company Nord-Sud, a company that possessed a contract for the "underground electric railway" being drawn up for Paris.

The Laroche family.


Joseph's first daughter, Simone, was born in 1909, to her parents' joy.

Louise, the younger of their girls, was born in 1910.

Joseph sought higher paying positions to help cover incurred expenses, but despite his familial pedigree, connections, and remarkable resume, he was refused time and again because he was black.

In 1995, Joseph's daughter Louise spoke candidly about her father's experience.

In the only interview she gave in 1995, in which she briefly mentioned the subject, Louise Laroche explained that her father faced "racial prejudice" at that time. "Joseph would find small jobs, but his employers always claimed that he was young and inexperienced, so they could pay him low wages."

From "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche," by Serge Bile. © 2019.

Low on options, Joseph and Juliette decided to move for their fiscal well-being, and were set to return to Haiti in late 1912 or early 1913.

But the timeline became urgent when Juliette found herself pregnant again.

With a job as a math instructor secured for Joseph by his eminent uncle Cincinnatus LeConte, the then-President of Haiti, the LaRoches were gifted tickets on the SS France by Joseph's mother, who was ecstatic that her son and his babies were at last coming home. She had never met her daughter-in-law or her grandchildren.

Joseph and Juliette soon found out, however, that vessel France had strict on-board rules about not allowing children to dine with their parents. The Laroches found this policy unfeasible for their situation--not to mention cold and unnecessary--so they exchanged their tickets for second-class passage on Titanic.

The family would travel from Paris to the port of Cherbourg by a luxury train called the New York Express.

April 10th was a bright day in France, and little Simone Laroche was all aflutter with excitement for the travel ahead.

After breakfast that morning, it is reported that Joseph and Juliette hired two taxicabs--both Renaults AG1s--for transportation to Gare Saint-Lazare, which was less than an hour from their home. Joseph and Simone took the first cab, while Juliette and Louise followed in the second.

Simone was giddy with anticipation upon her family's arrival at the train station, and while her father paid the taxi fare, the elder Laroche daughter ran ahead. Joseph called out and scolded her in Haitian Creole, as was his custom when his children were not behaving. Though Simone did not fully understand the language, she immediately obeyed her father.

At the station, a family friend named Monsieur Renard arrived to see off the Laroches. He brought with him a gift of two balloons--one for Simone, and one for Louise. Although Louise lost hers shaking the string, Monsieur Renard gallantly purchased a replacement.

La Gare Saint-Lazare circa 1910.


The New York Express, exclusively designated for the transport of First- and Second-Class passengers of Titanic, departed at 9:45am.

Once settled on the train, Joseph and Juliette struck up a friendship with a young couple from Canada.

Albert Mallet was an importer of cognac for a liquor firm, and he traveled to Paris often for work; he, his wife Antonine, and their toddler Andre were traveling back to Quebec after a short visit with family. Joseph and Albert chatted the whole way as their wives did the same, and their children played.

The Mallets, as it turned out, had likewise exchanged their tickets on the SS France for passage on Titanic, and for the very same reason that had compelled the Laroches: it simply was not feasible to dine without their children.

And with that, the voyage appeared to have started well. Bound for a ship on which most people would speak only English, the Laroche family had made fast friends with another French-speaking family of similar age.

Juliette wrote a letter to her papa while on board Titanic, which was postmarked from Queenstown, Ireland, on April 11th. It reflected a pleasant time, and Juliette wrote of the ongoing kindnesses of fellow passengers.

The girls ate well last evening. They slept in one stretch the whole night and were awoken by the bells announcing breakfast; those made Louise laugh.

Right now, they are walking on the covered deck with Joseph. Louise is in her small car, and Simone is pushing her. They have already made acquaintances: since Paris, we have traveled with a gentleman and lady and their little boy, who is the same age as Louise. I believe they are the only French on board. So, we sit at the same table and like this we can chat.

Simone amused me earlier; she was playing with an English girl who had lent her a doll. My Simone was having great conversation, but the little girl could not understand anything. People are very nice on board. Yesterday, they were both running after a gentleman who had given them chocolate.

From "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche," by Serge Bile. © 2019.

The couple to whom Juliette referred in her letter were, of course, the Mallets.

It is worth noting that there is little in the way discoverable first-hand accounts regarding racial treatment of the Laroche family while they were on board Titanic.

As a young interracial couple, it is assumed that they must have endured racism to an unquantified degree; their marriage, so full of devotion and strength, was neither commonplace nor socially acceptable by the standards of the era.

And yet, Joseph and Juliette paid this no mind. Their love, and their loving family, were all that mattered to them both. By all accounts, their company was warm, jovial, and accepting, and other passengers delighted in the presence of their sweet little girls.

Simone and Louise Laroche are mentioned, though not by name, in a letter written by fellow Second-Class passenger Kate Buss. "There are two of the finest little Jap[anese] baby girls, about three or four years old, who look like dolls running about."

The racism is there, even in a private letter. The Laroche daughters were not Japanese, but this was not a mistaken assumption on the account of Ms. Buss; it was a generic term of disparagement. At the time, people with not-white complexions were often called "Japanese" or "Italian".

By all accounts, Simone and Louise seemed to be having a gleeful time, but they missed their grandfather. Juliette also wrote the following to her papa.

