One hundred years after the RMS Titanic met its fatal end, the story of the tragic wreck continues to fascinate people worldwide. Out of over 2,200 people on board, approximately 700 lived to tell about it. Though many survivors and their family members disappeared into obscurity or were hesitant to talk about what they went through, others were willing to share their experiences during the wreck and in its aftermath. These are some of their stories.
Elizabeth Shutes served as a family governess on board Titanic and was 40 years old at the time; she was among the passengers quickly ordered to the Sun Deck after the ship hit an iceberg. She later described the chaotic scene on the lifeboat, shortly before they were rescued by Carpathia: “Our men knew nothing about the position of the stars, hardly how to pull together. Two oars were soon overboard. The men’s hands were too cold to hold on…Then across the water swept that awful wail, the cry of those drowning people. In my ears I heard: ‘She’s gone, lads; row like hell or we’ll get the devil of a swell.” Shutes was among those who reflected on “needless luxuries” aboard Titanic, which had been prioritized over lifeboats and other safety features. (Photo courtesy of National Archives)
Laura Mabel Francatelli
Laura Mabel Francatelli, a 30-year old secretary from London, reflected later on the dramatic arrival of Carpathia: “Oh at daybreak, when we saw the lights of that ship, about 4 miles away, we rowed like mad, & passed icebergs like mountains, at last about 6:30 the dear Carpathia picked us up, our little boat was like a speck against that giant. Then came my weakest moment, they lowered a rope swing, which was awkward to sit on, with my life preserver ’round me. Then they hauled me up, by the side of the boat. Can you imagine, swinging in the air over the sea, I just shut my eyes & clung tight saying ‘Am I safe,?’ at last I felt a strong arm pulling me onto the boat…. ” (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress)
Passengers lucky enough to have been picked up by Carpathia arrived in New York City days later and started a frantic search for their loved ones, desperately hoping they too had been saved. Collyer, a second-class passenger who was 31 years old, later described her panicked search for her husband: “There was scarcely anyone who had not been separated from husband, child or friend. Was the last one among the handful saved? … I had a husband to search for, a husband whom in the greatness of my faith, I had believed would be found in one of the boats. He was not there.” (Left: Collyer and her daughter, courtesy of Library of Congress; Prints and Photographs Division, Bain Collection)
Lawrence Beesley, a young widower and science professor in London, left his young son at home to board Titanic, hoping to visit his brother in Toronto. At left is a photo of Beesley and a fellow passenger in Titanic’s gymnastic room. Just nine weeks after the tragedy, Beesley published the famous memoir The Loss of the S.S. Titanic. The book contained stern recommendations for avoiding further tragedies. He also had a powerful reason to be skeptical about certain superstitions: “I shall never say again that 13 is an unlucky number. Boat 13 is the best friend we ever had.”
Florence Ismay, wife of J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line
White Star Chairman Bruce Ismay boarded a lifeboat to safety and was criticized by many for his decisions regarding Titanic. A letter from his wife, Florence, reveals the relief she felt upon realizing he had made it through the disaster alive: “…Only a week ago today…I watched that magnificent vessel sail away so proudly. I never dreamt of danger as I wished her Godspeed…I know so well what bitterness of spirit you must be feeling for the loss of so many precious lives & the ship itself that you loved like a living thing. We have both been spared to each other, let us try to make our lives of use in the world.” At left is their wedding photo.
At left is a picture of the crowd awaiting the ship’s survivors in New York City. Eva Hart was seven years old at the time of the Titanic disaster. A second-class passenger with her parents, Eva lost her father in the tragedy. She went on to live a vibrant life, and spoke frequently about the sinking of Titanic and her approach to life. “People I meet always seem surprised that I do not hesitate to travel by train, car, airplane or ship when necessary. It is almost as if they expect me to be permanently quivering in my shoes at the thought of a journey. If I acted like that I would have died of fright many years ago—life has to be lived irrespective of the possible dangers and tragedies lurking round the corner.” (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress)