When RMS Titanic went down on April 15, 1912, after hitting an iceberg on April 14, 1912, it was a very different time than it is today. The sinking of a ship is a terrible tragedy, and often, there is so much panic. In 1912, there was a hard and fast rule in a shipwreck situation…women and children first. The only men allowed in the lifeboats were men needed as auxiliary seamen to man the lifeboats. Charles Herbert Lightoller was born March 30, 1874 into a family that had operated cotton-spinning mills in Lancashire since the late 18th century. His mother, Sarah Jane Lightoller (née Widdows), died of scarlet fever shortly after giving birth to him. His father, Frederick James Lightoller, emigrated to New Zealand when Charles was 10, leaving him in the care of extended family. Lightoller was a British Royal Navy officer and the second officer on board the RMS Titanic. He was also the most senior member of the crew to survive the Titanic disaster. Lightoller was the officer in charge of loading passengers into lifeboats on the port side. It was no easy task, because people were in a severe state of panic. Other seamen were launching lifeboats that were not filled to capacity, and since the ship did not have nearly enough lifeboats for all the people onboard. It is possible that orders that specifically said, “women and children only” may have been the reason so many lifeboats were launched before they were filled to capacity. I’m not sure if that is true or not, but if it was the case, it is a very sad revelation. It is also possible that as many as 400 more people could have been rescued, had the order been worded just slightly different. Nevertheless, Lightoller was following the orders as given to him, and not questioning the command.
When all the lifeboats were launched, and the crew and remaining passengers knew the Titanic was surely going down, Lightoller and his fellow officers “all shook hands and said ‘Good-bye’” as they saw the last lifeboat off. Lightoller then dove into the frigid water from the bridge choosing to take his chances in the water, rather than the ship. Miraculously he managed to avoid being sucked down along with the massive ship. He clung to an nearby overturned lifeboat until the survivors were rescued. Lightoller was the last person pulled aboard the Carpathia and the highest-ranking officer to survive the wreck. One might imagine that surviving the greatest maritime disaster of the 20th century would have made Charles Lightoller give up the sea forever, but he was not a man to let a little thing like having a ship ripped out from under him end his adventures at sea. No, he was not even close to being done with the sea.
Following his survival of the shipwreck of Titanic, Lightoller went on to serve as a commanding officer of the Royal Navy during World War I, Lightoller was given command of his own torpedo boat. He was decorated twice for gallantry for his actions in combat, including sinking the German submarine UB-110. He emerged from the Great War as a full naval Commander. Lightoller retired after the war, but couldn’t leave the sea behind entirely. He and his wife bought their own boat in 1929. They called it Sundower and spent the next decade cruising around northern Europe and carrying out the occasional secret surveillance mission for the Admiralty when the Germans began preparing for war again.
Though Lightoller was retired by the time World War II started, he provided and sailed as a volunteer on one of the “little ships” that played a part in the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation. Rather than allow his motoryacht to be requisitioned by the Admiralty, he and his son Roger and a young Sea Scout named Gerald Ashcroft, crossed the English Channel in Sundowner to assist in the Dunkirk evacuation. The boat was licensed to carry just 21 passengers, but Lightoller and his crew brought back 127 servicemen. On the return journey, Lightoller evaded gunfire from enemy aircraft, using a technique described to him by his youngest son, Herbert, who had joined the RAF and been killed earlier in the war. Gerald Ashcroft later described the incident, “We attracted the attention of a Stuka dive bomber. Commander Lightoller stood up in the bow and I stood alongside the wheelhouse. Commander Lightoller kept his eye on the Stuka till the last second – then he sang out to me “Hard a port!” and I sang out to Roger and we turned very sharply. The bomb landed on our starboard side.” So, years after his first lifesaving event, Lightoller was once again saving lives in an emergency. Many people would be surprised to learn that he even had a yacht, but the sea was still a part of him. At the time of the evacuation Lightoller’s second son, Trevor was a serving Second Lieutenant with Bernard Montgomery’s 3rd Division, which had retreated towards Dunkirk. Unbeknownst to his dad, Trevor had already been evacuated 48 hours before Sundowner reached Dunkirk.
