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Surviving The Titanic

A century on, we’ll look at the sinking of the Titanic and the life stories of its survivors.

The Titanic's propellers. (Library of Congress)

The Titanic's propellers. (Library of Congress)


In 1912, on its maiden voyage, the super-ship Titanic sailed from Southampton with 800 bundles of asparagus on board.  Eight thousand cigars.  Forty thousand fresh eggs.  Forty thousand sausages.  And more than two thousand passengers.

More than 1500 would die when the great ship went down in the North Atlantic, one hundred years ago this weekend.  705 survived.  How they survived, and how they lived with the memories of that night, that sinking, is an epic story in itself.

This hour, On Point:  the sinking of the Titanic and the life stories of its survivors.

-Tom Ashbrook


Andrew Wilson, author of “Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of those Who Survived.”

James Delgado, director of maritime heritage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Chief Scientist of 2010 Titanic mapping expedition, he also dove to the Titanic wreck in 2001.

Orian Greene, descendant of Titanic survivors Clara Hays, her great-grandmother, and Orian Davidson, a great aunt.

Tim Maltin, author of “Titanic: A very Deceiving Night”

From Tom’s Reading List

National Geographic The wreck sleeps in darkness, a puzzlement of corroded steel strewn across a thousand acres of the North Atlantic seabed. Fungi feed on it. Weird colorless life-forms, unfazed by the crushing pressure, prowl its jagged ramparts.

The New Yorker In the early nineteen-seventies, my Uncle Walter, who wasn’t a “real” uncle but had a better intuition about my hobbies and interests than some of my blood relatives did, gave me a thrilling gift: membership in the Titanic Enthusiasts of America.

Library Journal April 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of Titanic. Below, LJ reviewer Megan Hahn Fraser interviews British author Andrew Wilson, whose bookShadow of the Titanic earned a starred review (“a captivating read that begins where most otherTitanic books end”).

Yahoo News April 15, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Here are 10 things you may not know about the luxury ship, which sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton England to the United States.

Titanic Photos

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  • http://twitter.com/Zandatsu Kai

    I drive past the shipyard where it was built every day on my way to work. It’s quite desolate now, apart from 2 massive yellow cranes, Harland and Wolff. Many people in Belfast still take pride in the Titanic being built here. I see nothing to boast about when a ship sinks after its first voyage.

  • Anonymous

    Testing of recovered materials from the wreck indicate that brittle steel and iron ensured that the ship would shatter and sink. Was this by accident or an act of cost savings to fatten someone’s pockets?

    Not that the ship would not have eventually gone to the bottom had the materials been to spec, but the ship might have stayed afloat longer and fewer lives been lost. This is a tragic reminder as to why we need regulation, inspection and testing to protect people from the acts of unethical, greedy business people.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       No, the steel was the best that could be made at the time.  This has already been investigated.  The Titanic was actually well above the regulatory requirements of its time–both in terms of lifeboats and watertight doors.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        WHY did so many DIE?  If what you say is true? 

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           What about my comment suggests that the ship was invulnerable?

      • Ray in VT

        What does that say about the requirements, though, when there weren’t enough lifeboats for all of the passengers?  Ahead of it’s time and better than others, but still woefully deficient in retrospect.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           The regulations that were in effect at the time were written for an earlier period when ships were much smaller.  The Titanic is an example of technology leaping ahead of the law.

      • Anonymous

        Not so according to several sources. Plate and Rivets recovered from the wreck underwent metallurgical tests and were found to be substandard even for the standards of the time.
        This was borne out in one documentary a number of years ago.
        http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/science/15titanic.html?pagewanted.Sorry, but it was built it to fail in the icy North Atlantic waters.

  • Ray in VT

    A few years ago my wife and I were in NYC, and the Discovery Channel Museum in Times Square had a Titanic exhibit.  I had Robert Ballard’s book when I was a kid, and always found it fascinating.  We were actually able to touch some pieces of the ship.  It was amazing, but a little spooky.

  • Brettearle

    Let’s face it:

    Unless the accounts are skewered, unfairly, against the rich, the Titanic survivors were compromised–predominantly and disproportionately–of the privileged and the wealthy.

    While the passenger list might overwhelming contain those from the affluent, the ship, of course, carried others, who were not part of that class.   

    And while one could argue that salaried members of staff and crew–stewards, engineering assistants, culinary waitstaff, etc
    –were `bound by their duties, especially in times of emergency’, it was very likely understood that the:

    Aristocracy would survive, first, and the so-called, “riff-raff” were obliged to sacrifice their lives, if necessary.

    If the women and children took priority, how many, of those women and children, by percentage, came from steerage, etc?


    “That all men are created equal”>>>>>>”But some are more equal than others”


    • Patrik

      Since the beginning of civilization…

      • Brettearle


        Not just OWS (“Occupation Wall Street”), i.e., the 99%, today, in our plutocracy.