I am going to stop [writing] because I think we will stop over soon, and I would not like to miss the mail service. Thank you, again, dear Papa, for all your kindness. Please receive the best kisses from your daughter who loves you. Little Simone and Louise send big kisses to their good grandfather. After getting dressed this morning, they wanted to see you.

From "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche," by Serge Bile. © 2019.

April 14th was a Sunday, and the Laroches attended religious services presided over by Father Thomas Byles, a fellow passenger and Roman Catholic priest.

That night, Joseph answered his cabin door to find a steward demanding the family don their life vests and get up on deck with urgency. Joseph woke his wife, and she exited the cabin with Simone in her arms.

Joseph snatched his coat, and stuffed its pockets with their money, jewelry, and paperwork. Then he swaddled tiny Louise inside it, and chased after his wife.

On deck, Joseph gripped Louise in one arm, and clung to an unnamed sailor who was holding men back from entering the lifeboat with the women and children. Joseph, who was fluent in both English and French, somehow managed to secure a spot in for his bewildered wife and their children amidst the chaos.

Some accounts claim that Juliette entered Lifeboat 14. Others believe that it was Lifeboat 8, because Juliette recalled that a countess was in the boat with them, which many suspect was Noel Leslie, the Countess of Rothes.

Juliette recounted the memory with desperate pain.

When the collision happened, there was terrible panic. People were pushing, in a hurry to get off the boat. Suddenly, I felt that they were pulling my older daughter away from me, my little Simone... I saw her thrown to a lifeboat suspended above the abyss. "My child," I yelled. "My child! It is my child that was taken away!"

But right at that instant, I felt someone grabbing me as well. A pair of hands took me, and threw me into emptiness. I found myself in the lifeboat, next to my little Simone, and up there, on the deck, in the middle of the scramble, I glimpsed my husband. Arms extended above the crowd, he was holding our younger girl, whom he was trying to protect against the push. He was struggling against the sailors, showing them the little girl and trying to make them understand that she was separated from me, her mother. At last someone grabbed our little Louise from my husband's hands, and soon she was in my arms.

Then the lifeboat was once and for all lowered onto the sea. I hardly had time to bid my husband a final farewell. I heard his voice, above the rumble, yelling: "See you soon, darling! There will be space for everyone, don't worry, in the lifeboats... Take care of our girls! See you soon!"

From "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche," by Serge Bile. © 2019.

There is no record of Joseph Laroche's last moments.

His body was never recovered.

Survivors on board the rescue ship Carpathia, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


When the Carpathia arrived on scene, the little Laroche girls were hoisted aboard in burlap bags.

Juliette, already surmising Joseph had died, did her best to remain level for the sake of her daughters. For instance, diapers were predictably absent on Carpathia. Juliette discreetly hoarded cloth napkins by sitting on them during mealtime, in order to use them later as makeshift diapers.

The coat that had kept Louise warm--and which Joseph had been present enough to stock with the family's valuables--is reported to have been stolen on board the Carpathia.

The rescue ship Carpathia docked at Pier 54 in New York City, April 18, 1912. George Grantham Bain collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


After the Carpathia docked in New York City, Juliette was transported to St. Vincent's Hospital and treated for her frostbitten feet.

Once she had recovered, Juliette and the girls returned home to France via liner on the morning of May 2, 1912.

According to "Le Matin," the local newspaper, Juliette's father, "an old man in mourning clothes," waited anxiously at the dock for the disembarkment of his bereaved daughter and grandchildren.

When they found each other, Juliette withered in her papa's arms, sobbing.

When Mrs. Laroche and her two daughters appeared on the gangway, the old man ran to them and father and daughter hugged for a long time, teary-eyed. Mrs. Laroche then recounted that at the time of the catastrophe, she and her two little girls had been forced to leave her husband behind. He'd tried to reassure her, affirming that he would be rescued just like her--only a little later. Crying, the poor woman repeated several times: "I believed him! I believed him! Otherwise, I would have never agreed to leave him!"

From "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche," by Serge Bile. © 2019.

On May 24, 1912, Juliette held a memorial service for Joseph in Villejuif. To every mourner, she distributed a card, which had Joseph's photo on it surrounded by a black band.

It read only, "Please pray for the repose of the soul of Joseph Laroche, who passed away on April 15, 1912, in the sinking of the Titanic."

Joseph would have turned 26 only two days later, on May 26.

Juliette gave birth to a boy around Christmastime, 1912; he was named after his late father.

Destitute, heartbroken, and tragically widowed with three children all under the age of 5, Juliette Laroche sued the White Star Line for damages, and was awarded 150,000 francs in 1918--approximately $250,000 today. Juliette used the funds to open a dry-cleaning business operating out of her father's house.

Joseph's mother traveled to France in 1920 to meet her grandchildren at last. Sadly, Juliette never traveled to her late husband's home in Haiti.

Juliette reportedly never spoke of Titanic with anyone except  fellow survivors Antonine Mallet and Edith Russell, the latter of whom she had met in Paris. For a number of years thereafter, Juliette received a small gift from Edith every April 15th, on the anniversary of the sinking.

Edith Russell, fellow Titanic survivor and friend to Juliette LaRoche.


Juliette Laroche never remarried.

She died in 1980 at the age of 90.


Bile, Serge. "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche." Mango Publishing, 2019.

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