After the Second World War, Lightoller managed a small boatyard in Twickenham, West London, called Richmond Slipways, which built motor launches for the river police. Lightoller died of chronic heart disease on December 8, 1952, aged 78. He was a long-time pipe smoker, and he died during London’s Great Smog of 1952, which took the lives of many elderly people with breathing issues. His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at the Commonwealth “Garden of Remembrance” at Mortlake Crematorium in Richmond, Surrey.
When a ship sinks, the first person to bring up an object from a wreck can claim legal ownership of the wreck under international maritime law. That gives that person the control of the wreck and control over salvage rights. Robert Ballard, one of the men who discovered the Titanic in 1985, had mixed feelings about disturbing the graves of those victims who are still there…a very noble man, if you ask me. Ballard’s partner, Jean-Lous Michel, agreed. They made the decision not to disturb the wreck, but rather to leave it in the pristine (for a wreck) condition that it was in. They didn’t bring up anything from the wreck.
Unfortunately, their act of decency and kindness, left a legal door open, and that has been the greatest source of regret for the two men. Because they chose to bring nothing up from the wreck, they could not claim legal ownership of Titanic. Unfortunately, that left the ship vulnerable, because anyone and everyone now had a legal right for salvage the contents, and even parts of the ship…and they did. The artifacts and ship parts were free for the taking…and they were big business, especially after the movies came out, and interest grew. Soon, Titanic Ventures went in to claim salvage rights, and began bringing up artifacts to sell for exhibits and souvenirs. Since then, they have made a fortune on exhibits all over the world.
Following the find, and subsequent decision not to remove an artifact, anyone with the ability to explore the ocean floor that deep, went in and raided the ship. I’m sure that many of us have seen the Titanic exhibits, me included, and even purchased one of the artifacts, me included, but in my defense, I did not know the thoughts and wishes of Ballard and Michel, or the thoughts and feelings of the families of the deceased, at that time. I looked at the exhibit as a learning tool. I love learning, and I love history, and in fact, one of my own ancestors died on the Titanic, which I suppose gave me as much right to see the exhibit as anyone, but I’m still not sure it is right to make money off of the horrific way others lost their lives.
I remember as I went through the exhibit, walking through the recreation of the steerage rooms, with the eerie sounds of the water on the outside, thinking of the people who had been trapped there on that fateful night. I remember looking at the piece of the hull, thinking that I was standing almost close enough to reach out and touch part of a ship that had been so far under the ocean. I have seen both versions of the Titanic movies, but while looking at the exhibit, it was the original movie that came to my mind. Titanic wasn’t really a love story. It was a loss story. It was a story of bravery, courage, and yes, love…the kind of love that made a wife refuse to leave her husband and parents to comfort their children, when all hope of survival was lost…holding in the tears of knowing that their children would never get to live their life to adulthood. When I think about all the lives that were lost on that fateful day, I can see how Ballard and Michel would want to leave the Titanic as it was, thereby preserving the graves of all those poor souls. While their idea was noble, it is sad that they didn’t bring at least one thing us so that their ownership and control could remain the gift they had planned to give the families.
On September 1, 1985 a ship that had been missing in the North Atlantic since 1912…the RMS Titanic…was finally located, but the way in which it was found was not what it seemed to be. Everyone knows the story of Titanic, either from personal loss, history, or from recent movies on the subject, that romanticized it and endeared the ship to the world. The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, after sailing headlong into an iceberg, while traveling at an unsafe speed, against protocol. The disaster took 1500 people to a watery grave, and changed the protocols concerning the radio room, speeds in iceberg prone areas, and radar to warn the ships about obstacles in the area.
Oceanographer, Robert Ballard successfully found the Titanic while on a scientific mission for, of all people, the US Navy. The Navy had no interest in the Titanic, but Ballard had long wanted to find it, and he decided that the current mission would be the perfect chance to hunt for the Titanic, as well as the two submarines, USS Thresher and USS Scorpion, both of which had gone down in the North Atlantic and both of which were carrying powerful nuclear reactors. The Navy wanted to know if the Soviets had shot down the submarined and if their nuclear material still remained 15,000 feet beneath the surface.