        But rather, “Occupation World History”

  • JustSayin

    It offers a plethora of historical markers for its time. A highly covered snapshot of technology, greed, and social behavior.

    We can look back and compare that age with today, and contemplate wealthy men giving up their seats for women and children. It is difficult to believe that any member of today’s society of wealth, or ships crew being so noble.

    The shoddy construction persists…
    The greed persists…
    But the social gallantry is gone.

    Total selfishness is the moral guidepost now. 

    • Brettearle

      Are you suggesting that the Titanic survivors were all the result of gallantry and heroism?

      It is my understanding that a number of the underprivileged–percentage-wise–went down with the ship.

      • Ray in VT

        I think that a much higher percentage of wealthier passengers survived, but I think that it is also true that significantly higher percentages of women and children survived.

        • Brettearle


          But, one of the outrages, emanating from the Disaster, is the timeless theme of crucial elitism:

          “My life IS more valuable than yours and, therefore, in times of life-and-death, my life, unquestionably, takes priority (if not, too, in other situations and circumstances throughout life).”

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Why do you say, shoddy construction?  The Titanic was a well-built ship.  It’s not the fault of the designers or builders that it was subjected to damage that no similar ship could survive.

      • O’Sullivan

        Hi Greg,

        I always thought that the ship had been built with lower grade or “brittle” steel (to save time rather than money) and this is why it didn’t survive the collision ( I also thought that the iceberg was relatively small). This may be a conspiracy theory. But I also recall stories that the rivets which held the steel plates in place were also problematic.
        Titanic always brings to mind the recurrent fallacy …. the so-called “end of history” moment which is promptly followed by it utterly collapsing.


        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           The steel may have been somewhat brittle in cold water, but no one at the time knew that.  It wasn’t an attempt to save money by using substandard materials.  If the steel was brittle, it was just the technology of the time.

          The best current explanation that I’ve heard is that the iceberg bent the plates, opening a series of holes in the hull along a hundred or so feet.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    The crew of the Californian sat there watching rockets and moaning about how hard it would be to wake up and investigate.  They deserve no breaks here.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      You missed that part?  That, and other problems, were explained by the local weather conditions?

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         No, I didn’t miss that.  I was responding to that.  The crew of the Californian failed in their duty on that night.  No matter how many excuses are made, they failed.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    J. Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star Line, took a seat in a lifeboat, while many other men of his class stayed on board.  Ismay was rightly sneered for the rest of his life.

    • Patrik

      Along with the Capi-tan Italian Cruise ship, it gives us some good insight into the character of man when situations break down to primal life or death.

  • Mary

    I’m always puzzled why the Titanic has grabbed public imagination while our deadliest maritime disaster, the sinking of the Sultana at the end of the Civil War, is forgotten. Many of the men who died in the Sultana disaster were prisoners of war who had somehow survived the hell of the Andersonville prison. Is it just the irony of that situation that no one wants to ruminate on it?

    • Brettearle

      Unfortunately, in the eyes of the Public, death is more expected during wartime, than during the pursuit of elegant leisure. 

      That which is more expected, is less jarring and startling
      –as if it’s “supposed to be that way”.

      • Chadbcarlson101

        It is the metaphors of this ship wreck that have kept it in the public imagination– the idea that it was declared unsinkable,” rich and poor on the same ship, a portent of the loss of innocence personified in WWI and WWII soon to follow.

  • Sandy Untermyer

    My grandpa, Arthur Gray, Sr., then a young investment banker, had a ticket, and was deeply disappointed when he arrived at the pier to see the ship already cast off and on her way. A few days later he was very glad he missed the boat!

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Lightoller actually went down with the ship, but he floated off and was rescued by a small boat nearby.  He was never made captain of a ship, thanks to his association with the Titanic, but he did take his yacht across the English Channel to take soldiers away from Dunkirk.

  • Kfarley

    My great grandfather, Robert Bacon, after recently leaving his post as Ambassador to France, was scheduled to depart from England on the Titanic with his wife and daughter.  He received word from Paris that they needed him to help with the transition so he left England for France and his luggage made the trip to the bottom of the sea.

  • Patrik

    These stories are amazing!  Thanks for sharing all.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Doesn’t the wreck belong to the team that salvaged the first pieces from it?  That could have been Ballard, but he refused to lay claim by taking anything, so he wasn’t able to protect it.

  • Ricky Jay

    The study of the Titanic’s gravesite is interesting, but disgustingly expensive  — for what benefit? The multimillions of dollars would have been much better spent on cancer research, education, job training. etc.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    Dr. Robert Ballard, finder of the Titanic, says the ship was as relative sound as ships of the time.  The steel, the rivets, etc…
       Dr. Ballard also says that the White Star Line executives did NOT say the ship was ‘unsinkable’, or words to that effect.

