Today we mark the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. I could take this time to discuss why the sinking has continued to captivate us, even a hundred years later, or talk about the cultural ramifications of the sinking, or the much-needed changes made to outdated safety regulations. But I think that the best way to remember this tragedy is to hear from those who lived through it.
Stewardess Violet Jessop on the impact with the iceberg:
Crash! Then a low rending, crunching sound, as Titanic shivered a trifle and the sound of her engines gently ceased.
Second class passenger Lawrence Beesley:
As I dressed, I heard the order shouted, “All the passengers on deck with life belts on.” We all walked up slowly with the life belts tied on over our clothing, but even then we presumed that this was merely a wise precaution the captain was taking. The ship was absolutely still, and except for the gentle, almost unnoticeable, tilt downwards, there were no visible signs of the approaching disaster.
Alfred White, a greaser in the engine room:
I was on the whale deck in the bow calling the watch that was to relieve me when the ice first came aboard. The collision opened the seams below the water-line but did not even scratch the paint above the line. I know that because I was one of those who helped to make an examination over the side with a lantern. I went down into the engine-room at 12:40 AM. We even made coffee, so there was not much thought of danger. An hour later I was still working at the light engines. I heard the chief engineer tell one of his subordinates that number six bulkhead had given way. At that time things began to look bad…I was told to go up and see how things were, and made my way up a dummy funnel to the bridge deck. By that time all the boats had left the ship, yet everyone in the engine-room was at his post. I was near the captain and heard him say, “Well boys, it’s every man for himself now.”
Harold Bride, wireless operator:
I went out on deck and looked around. The water was pretty close up to the boat deck. There was a great scramble aft, and how poor [Jack] Phillips worked through it I don’t know know. He was a brave man. I learned to love him that night, and I suddenly felt for him a great reverence to see him standing there sticking to his work while everybody else was raging about. I will never live to forget the work of Phillips for the last awful fifteen minutes. I thought it was about time to look about and see if there was anything detached that would float. I remembered that every member of the crew had a special lifebelt and ought to know where it was. I remembered mine under my bunk. I went and got it. Then I thought how cold the water was.
Eighteen year old first class passenger Mary Marvin, who was on her honeymoon:
As I was put into the boat, [my husband] cried to me, “It’s all right, little girl. You go. I will stay.” As our boat shoved off he threw me a kiss, and that was the last I saw of him.
First class passenger Robert W. Daniel, a banker from Philadelphia:
Not until the last five minutes did the awful realization come that the end was at hand. The lights became dim and went out, but we could see. Slowly, ever so slowly, the surface of the water seemed to come up towards us. So gradual was it that even after I had adjusted the life jacket about my body it seemed a dream. Deck after deck was submerged. There was no lurching or grinding or crunching. The Titanic simply settled. I was far up on one of the top decks when I jumped. About me were many others in the water. My bathrobe floated away, and it was icily cold. I struck out at once. I turned my head, and my first glance took in the people swarming on the Titanic’s deck. Hundreds were stranded there helpless to ward off approaching death. I saw Captain Smith on the bridge. My eyes seemingly clung to him. The deck from which I had leapt was immersed. The water had risen slowly, and now tho the floor of the bridge. Then it was to Captain Smith’s waist. I saw him no more.
Second class passenger Lawrence Beesley, from his viewpoint on board Boat 13:
And then, as we gazed awe-struck, she tilted slowly up, revolving apparently about a center of gravity just astern of amidships, until she attained a vertically upright position; and there she remained–motionless! As she swung up, her lights, which had shone without a flicker all night, went out suddenly, came on again for a single flash, then went out altogether. And as they did so, there came a noise…it was as if all the heavy things one could think of had been thrown downstairs from the top of a house, smashing each other and the stairs and everything in the way…When the noise was over the Titanic was still upright like a column: we could see her now only as the stern and some 150 feet of her stood outlined against the star-specked sky, looming black in the darkness, and in this position she continued for some minutes [before she sank]…the sea closed over her and we had seen the last of the beautiful ship on which we had embarked four days before at Southampton. And in place of the ship on which all our interest had been concentrated for so long and towards which we looked most of the time because it was still the only object on the sea which was a fixed point to us–in place of the Titanic, we had the level sea now stretching in an unbroken expanse to the horizon: heaving gently just as before, with no indication on the surface that the waves had just closed over the most wonderful vessel ever built by man’s hand; the stars looked down just the same and the air was just as bitterly cold.
The cries of the drowning floating across the quiet sea filled us with stupefaction: we longed to return and rescue at least some of the drowning, but we knew it was impossible. The boat was filled to standing-room, and to return would mean the swamping of us all, and so the captain-stoker told his crew to row away from the cries. We tried to sing to keep all from thinking of them; but there was no heart for singing in the boat at that time. The cries, which were loud and numerous at first, died away gradually one by one, but the night was clear, frosty and still, the water smooth, and the sounds must have carried on its level surface free from any obstruction for miles, certainly much farther from the ship than we were situated. I think the last of them must have been heard nearly forty minutes after the Titanic sank. Lifebelts would keep the survivors afloat for hours; but the cold water was what stopped the cries.
Sources: The Loss of the S.S. Titanic: Its Story and Its Lessons by Lawrence Beesley, Thrilling Tale by Titanic’s Surviving Wireless Man as told in New York Times, April 28, 1912 by Harold Bride, The Titanic: The Extraordinary Story of the “Unsinkable” Ship by Geoff Tibballs, Titanic: Fortune & Fate by Beverly McMillan and Stanley Lehrer