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“My! I Wish I Could Go Out There Sometimes!”: Titanic’s Elevators

"My! I Wish I Could Go Out There Sometimes!": Titanic's Elevators

The Titanic was the last word in luxury, equipped with elite amenities and thoughtful details. And among its many novel components, a particular technology often goes unacknowledged: the elevators.

All in all, they were pretty nifty contraptions and certainly enjoyed by the passengers. Lawrence Beesley mused upon as much in his account, which was published only two months after the sinking of Titanic.

Perhaps nothing gave one a greater impression of the size of the ship than to take the lift from the top and drop slowly down past the different floors, discharging and taking in passengers just as in a large hotel.

© "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic," by Lawrence Beesley. 1912.

Titanic was neither the first nor the only passenger vessel to include this particular convenience. But it was among the few.

They were designed, of course, to surpass all others in the simple feat of exceptional customer experience. In fact, the White Star Line boasted the following in their promotional materials while expressing lavish awe for the First-Class Grand Staircase.

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

Titanic was outfitted with four passenger elevators: three available to First-Class passengers, and the remaining one for those in Second Class. In conjunction, the ship was staffed with a total of four Lift Attendants, one responsible for each passenger elevator. 

The position of List Attendant was categorized as Victualling Crew. The Victualling Department was made up of 421 people tasked with all manners of service provided to those on board the ship, from foodstuffs to linens to barber services to bathroom cleaning. And of course, elevator services.

Titanic’s elevators, as well as those installed on her elder sister Olympic, were designed and installed by R. Waygood Co., an established and international firm that was headquartered in London. The Otis Elevator Company has claim to those bragging rights today, however, owing to the fact that it merged with R. Waygood in 1914.

The lifts were electric in operation, but not in any modern sense of the word. There were no buttons to be pushed, and no door that automatically closed. They were, in essence, manual—powered by electricity but controlled by hand. The Lift Attendant was responsible for controling a lever which decided the direction of the lift. It took a bit of finesse to ensure a jostle-free ride from start to end, and skill to operate the lift so that it stopped at the desired deck with its gate perfectly aligned to the floor onto which the passengers would alight.

The ship’s four steam-powered engines generated thousands of amps of 100-watt electricity, which catered not only to the elevators, but also to equipment on the Bridge, deck cranes, loudspeakers, kitchen equipment, fans, and heaters—and, of course, the approximately 10,000 incandescent lightbulbs in use on board.

It is reported that each elevator’s capacity was 10 people at a time, including the Lift Attendant therein.

The Grand Staircase of the RMS Olympic from the Boat Deck, circa 1911. Taken by William H. Rau. The First-Class Elevators were immediately in front of the Grand Staircase on A Deck.

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The three First-Class lifts were tucked into a taut and tidy row just forward of the famed Grand Staircase on A Deck. Their course ran all the way down to E Deck. A curious design choice, considering the athletic amenities exclusively available to First-Class passengers occupied lower decks than the lifts could achieve. By terminating on E Deck, First-Class passengers found themselves one deck above the Swimming Bath and adjacent Turkish Baths of F Deck, and two decks too soon to access the Squash Court on G Deck. Lift passengers wishing to access those facilities would need to take leave of the elevators at the last available floor, and then proceed to take the stairs.

These gilded lifts, unlike the walled-off box elevators of today, were open-faced cages. They were designed in the Empire style, their frames trimmed with carved wood and accented ornate wrought-iron gates. They were outfitted with individual light fixtures and inviting sofas for passengers to make use of on their arduous vertical journeys.

The First-Class lifts were staffed by William Carney, who was the oldest of the Lift Attendants at 31 years old, as well as Frederick Blades and Alfred John Moffett King, who were 17 and 18, respectively.

Second-Class Entrance on RMS Olympic. The elevator sign is visible. Taken by Bedford Lemere & Co, 1911.

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The sole Second-Class elevator could be found aft, alongside the main staircase; it ran from Boat Deck to F Deck. It skipped A Deck entirely, however, because A Deck was exclusively accessible to First-Class passengers. This elevator was operated by Reginald Pacey, who was 17.

Reginald had never been employed on a ship before.

Lawrence Beesley, one of the very few Second-Class men to survive the disaster, wrote the following of young Mr. Pacey in his recollections.

He was quite young,—not more than sixteen, I think,—a bright-eyed, handsome boy, with a love for the sea and the games on deck and the view over the ocean—and he did not get any of them. One day, as he put me out of his lift and saw through the vestibule windows a game of deck quoits in progress, he said, in a wistful tone, "My! I wish I could go out there sometimes!" I wished he could, too, and made a jesting offer to take charge of his lift for an hour while he went out to watch the game; but he smilingly shook his head and dropped down in answer to an imperative ring from below.

Lawrence also wrote that he didn’t believe Reginald was on duty with his lift on the night of the disaster, but he was sure that had the boy been on duty, he would have offered his passengers nothing but a kind smile, even as he knew the ship was sinking. 