  • Terry Tree Tree

    Dr. Ballard also says that he wishes he had laid claim to the Titanic, to make it an undersea museum, to protect it from all the looters etc…   The Maritime Court at the time said he would have to raise the ship, if he claimed it.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PQOCSU3NJ5J6SSQBEM5YBFCPZY Jason__A

    A lot is made today about the size of the ship. For 1912 it was indeed large, but by today’s standards it was small.  The QM2 is twice the size.

  • Anonymous

    I was fascinated by the theory that was put out today.  There were mirages that hid the iceberg, it would make sense.  All those seaman were looking for icebergs and it’s hard to believe they would have not seen it.  It would also explain why the California didn’t respond to the S.O.S.

  • Chadbcarlson101

    The photo listed as the “Titanic’s propellors” are actually from its sister ship, the Olympic, as is your photo of the staircase.

  • Review76

    Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library: Widener
    Library, the centerpiece of Harvard Yard, serves as the hub of the 15.6
    million-volume Harvard University Library system, the largest
    university library system in the world, second only in size to the Library of
    Congress in Washington, D.C. Harry Elkins Widener, born January 3, 1885,
    died in the waters next to the sinking Titanic April 15, 1912. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he was the son of George Dunton Widener (1861–1912) who also
    died in the Titanic  and Eleanor Elkins Widener, who survived the ordeal
    of the sinking, losing her husband and son; Harry was the grandson of the
    extremely wealthy entrepreneur, Peter A. B. Widener (1834–1915). Harry had graduated from
    Harvard College, 1912, and for a present he was afforded a trip to Europe.
     The return trip was made on the Titanic.  Sad to say, especially for
    Mrs. Widener, the magnificent columned edifice towering over Harvard Yard, much
    as the columns of the Supreme Court Building, tower over Washington, D.C. was
    made possible by the death of Mrs. Widener’s son Harry.  What a price to
    pay for such a structure. As much as NPR’s program on the Titanic completely
    ignored this piece of Titanic history, so to are most of the people, including
    students, who visit and study at Harvard, ignorant of the history of this
    architectural marvel, with its marble columns and ceilings.  A complete
    replica of the private library on the Widener estate is recreated in the
    interior center of this structure, capturing a piece of interior design history
    of the early 20th Century wealthy class of Northeastern United States.
     Ironically, had the Titanic not sunk, or had the Wideners not been
    aboard, Harvard would not have this piece of history to show-case.


    Plus I was totally annoyed by the vain remarks
    repeated ad nausea throughout the broadcast, that somehow the people in 2nd and
    3rd class faired worse that the rich who purchased first class births. What
    kind if idiocy is this?  As if the poor were being picked on.  Com-on this is reality.  People, even today, are willing to risk their
    lives to get out of their bad situation to come to America. And what has
    changed today? That is the way things were structured at the time.  All my
    family came across the Atlantic in steerage; this was a living hell; yet
    remaining in Europe was more of a hell.  This is just life.  Maybe NPR should have a program devoted
    totally to the dangers of being poor and destitute.At any case, Mrs. Widener, in the depth of her grief, put out a large sum of money to provide a living memorial to her son, a place where hundreds of Harvard students came and educated themselves in the stacks of Widener Library, so that after graduation, many of them went out in the world and did good work, especially to help the poor and the destitute around the world.  So let’s duly note that Mrs Widener was a survivor of the Titanic and her first class husband and son were its victims.  Let us be grateful for this bit of irony and let each of us think about what we can contribute to the world to make it a better, more livable, and understandable place.


  • Barry White

    Just back from amazing Titanic Belfast experience where shook hands with Mary Kapolnek, US daughter of one of only three survivors from a Co Mayo village from which 14 young emigrants sailed on Titanic. Great TV documentary, Waking the Titanic, concentrating on this one community, which stopped talking about the disaster for 90 years, should be widely shown. Three young farmers’ boys, needing a walk, found way from third class to first and helped the girls to lifeboat deck. One girl, in lifeboat, remembered she’d forgotten hat, got out, retrieved it and jumped 15 feet into another lifeboat. None of the boys survived. Myself, returning home by train, coincidentally met woman who married into Andrews family, grand-nephew of Thomas, Titanic designer. Oh yes, my father, James Patterson, chose the wood for the Titanic and made a doll’s house chest of drawers, which I have, made from Titanic samples.    

    • Barry White

      Sorry, James Patterson, who chose the wood for the Titanic and was an amateur carpenter himself, working for J.P. Corry, still extant, was my grandfather, not father.

  • Marc Brinker

    Great show. Survivor Frank Goldsmith, mentioned in the show, was my mother’s cousin. We met him a couple of times when I was young.  What a sad story. 

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