Ballard asked the Navy to fund a project called Argo in the early 1980s. Argo was a submarine that could photograph the underwater to a depth of 20,000 feet. He wanted to find Titanic, but the Navy wanted to us the Argo to find the Thresher and the Scorpion. They agreed provided that he search for all three. In 1985 Ballard set out on a covert Cold War Mission, but publicly he was looking for Titanic. Ballard found the USS Scorpion, and then had just 12 days left to find Titanic. It was not going to be easy. Twelve days to find a ship that the French Research Institute couldn’t locate in five weeks.
While it seemed unlikely that the team would find the Titanic in the short amount of time they had left, their worry about the project’s success would prove unfounded. Around 2am on September 1, 1985, after over a week of taking pictures and finding nothing, the on-duty watch team called for Ballard. The Argo had spotted something unusual on the seafloor. As the team peered at a grainy image before realizing that they were looking at the boiler from the Titanic. The team was ecstatic, as the popped champagne for a toast. Then they realized that it was almost the exact time that Titanic went down 73 years earlier. The team felt almost as if they were violating the sanctity of a grave, even if it was well below them. Ballard later wrote, “It was one thing to have won – to have found the ship. It was another thing to be there. That was the spooky part. I could see the Titanic as she slipped nose first into the glassy water. Around me were the ghostly shapes of the lifeboats and the piercing shouts and screams of people freezing to death in the water.”
I’m not a superstitious person…don’t believe in that sort of thing, but I can a strange coincidence as clearly as the next guy. Ramon Artagaveytia was born July 14, 1840 in Montevideo, Uruguay, to Ramon and Maria Artagaveytia. December 24, 1871 found Artagaveytia sailing on the America, a ship out of Uruguay, when the boiler overheated and caught fire. The resulting catastrophic damage doomed the America to the ocean floor. Witnesses said that the America had been racing another ship into the port at Montevideo Harbor at a high rate of speed, and it is thought that the excessive boiler pressure caused it to catch fire.
At the time of her sinking, America was carrying 114 first class, 29 second class, and 30 “popular” class passengers. I’m not sure what “popular” class, was, but I assume steerage. Of the 173 passengers, only 65 survived the sinking. Artagaveytia probably would not have been one of them, but he made a last ditch effort and jumped overboard and swam for his life. He recalled later that so many of the passengers were badly burned, and the ensuing nightmares Artagaveytia suffered, kept him too terrified to travel by ship for the next 40 years. That was particularly hard for Artagaveytia, who came from a family of sailors.
In 1905, Artagaveytia took over a farm in Garamini, Argentina. In 1912, Artagaveytia was still living in Argentina, but decided visit his nephew, who was the head of the Uruguayan Consulate in Berlin. Before returning home to Argentina, he decided to visit the United States, and it was that decision that sealed his fate. Artagaveytia told his cousin that he finally felt at ease about traveling on a ship. He thought he might even be able to sleep while on board, and not stand always at the rail wearing his life jacket. The thing that finally made him feel better about travel by ships was the wireless telegraph. He finally thought that someone would know where these ships were, and that they could arrive quickly to help if needed. With that knowledge and the peace of mind it brought with it, Artagaveytia boarded the Titanic. Everyone knows the fate of the Titanic, and how so many mistakes were made…from sailing too fast, to ignoring the warnings, to turning off that all important radio. Ramon Artagaveytia had survived the sinking of the steamer America, but he would not make such an escape from Titanic. About a week after the disaster, his body was pulled from the North Atlantic. Once they were sure of his identity, he was returned to the Uruguayan Consul at Halifax. His body was forwarded to New York and then to Montevideo, Uruguay. He was buried in Cemeterio Central in Montevideo on June 18, 1912.
Most people have heard of the Titanic sinking, and how disaster could have been prevented, had they just slowed down, listened to the warnings, and had they had enough lifeboats. There is, however, another ship sinking that not so many people have heard of, or if they had, they didn’t pay much attention to. It is the Lusitania. Like the Titanic, the sinking of the Lusitania could have been prevented too, had a number of simple precautions been taken, such as not to sail at all that fateful May day in 1915.
