The Wreck of a Titan - 1912
Two thousand fathoms beneath the waves of that part of the Atlantic which spreads itself in a waste of wintry waters to the eastward of Cape Race lies the great White Star Liner Titanic, sent helplessly to her ocean grave by one of those grim, uncharted terrors of northern seas—a giant iceberg. With her, too, lie buried 1,400 of the 2,200 souls with which she set out from Southampton on her maiden voyage to the West.
At this writing, a Cunard boat, the Carpathia, is steaming toward New York having aboard 800 of the survivors of the most appalling disaster ever recorded in the maritime history of the world.
The majority of those rescued are women, indicating that the men have gone down with the ship. The survivors were picked up by the Carpathia from the doomed liner's boats after hours of exposure in an ice-flowed sea.
All hopes that any other vessel had been able to rescue any of the Titanic's passengers were practically abandoned Wednesday when it was definitely announced that neither the Parisian or the Virginian, which on receipt of wireless calls for aid had been speeding toward the scene of the colossal tragedy, had anyone on board.
Thus, for the moment, are we left in awed and sorrowful contemplation of as fearsome a story as ever the dark annals of the deep disclosed—one at which a man might stand appalled, and a woman weep.
All day Wednesday, New York lay under the pall of an obsessing sense of desolation. As from the sea news come spluttering in by dots and dashes, confirming and piecing out the details of the awful disaster, men and women stood aghast, forgetting for a moment their immediate concerns, and talked of nothing but the wreck.
Even the revelers on Broadway were silenced, the tavern-haunters sobered into abstinence. Perhaps not within living memory has news laid so restraining a hand on the unceasing movement of Manhattan as this story of a giant liner gone to her irrevocable doom.
Around the White Star offices, a great crowd gathered. Some were impelled by curiosity, some by sympathy. Others there were stricken through with apprehensive fear and who sought with anxious inquiry and bursting hearts some scant message from the relentless sea.
In the presence of that awful happening on the banks of Newfound land, the sophistries, and veneer of life, considerations of social position, influence, affluence, fell away as would an unloosed garment.
That crowd of almost frenzied inquirers was nothing more, nothing less, than sorrow-stricken men and women—waiting for news—just a scrap of news.
Outside the published list of survivors, all the authentic information yet to hand could be easily compressed into the limits of a single newspaper column. The story of the wireless has been necessarily fragmentary, intermittent, sufficient only to fill those for whom it meant most with alternate hope and despair.
But from the flashes of the Marconi grams and the brief accounts relayed by skippers of vessels who strove, yet vainly, to reach in time the sinking leviathan, something of the appalling disaster of Sunday to the Titanic, may with reasonableness be written.
Especially, perhaps, for those who have traversed the great ocean highways—who have gone down to the sea in ships— it should not be difficult to frame at least some vague, qualified mind-picture of the scenes enacted aboard the Titanic during those last few hours of her brief, ill-fated life.
It was Sunday night. A day had gone down over the broad expanse of wintry waters—for hundreds of the Titanic's passengers the last they were destined to know this side of the resurrection morning.
Later, service would be held in the saloons, and voices raised in the singing of some familiar hymn loved of seagoing folk. Then over the throbbing liner would settle the comparative quiet of a Sabbath evening at sea.
Down in the steerage, maybe, some Hungarian mother crooned a lullaby learned in the Austrian Tyrol, to the fretful babe at her breast, or a blue-eyed Irish colleen sat with elbows on her knees and her face resting on her hands, thinking with tender memories of the green isle she had left behind her, dreaming of the great new land toward which her face was turned.
No thought, not even a suggestion of coming terror, no presentment or premonition of the coming disaster—everybody resting in that extraordinary sense of security which pervades a trans-Atlantic liner.
Then like a crash of echoing thunder would come that awful shock, flinging men and women from their berths, and wrenching down the sumptuous fittings of that floating palace from their bearings and scattering them like leaves smitten by an angry gale.
Then the hurried scrutiny made by Captain Smith and his officers, the realization that the queenly vessel which a moment before rode the waters of the Atlantic so proudly, had been dealt her death blow, the allaying, as far as possible, the terror of bewildered passengers by the devoted crew.
All this we know would happen, as British courage and discipline did what little could be done in the face of inevitable death. Then would come the inky darkness into which the doomed vessel would be plunged as the inrushing waters, and failing dynamos blotted out her electric system.
Aided only by the feeble light of torch and lantern every man would be at his post, lowering the lifeboats, and placing in them the women and children. And what of those harrowing scenes of parting, as man and wife, sweetheart and lover, parent and child, kissed a lingering, sobbing, the last goodbye? God pity them all! It almost breaks the heart to conjure up the scene.
Then, with no light in heaven save, perhaps, a few faint stars, the boats fared forth into the darkness, the white, sobbing women waving farewells to their men standing dimly outlined against the liner's rail.
Girt by formidable waves, with their present hope but little better than what it had been, holding only a slender belief in being able to reach the shore, the survivors drew away from the rapidly sinking vessel.
It is not difficult to imagine how with tense, strained ears they would listen, in the darkness, for sounds which would tell them that the Titanic had taken her final plunge, carrying with her into the caverns of the Atlantic those they held so dear ; how they would shrink and shiver in the drenching of that long, dark night and hopeless dawn, until picked up by the friendly Carpathia and headed for home.
But what of those left on the sinking Titanic? Imagine that awful pause, dividing life and death—that wintry sea, dark, heaving, boundless, the image of eternity.
Then the plunge, when the sea yawned around the giant liner like hell, and sucked her 'neath its whirling waves. Here and there, on the lip of the maelstrom, some strong swimmer, in his agony, would live a while—the rest were silent all.
Yet it is here that one finds a ray of slender light straggling through this dark scene of sorrow. These men died bravely, never faltering, upholding the best tradition of the Anglo-Saxon race, saving the women and children, dying themselves cheerfully, defending their honor, though at a price extremely dear.
It was no ignoble way to die, and the eyes of the world will turn in tender contemplation toward the lonely grave of the men of the Titanic, over which forever sweeps the unebbing sea.
The Titanic Inquiry (p 589)
At more than one of its sittings, Senator Smith's Titanic committee gave indications that had somebody or other possessing some little knowledge of maritime affairs been employed to ask sensible questions, the dignity, if not the usefulness of those sittings would have been materially advanced.
Nevertheless, certain well-established points were made, some pretty definite conclusions reached. Among them were that the Titanic was running at almost her full speed when she struck the iceberg; that she had received ample warning of the nearness of the ice fields; that she had practically disregarded this warning; that there had been next to no test of the safety appliances before starting on the ill-fated voyage; that the number of lifeboats were sadly inadequate to meet the appalling situation created.
This much has been practically determined. With regard to the outcome of the investigation, it will lead, we trust, to a worldwide standardization of life-saving appliances aboard ships of all nations; the standardization of wireless service by international agreement; the formulation of a code of procedure for wireless operators in case of disaster, and the fixing of much more rigid standards of inspection of steamships by American inspectors in American ports.
The United States is practically in a position to arbitrarily fix these standards of safety for all the world by insisting that no vessels be allowed to dock in American ports, except those adequately provided with lifesaving appliances and apparatus.
"The Wreck of a Titan," in The New York Observer, Vol. XC, No. 16, Whole No. 4641, Thursday, 18 April 1912, p. 492, 589.