Saturday, May 14, 2022

Titanic Bodies


"There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers."
  --Phillip Franklin, Vice-President of the White Star Line.

Everyone knows the story of the Titanic, even those who didn't see James Cameron's 1997 love letter to the disaster.  The ship advertised as "unsinkable" did just that, ironically enough on its maiden voyage.  When she slipped beneath the sea in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, she took more than 1,500 souls with her.

In the days following the disaster, more than 300 bodies were pulled from the Atlantic by the CS Mackay-Bennett, a transatlantic cable-laying and cable repair ship.  Those that were identifiable were claimed by friends and family.  Most however, were far too decomposed, making positive identification impossible.  More than 100 such bodies were buried in unmarked graves at Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

This blogger has yet to visit those graves.  On a recent trip to New York however, I did find the final resting places for three Titanic victims at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.  

Archibald Gracie IV was an American writer, historian, and real estate investor.  When it became obvious that the ship was doomed, Gracie assisted the second officer in loading women and children into the lifeboats. He himself however, would go down with the ship. 

Although initially pulled under by the suction, Gracie managed to free himself and swim to the surface.  He spent the next several hours standing atop an overturned collapsible lifeboat, with a handful of other survivors.

"There arose to the sky the most horrible sounds ever heard by mortal man except by those of us who survived this terrible tragedy," Gracie later recalled.  "The agonizing cries of death from over a thousand throats, the wails and groans of the suffering, the shrieks of the terror-stricken and the awful gaspings for breath of those in the last throes of drowning, none of us will ever forget to our dying day."

Gracie was one of the 705 survivors to be rescued that night.  Soon thereafter, he published his personal account of the disaster, entitled Titanic: A Survivor's Story.  But as a diabetic, the incident had a lasting impact on Gracie's health, and he died just eight months later, on December 4, 1912.  He was one of the first survivors of the tragedy to pass away.

Location: Catalpa Plot, Section 23/24
Inscription: "Hero of S.S. Titanic, Sunk April 15, 1912"

Isador Straus was an American businessman and politician.  He served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, and along with his brother, founded the Macy's Department Store chain. 

In 1871, he married Rosalie Ida Blun (Ida Straus).  The couple had seven children together, and by the time they boarded Titanic, had spent more than 40 years as husband and wife.

In terms of the sinking, there's is a story that is often portrayed with great romance in film and literature.  Although offered a seat in the lifeboat, Ida refused to leave Isador's side.  Survivor and friend Archibald Gracie later quoted her as saying "I will not be separated from my husband.  As we have lived, so we will die, together."

The couple were last seen arm-in-arm on deck.  One survivor described it as "the most remarkable exhibition of love and devotion."

Isador's body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett.  Ida's however, was never found. A private mausoleum was erected at Woodlawn by the family, where Isador's body was interred.  A bottle of ocean water was placed in the grave to represent Ida.

Location: F-4 Myosotis
Inscription: "Many waters cannot quench love - neither can the floods drown it."
--The Bible, Song of Solomon 8:7

Rest in peace.