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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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Launch Day

Launch Day

No, not April 10, 1912.

May 31, 1911, when liner-in-progress SS401 took its first bath.

It seemed that all of Belfast came to witness Titanic's so-called baptism in the River Lagan; some estimate up to 100,000 in the crowd, elbowing for space wherever it could be found. Recall from last year's post about the Harland & Wolff shipyard that the building of any ship, but especially the White Star liners, required the masterwork of thousands of citizens over a period of years. It forged a deeply personal connection, and was an accomplishment for the entire community. It bound them in elation and, less than a year later, in unbridled grief.

It's a challenge to underestimate just much the Titanic meant to Belfast.

As the design and dimensions of the Titanic and the Olympic are practically identical it is not now necessary to say much on this point, seeing that a detailed description of the latter - which would apply equally to her sister ship - has already been published in our columns. The vessels mark a new epoch in naval architecture. In size, construction, and equipment they represent the last word in this science...

Every detail had to be judged with mathematical accuracy if accidents had to be averted, and the preparations had therefore to be made with great care and caution. Over the bows of the vessel the White Star Company's flag floated, and there was displayed a code signal which spelled the word "success". If the circumstances under which the launch took place can be accepted as an augury of the future, the Titanic should be a huge success.

The ceremony was lost on at least one unnamed shipyard worker, though, who was reported to have said of the launch, "We just builds 'em, then shove 'em in."

Admission was sold with a ticket--the proceeds were reportedly donated to two local children's local hospitals, so: right on, Harland & Wolff. Select tickets to the launch survive today. As evidenced by the creases, the tickets all spent some time in their owners' pockets.

Titanic was not complete by any means--just its hull. It had none of its iconic four funnels, and the opulence that we associate with the ship was not yet installed. This was the day that Belfast would see if its newest baby could float.

An inch-thick coat of soft soap, tallow (id est, animal fat), and train engine oil slicked the tracks to allow the Titanic to slide down Slipway 3 into the waters at Belfast Lough, amounting to 23 tons of what must have been truly putrid grease. A daunting 80 tons of cable and multiple anchors were used to moderate the speed.

White Star was not the break-a-champagne bottle-on-the-hull sort of company. But it still knew how to get its pomp on. At least 90 members of the press were in attendance. Shipyard workers were given holiday without pay--unless they were assisting the launch.

Lord Pirrie (left) and J. Bruce Ismay on May 31, 1911, prior to Titanic's launch. Taken by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


By all accounts, the launch of Titanic could not have been scheduled for a more perfect day, though it was a bit hot for those who couldn't find shade.

Ladies formed a considerable proportion of the aggregate attendance, and even if their picturesque frocks appeared a trifle incongruous when contrasted with the surroundings of the shipyard itself they were unmistakably in harmony with the glow of the soft turquoise sky, from which the piercing rays of the sun descended, making the heat exceedingly trying for those who witnessed the launch.

Company dignitaries and those shipyard workers with ticketed admission took to stands that were built above the crowd. Lord William Pirrie, the Harland & Wolff chairman who was also celebrating a shared birthday with his wife that day, returned from inspecting the hydraulic rams shortly after noontime. At approximately 12:05 p.m., a pair of rockets were fired to warn other crafts in the vicinity. After ascending the stands with White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay and financier J.P. Morgan, Lord Pirrie finally gave the signal at 12:13 p.m.

Another red rocket was set off.

And as little white flags bearing "Good Luck" shuddered en masse, an exclamation of "There she goes!" echoed in the crowd.

It took a total of 62 seconds for the bow to take the water as the crowd chased its descent, after which the empty hull floated serenely to the other side of the Lagan. From there, five tugboats dragged what would become Titanic to the deep water berth where it would be fitted for its maiden voyage next year.

Titanic launching from the dry dock. By Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


And in the chaos of all this, yes, someone did die.

James Dobbin was what was called an 'old hand'--an established and well-known shipwright about the Yard. On Launch Day, he was assigned to knocking out the wooden support beams as the ship groaned forward. He was cross-sawing one of these shoring timbers when it collapsed and crushed him.

Dobbin was extricated by his colleagues and sent to the Royal Victoria Hospital--and in the company car, no less--where after surgery, he died from his injuries on June 2, 1911, two days following the launch of Titanic. His cause of death was listed by the coroner as "Accidentally crushed under a piece of timber... Shock and haemorrhage following fracture of pelvis."

Jimmy Dobbin was 43, and married. It's reasonably speculated that his wife Rachel and their only child, 17-year-old James, were most likely there that day, witnessing the launch alongside all the rest of Belfast... with no concept of what was happening to Jimmy as Titanic slid away.

And hardly did anyone else. Not Lord Pirrie, who hosted Ismay and Morgan at a private lunch afterward. Not any of the jollymakers celebrating through the day and into the evening. And all the while Titanic bobbed and whispered in its berth, awaiting its engines, its fittings, its crew and its passengers.

From the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.


In 2014, a family photo album containing over 100 before-unknown photos of Titanic and Olympic were auctioned by the family of John Kempster, who was a director and senior engineer at Harland & Wolff; thirteen of those photographs were taken May 31, 1911. On that day, Kempster was acting as the master of ceremonies at one of the celebratory luncheons hosted by Harland & Wolff at Belfast's Grand Central Hotel.

A haunting handwritten caption of the newly discovered photos reads 'Going, going, gone.'

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