Hey, everyone. I think we’re long overdue for a Mystery Monday post. You may remember my post, Strange Coincidences, where I recount events in the life of Robert Lincoln, son of our sixteenth president. I’ll let you decide if you think today’s story is another strange coincidence.
I’ve always been fascinated with the Titanic. The luxury ocean liner sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. I vividly recall when Dr. Robert Ballard and his crew located the wreckage in 1985. Over the years, I eagerly sought information about the ship, the passengers, and survivors.
A few years ago, I happened across a book titled Titanic Voices: 63 Survivors Tell Their Extraordinary Stories by Hannah Holman. Ms. Holman used excerpts from newspaper articles, testimonies before the British Board of Inquiry, and other sources. In some cases, survivors wrote books about their experiences.
There are several fascinating stories, but the account of first-class passenger Archibald Gracie intrigued me the most.
Gracie was an amateur historian who had published a book about the American Civil War. He was returning to the US after visiting Europe to rest and recuperate from a recent illness. His book, The Truth About the Titanic, gives his account of events leading up to that fateful night and his surviving the incident.
I think Mr. Gracie is best suited to tell his story, so I will post excerpts from his book. In this first part, he writes about his events on the morning of April 14, 1912.
One of the characters of the ship, best known to us all, was the gymnasium instructor, T. W. McCawley. He, also, expected me to make my first appearance for real good exercise on the morrow, but alas, he, too, was swallowed up by the sea. How well we survivors all remember this sturdy little man in white flannels and with his broad English accent!
With what tireless enthusiasm he showed us the many mechanical devices under his charge and urged us to take advantage of the opportunity of using them, going through the motions of bicycle racing, rowing, boxing, camel and horseback riding, etc. Such was my morning’s preparation for the unforeseen physical exertions I was compelled to put forth for dear life at midnight, a few hours later. Could any better training for the terrible ordeal have been planned?
The exercise and the swim gave me an appetite for a hearty breakfast. Then followed the church service in the dining saloon, and I remember how much I was impressed with the ‘Prayer for those at Sea.’
Mr. Gracie was among the last passengers to escape the sinking ship when Lifeboat B floated off the port side at 2:15 a.m. Before this time, he helped other survivors into various lifeboats. What follows is his account of the sinking:
My holding on to the iron railing just when I did, prevented my being knocked unconscious. I pulled myself over on the roof on my stomach, but before I could get to my feet I was in a whirlpool of water, swirling round and round, as I still tried to cling to the railing as the ship plunged to the depths below. Down, down, I went: it seemed a great distance. There was a very noticeable pressure upon my ears, though there must have been plenty of air that the ship carried down with it.
When underwater I retained, as it appears, a sense of general direction, and, as soon as I could do so, swam away from the starboard side of the ship, as I knew my life depended upon it. I swam with all my strength, and I seemed endowed with an extra supply for the occasion.
My being drawn down by suction to a greater depth was undoubtedly checked to some degree by the life-preserver which I wore, but it is to the buoyancy of the water, caused by the volume of air rising from the sinking ship, that I attributed the assistance which enabled me to strike out and swim faster and further underwater than I ever did before. I held my breath for what seemed an interminable time until I could scarcely stand it any longer, but I congratulated myself then and there that not one drop of sea-water was allowed to enter my mouth.
With renewed determination and set jaws, I swam on. Just at the moment I thought that for lack of breath I would have to give in, I seemed to have been provided with a second wind, and it was just then that the thought that this was my last moment came upon me. I wanted to convey the news of how I died to my loved ones at home.
As I swam beneath the surface of the ocean, I prayed that my spirit could go to them and say, ‘Goodbye, until we meet again in heaven.’ In this connection, the thought was in my mind of a well-authenticated experience of mental telepathy that occurred to a member of my wife’s family. Here in my case was a similar experience of a shipwrecked loved one, and I thought if I prayed hard enough that this, my last wish to communicate with my wife and daughter, might be granted.
I can’t imagine what was going through this man’s mind, believing he would die. But, let’s read on.
To what extent my prayer was answered let Mrs. Gracie describe in her own written words, as follows:
‘I was in my room at my sister’s house, where I was visiting, in New York. After retiring, being unable to rest I questioned myself several times over, wondering what it was that prevented the customary long and peaceful slumber, lately enjoyed. “What is the matter?” I uttered. A voice in reply seemed to say, “On your knees and pray.” Instantly, I literally obeyed with my prayer book in my hand, which by chance opened at the prayer “For those at Sea.”
Coincidence? Or other strong forces at work?
Mr. Gracie, like the other surviving passengers, was picked up by the Carpathia. Sadly, he didn’t fully recover from his ordeal and died on December 4, 1912. His book, published posthumously in 1913, is one of the most important sources of information from the survivors.