RMS Lusitania left New York for Britain on May 1, 1915, unfortunately during a time when German submarine warfare was intensifying in the Atlantic. On February 4, 1915, Germany had declared the seas around the United Kingdom a war zone, and the German embassy in the United States had placed newspaper advertisements warning people of the dangers of sailing on Lusitania. Not to defend the Germans, but they had warned people that they would attack all ships, military or passenger. Unfortunately, not many people boarding Lusitania that morning had time to read the paper before embarking on their journey. It amazes me that it was left to the people, who were told that the ship could outrun the German U-boats. They were also told that they would have escort ships as they entered the war zone. And, they were told that the U-boats were not attacking neutral passenger liners. Unfortunately, these things were not factual. Part of the problem was that the Allies had begun disguising war ships as passenger ships on the assumption that the Germans would not attack passenger ships. Other passenger ships were actually used to transport soldiers and ammunition, or even just ammunition, in the thought that they would be safe from harm that way. The Allies were also supposed to have escort ships to take the passenger ships, but that did not happen in the case of the Lusitania.
The sinking of the Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania occurred on Friday, May 7, 1915 during the First World War, as Germany waged submarine warfare against the United Kingdom which had implemented a naval blockade of Germany. The ship was identified and torpedoed by the German U-boat U-20 and sank in just 18 minutes, and also took on a heavy starboard list. The Lusitania went down 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, killing 1,198 and leaving 761 survivors. The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany, and it was a key element in the American entry into World War I. The torpedoing and subsequent sinking became an iconic symbol in military recruiting campaigns. The injustice of it brought about the outrage that would likely cause soldiers to enlist. Still, the United States did not immediately enter into the war. The American government first issued a severe protest to Germany…a waste of time really. Then, following immense pressure from the United States and recognizing the limited effectiveness of the policy, Germany abandoned unrestricted submarine warfare in September 1915.
Some historic events seem to continue to intrigue us, many years after the event took place. The RMS Titanic was one of those events. The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912…as we all know, considering the movies that have been made detailing and even romanticizing the tragedy. Of course, the way that so many people lost their lives that night is something that many people have wondered about all these years. Musicians who played well into the disaster, in an effort to keep people calm, the many men who died because they did the honorable thing and allowed the women and children to be saved first, and the women who would not leave without their husbands…all of these gave us a glimpse of a time when people did the right thing no matter the cost. There are precious few of those kinds of people around these days.
With all the interest concerning the Titanic, an idea occurred to someone, that maybe there should be a duplicate Titanic…a way to return her to her former glory, even if it is only a duplicate. The new ship is supposed to be an identical copy of the infamous ocean liner, which sank in 1912 following a collision with an iceberg. However, to avoid a repeat disaster, Titanic II will be outfitted with plenty of life boats, and will have a welded, not riveted hull, plus modern navigation and radar equipment.
The project initiated by Australian businessman and politician Clive Palmer, has not always been smooth sailing, however. The project was announced in April 2012, which was 100 years after the original Titanic sank. The plan was that Titanic II would be the flagship of the proposed cruise company Blue Star Line of Brisbane, Australia. At that time, they intended to launch the Titanic II in 2016. The project was delayed until 2018, and then to an expected 2022 date, but with the 2020 Coronavirus worldwide shutdown, I wonder if that date will also have to be moved back.
“The ship will follow the original journey, carrying passengers from Southampton to New York, but she will also circumnavigate the globe, inspiring and enchanting people while attracting unrivaled attention, intrigue and mystery in every port she visits,” said Palmer in a statement. The planned maiden voyage will take passengers from Dubai to New York, however, reports CruiseArabia, with the first sailing scheduled to take place in 2022. It’s possible for this maiden voyage to happen, but it will take a few less problems going forward.
Alvin Kelly was born in Manhattan on May 11, 1893. His story began in a tragic way, because his father died before his birth and his mother died in childbirth with him. Kelly, now a newborn orphan, was raised in orphanages and passed around to various relatives. When Kelly turned 7, he started climbing onto poles and a few years later, he scaled the outside of buildings in his neighborhood…and by the way, his name wasn’t Alvin back then. It was Aloysius Anthony Kelly. He became Alvin when he ran away to go to work on a cargo ship. He was just 13 years old, and he changed his name to Alvin…probably to remain anonymous.