“I wonder where the lift-boy was that night,” Lawrence Beesley wrote. “I would have been glad to find him in our boat, or on the Carpathia when we took count of the saved.”

 Reginald Pacey, along with the three Lift Attendants Carney, Blades, and King, all were killed in the sinking of Titanic.

While the bodies of William Carney and Alfred John Moffett King were identified during the Mackay-Bennett’s recovery efforts, both Reginald Percy and Frederick Blades were lost.

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“I Can Look Back and See Every Detail”: Lawrence Beesley

“I Can Look Back and See Every Detail”: Lawrence Beesley

Lawrence Beesley was an accomplished science teacher, having graduated from Cambridge with honors in 1902. And while doing his post-grad at his first assignment at a grammar school, he discovered a rare algae that was named after him, called Ulvella Beesleyi.

Lawrence then went on to take a job at Dulwich College in London, where one of his students was future novelist Raymond Chandler.

Lawrence's wife passed away at only 37 years old. They had one child, Alec, who would grow up to marry Dodie Smith, the author of "101 Dalmatians".

So in 1912, after two years of grief and personal upheaval, Lawrence decided to take a long-overdue holiday to see his brother in Toronto.

Second-Class entrance on R.M.S. Olympic, circa 1911. Courtesy of Bedford Lemere & Co.

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Beesley boarded the Titanic as a second-class passenger on April 10, 1912, in Southampton.

His accommodations were ideally suited to his tastes. He wrote, “I had been fortunate enough to secure a two-berth cabin to myself, - D56, quite close to the saloon and most convenient in every way for getting about the ship."

Like any true academic would, Beesley mused extensively in his memoir of the disaster--the very first published--about the Second-Class library, which he visited on the afternoon of April 14, 1912.

I can look back and see every detail...the beautifully furnished room, with lounges, armchairs, and small writing or card tables scattered about, writing bureaus round the walls of the room, and the library in glass-cased shelves flanking one side—the whole finished in mahogany relieved with white fluted wooden columns that supported the deck above.

Excerpt from "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic" by Lawrence Beesley, published in 1912.

Beesley was reading in his room when the collision happened. Being on D Deck and above the point of impact, and with Titanic being so large, he felt it as nothing more than "an extra heave of the engines" and thought maybe the ship has sped up.

It wasn't until the incessant white noise of the engines stopped entirely, and Beesley noticed that the top of his mattress was no longer vibrating with their churning, that he knew something was wrong.

The Second-Class Library on R.M.S. Olympic, which was identical to Titanic's.

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Beesley stopped a steward in the hall and was assured that there was no cause for concern. Beesley dressed and went up to the boat deck, and was summarily dismissed.

On his way downstairs, Lawrence noted that even though the stairs appeared level, his footfall was out of balance, and he knew the ship was sinking. So he went to his room, dressed warmly, stuffed some books in his pockets, and returned to the boat deck.

This time, with no women and children in the vicinity, Lawrence Beesley was instructed by an officer to jump into Lifeboat 13.

Beesley not only survived the sinking itself, but also had a near miss when Lifeboat 13 drifted under Lifeboat 15 as it was being lowered, threatening to crush the occupants of Lifeboat 13. It was thanks to Lead Fireman Frederick Barrett that no one was harmed. Barrett managed to cut the ropes in time under great duress, saving seventy lives.

"Leaving the Sinking Liner" by Charles Dixon for The Graphic, published April 27, 1912, depicting lifeboats 13 & 15's near-calamity.

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BeeLawrence sley later described the sinking in poignant detail, making note of the ship's unnerving stillness and "the slow, insensible way she sank lower and lower into the sea, like a stricken animal" whose will to live had been lost.

In the dark after the sinking, he tried to calm a crying baby in the lifeboat by tucking a blanket about its toes, and in the course of conversation with the woman holding the baby, found out they had some mutual friends back in Ireland.

Lawrence Beesley went on to write his memoir, The Loss of the S.S. Titanic, while he was in America; it was published less than eight months after the disaster.

Its contents have proved invaluable to researchers seeking answers to questions about weather conditions, life and accommodations on board, and the last moments of the dead. For instance, Lawrence Beesley was adamant upon the issue of giving special recognition to the doomed bandmembers for their valor.

Many brave things were done that night, but no more brave than by those few men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea.

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

Lawrence returned to England on a Cunard liner--reportedly because the White Star Line was the competitor--and never traveled or went to sea again.

He eventually remarried and had three more children. His daughter recalled a single family outing to the beach, and said that her father kept his back to the ocean the whole time.

He also became a notable writer and golfer, and he notoriously crashed the set of the 1958 film "A Night to Remember," in hopes of having a renewed chance to go down with the ship. The director ultimately had him removed.

Lawrence Beesley died in 1967 when he was almost 90 years old.

SOURCE MATERIAL

Beesley, Lawrence. "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic." Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912. Rpt. by Mariner Books, 2000.

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