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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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Alma Paulsson


Alma Palsson (Americanized: Paulson) was an immigrant from Sweden; she was 29 when she boarded Titanic as a third-class passenger with her four young children.

Alma had been waiting for enough funds for her husband, Nils, to purchase tickets so they might finally join him in Chicago. The children--daughters Torborg and Stina, sons Paul and Gosta--ranged in age from 2 to 8 years old.

Nils had emigrated to America after realizing that he didn't want to be a miner anymore, and that mining was pretty much the only gig around where the Palssons lived in Sweden.

He arrived in Chicago in 1910; after landing a job as a tram conductor, he set to saving up enough money for his family to reunite in their new country. Swedish immigrants were the third-most robust nationality on Titanic, after the British and the Americans.

When Titanic struck the iceberg, Alma apparently struggled to gather and dress her children. By the time they got to the boatdeck from steerage class, it was too late; all the lifeboats had gone.

Another Swede named August Wennerstrom tried to look after the patriarch-less family in their distress. He said that he tried desperately to hold onto two of the Palsson children as the water washed the deck, but they were swept away. Wennerstrom survived.

Little else is known about Alma and her children; she was not seen again until her corpse was recovered by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett. It is thought that she must have presented an eerie and heartbreaking sight when she was found floating on the sea, her fair hair undone around her beautiful face.

She was listed as follows.


Brown Coat; green cardigan; dark shirt; brown skirt under; boots; no stockings

Wedding ring; brass keeper; mouth organ; purse and two coins; a letter; 65 kroner; had four children with her; letter from husband, Neil Paulsson, 94 Townsend St, Chicago.

Memory persists of Alma playing songs on the listed mouth organ (a harmonica) for her frightened children as they waited helplessly for the ship's submersion.

None of the Palsson children, if recovered, were ever identified. For decades, it was assumed that little Gosta was Titanic's famed "Unknown Child," but genetic testing has at last proved otherwise.

An account of Nils Palsson's reaction exists, including his desperate attempts to find out if an orphaned boy was his son. At the White Star Offices in Chicago, Nils begged for information about his family.

He was told they were not listed on the roster of survivors.

In broken English, he hoped out loud that maybe they didn't sail.

Your family was on the boat, but none of them are accounted for.' The man on the other side of the counter was assisted to a seat. His face and hands were bathed in cold water before he became fully conscious.

He was finally assisted to the street by Gust Johnson, a friend who arrived with him. Paulson's grief was the most acute of any who visited the offices of the White Star, but his loss was the greatest. His whole family had been wiped out.

Nils eventually remarried and moved, where he planted 4 trees in his backyard to mourn and honor his lost family. Gosta, only two years old, was born after his father's departure; Nils never met his youngest son.

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