It wasn’t Kelly’s life as a runaway that made him unique, however, because runaways have existed for centuries. His childhood trick of climbing on poles stuck with him for the rest of his life. In fact, during the 1920s and 1930s, Kelly earned a name for himself…and a certain degree of notoriety…by sitting atop flag poles and other odd elevated perches for extended periods of time. I can’t imagine the purpose of such an act, and it’s not the most conventional way to fame, but for Alvin ‘Shipwreck’ Kelly it worked. Shipwreck Kelly, as he became known, is credited with starting the flagpole sitting fad, which, strangely, became popular in the Roaring Twenties, and he even earned a spot in the World Record Book for his sitting ability. I suppose an actor, comedian, magician, and such, needed a gimmick or a nickname, so Kelly began to use the nickname ‘Shipwreck’ claiming that he had survived the sinking of the Titanic. The story was proved to be untrue. Even then, Kelly claimed that he had many other close calls in his life. He said he had survived five shipwrecks, two plane crashes, three car accidents and one train derailment. In reality, Kelly most likely, acquired his nickname in the boxing ring. Not the greatest boxer, critics claimed he was often “adrift and ready to sink.”
As a teen and young man, Kelly hopped from job to job. His unusual ability to climb a pole and perch at the top did earn his work that he might not have otherwise been able to get. In addition to working at sea, he was a stunt pilot, movie double, steelworker, high diver, boxer, and a steeplejack. During World War I, Kelly was an ensign in the Naval Auxiliary Reserve, serving on the USS Edgar F. Luckenbach.
You might be wondering what started his Pole Sitting career. Well, like many a young man, Kelly was not one to back away from a dare. In 1924, he was dared by a friend to climb to the top of a flagpole in Philadelphia outside a local department store. Of course, Kelly jumped at the chance to prove himself. He quickly ascended the pole and perched himself on top. The stunt attracted a large crowd, many of whom then went inside to shop in the department store. The store manager asked Kelly to stay up there a while…it was good for business! Newspapers carried pictures of Kelly’s stunt, many daredevils began copying his stunt. A fad was born! Soon pole sitting was a popular trick and copycat sitters did it for laughs, on a dare, or to protest. Even though so many others were doing it now, Kelly, the original pole sitter, continued his stunts to the delight of onlookers and journalists. Everyone knew he was the original, and the others were merely copycats.
Never content, Kelly continued to look for ways to outdo his latest tricks. In 1926 in Saint Louis, he stayed perched atop a pole for seven days and one hour. The next year, in June of 1927 in Newark, New Jersey, he extended his record to twelve days. Next, it was a 23 day sit on a flagpole in Carlin’s Park in Baltimore in 1929. His final record was set in 1930 when he stayed on a flagpole on Atlantic City’s Steel Pier for 49 days and one hour. I don’t know about you, but I can’t begin to imagine such extended days sitting on a flagpole. Nevertheless, for Kelly, it seemed to be a normal part of his daily routine. Newspapers of the 1920s loved to feature photographs of Kelly “sitting high in the air, especially ones of him doing everyday things, like shaving or reading a newspaper or brushing his teeth. During his sits, Kelly rarely ate, sustaining himself on coffee and cigarettes. Although he used a leg tether as a safeguard against falling, He learned to sleep sitting upright and he explained that he slept with his thumbs stuck in holes in the pole. If he started to lean one way or the other in his sleep, the pain in his thumbs would wake him in time for him to right himself.”
Kelly toured across the country during the peak of his fame, and charged admission for people to see him sitting on a flagpole. I would find watching someone sit on a pole would be boring, but people did. He once estimated that he spent 20,613 hours sitting on flag poles in his lifetime, including about 1,400 hours in pouring down rain and 210 hours in sub-freezing temperatures. He was often hired to do publicity stunts because business owners knew he could draw a crowd. For example, on October 13, 1939, Kelly was hired to promote National Donut Dunking Week by sitting on a pole in Manhattan and eating 13 donuts dipped in coffee. I wonder how much they paid him for that stunt.
