Friday, April 13, 2012

Titanic Centenary: April 13, 1912

April 13, 1912

April 13 started out with the wireless operators hard at work to fix the broken telegraph system. Because it was down, they missed some early ice warnings, and got even more backed up with passenger messages. At one point in the morning, Major Archibald Butt, a first class passenger and military aide to President Taft, stopped by to see the wireless in action, but was disappointed to find it was still being repaired. Phillips and Bride had it working again by that afternoon, and were back in business. The stack of waiting messages must have been daunting, because according to Bride, they were still trying to catch up at the time of the accident.

(A side note: while most accounts of the events that week say the wireless broke down late Friday night, and was fixed early Saturday morning, some push that a day later. In fact, an article written by Harold Bride himself shortly after the disaster claimed the wireless broke Saturday night and was only fixed hours before the iceberg was struck. So it's hard to say which is the case. If you’d like to read it, the New York Times has a PDF up of the article. It is also available as part of The Story of the Titanic as Told by its Survivors, which includes Lawrence Beesley’s book, Col. Archibald Gracie’s book and Commander Charles Lightoller’s account. A very interesting read, and one I used often in my research.)

There was one bit of good news that morning, however. While Captain Smith was on his daily rounds, he was informed by the Chief Engineer, Joseph Bell, that the fire in coal bunker #6 had finally been put out. It had been burning for about two weeks, since her sea trials, and had been a concern throughout the voyage. There had been some concern about it, and if it had still been burning when they docked in New York, the captain would likely have had to call the fire department to come put it out before making the return trip back to Southampton.

For everyone else on board, April 13 was a normal, perhaps even boring, Saturday at sea. Nowadays, cruises are packed from minute to minute with things to do, but in 1912, the only organized activities were three meals a day and a church service on Sunday morning. The rest of the time, passengers entertained themselves. Saturday was a sunny day, but still cool, so most people probably stayed indoors, reading or writing in the libraries. Here is a quote from second class passenger Lawrence Beesley, from his book, The Loss of the S.S. Titanic. (Photo is Titanic's second class library, though more likely a photo of Olympic.)

"There is very little to relate from the time of leaving Queenstown on Thursday to Sunday morning. The sea was calm, - so calm, indeed, that very few were absent from meals: the wind westerly and southwesterly, - "fresh" as the daily chart described it - but often rather cold, generally too cold to sit out on deck to read or write, so that many of us spent a good part of the time in the library, reading and writing. I wrote a large number of letters and posted them day by day in the box outside the library door: possibly they are there yet."

Since there isn't much more to say about April 13, I want to add another quote I found from Beesley, about the second class lift steward. I feature him (Reginald Pacey) in Destined, and from everything I have read, Beesley's account is the only one that ever mentions him. Something about Pacey has always tugged at me, and while writing the book I developed a strange attachment to him. Reading Beesley's account probably had a lot of do with that. Even he seemed to be somewhat enamored of the young man.

"I wonder where the lift-boy was that night. I would have been glad to find him in our boat, or on the Carpathia when we took count of the saved. 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. I think he was not on duty with his lift after the collision, but if he were, he would smile at his passengers all the time as he took them up to the boats waiting to leave the sinking ship."

Don't forget the Destined Blog Tour going on this week. Today's stop: Seeing Night Reviews


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