As the Great Depression of the 1930s progressed, people became less interested in Kelly’s tricks…and less tolerant. In 1935, he attempted to break his own record again, but the Bronx police said he was creating a public nuisance. The police threatened to chop down his pole, if he didn’t come down and when he did, he was promptly arrested. His last attempt at pole sitting was in Orange, Texas, in 1952. That day, while sitting on the pole, Kelly suffered two heart attacks and was forced to come down. He announced his retirement from pole sitting and died a week later.
Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, the world was still very aware of the dangers of travel by ship. The Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable, and yet on April 14, 1912, it took more than 1500 people to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with it. Many safety precautions had changed since Titanic went down. The ship’s radio room had to be manned at all times, crews were trained extensively in emergency procedures, and ships were equipped more than enough lifejackets and lifeboats. Every precaution that they knew to take had been taken, making The Empress of Ireland one of the safest ships on Earth.
On May 29, 1914, The Empress of Ireland left Quebec Harbor on a transatlantic journey to Liverpool England. She was sailing in heavy fog down Canada’s Saint Lawrence River, carrying 1477 passengers and crew. The Norwegian freighter Storstad was also sailing on the Saint Lawrence River on that fateful day. Sailing in heavy fog, without the modern GPS equipment to keep everyone informed of the ships’ positions, is a seriously dangerous undertaking. I don’t know that the normal protocol was for sailing in fog, but it would make sense to me that they should drop anchor and wait for the fog to lift before continuing on. I’m sure that these days, the ships would have some kind of protocol.
The Empress and the Storstad spotted each other several minutes before the inevitable collision, but altered courses and confused signals brought them into the fateful moment of impact. I suppose that if each ship hadn’t moved in the same direction, they might have been able to avoid the collision, but unfortunately they did move in the same direction. The Storstad penetrated 15 feet into the Empress of Ireland‘s starboard side, and the vessel sunk within 14 minutes, drowning 1,012 of its passengers and crew in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. It was one of the worst ship disasters in history. Only seven lifeboats escaped the rapidly sinking vessel, but thanks to the efforts of the crew of the Storstad, scores of survivors were pulled out of the icy waters.
Fourteen years before the Titanic sank, Morgan Robertson wrote the novella Futility. It was about the large unsinkable ship “Titan” hitting an iceberg in the Northern Atlantic. Both the Titanic and the fictional Titan did not have enough lifeboats for the thousands of passengers on board. Both were short by about half. While the story behind the sinking of the Titan is somewhat different than the actual events of Titanic, the two are eerily similar, and with so many similarities, one has to wonder how this could have happened. It was like Robertson knew what was coming.
The story of the Titan puts the “unsinkable” ship sailing through the north Atlantic at breakneck speeds, because as we all know nothing could sink such a ship. Any breech of the holds would immediately close the water-tight doors, stopping the spillover into the other holds. As Titan sailed through the icy waters, they came into an area of fog, and still they did not slow down. Watchmen were posted, one of whom, John Rowland, tended to indulge in drink, since the love of his life left him, and now somehow was on the same ship, and she was married and had a child. While Rowland had been drinking, he was still the one to spot another ship…not that it made a difference. The titan continued full speed ahead, cutting the smaller vessel in half and killing all aboard. The ship still didn’t slow down, and the captain tried to buy the silence of his men, but Rowland would not be bought. As the trip continues, things just get worse. Before long, the ship hits an iceberg, and enough holds are breeched to seal Titan’s doom.
The book, “The Wreck of the Titan,” originally called “Futility,” was so similar to the events of the Titanic, that it was almost eerie, and yet, it was enough different that you knew it was not the same event. It was simply a “fact is stranger than fiction” situation, and no one could possibly have anticipated that a ship with a very similar name, loaded with people and half the necessary lifeboats, would sail at breakneck speeds across the north Atlantic during a time when the icebergs were floating everywhere, just like the ship in the story, and that the ship…Titanic would suffer the same fate as the storybook ship, Titan suffered, fourteen years after the author dreamed up the story in his mind. And yet that is exactly what happened.