Archibald Gracie #MysteryMonday

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.

The RMS Titanic as it sailed from Southhampton, England on April 10, 1912. (Public Domain)

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.

Archibald Gracie (Public Domain)

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.’

The bow of the sunken Titanic, photographed in June 2004. (Public Domain)

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?

The gravestone of Archibald Gracie (Creative Commons Photo)

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.

30 thoughts on “Archibald Gracie #MysteryMonday

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  1. I can’t imagine anyone NOT being drawn to the story of the Titanic. It’s a story unlike any other in many ways, despite the fact that countless ships have been lost at sea. Yet, the tragedy of the Titanic looms larger than most, if not all, others. Possibly because it was so huge and was on its maiden voyage. There had been a lot of hoopla about it before it even set sail. Add in the number of well-known figures on board, and the multitudes planning to start a new life in America, and you have an unforgettable story.

    Gracie’s personal accounting must surely be a fascinating perspective, indeed. I’ll be taking a look at his book, myself. I saw the movie three times in the theater, not because of the eye-candy romance angle, though that was fine in its day, but because the scenes of the interior of that magnificent ship simply mesmerized me. I could just imagine what it might have felt like to be aboard, dining and dancing in such luxury, and then finding myself crammed into a lifeboat if I were lucky, or
    more likely, disappearing beneath that dark water forever.

    I’ve always liked stories where these kinds of inexplicable moments happen. I believe in them, though I’ve never experienced one, myself. Great post, Joan!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve just begun reading the entire book and so far find it interesting. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have been there on that night.

      The only other shipwreck that has intrigued me was that of the freighter, Edmund Fitzgerald. And that’s probably because of the Gordon Lightfoot song!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always been fascinated by the Titanic, and just looking at those underwater pics gives me chills. What a bizarre and harrowing story, Joan. Stories like this can really make you think.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Many ships have sunk in the century since, but The Titanic just stays with us. what an interesting account and it seems it is always worth trying a bit of telepathy when it might be your last message! But I felt a real shock that he sadly died not long after.
    A family story is that my great grandmother sat bolt upright in the middle of the night calling out Billie – on the very same night my grandfather, William, nearly died of dysentery in the WW1 French battlefields.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! That is an amazing story about your great grandmother.

      I agree about the Titanic. Its story always fascinated me. The only other shipwreck that I was intrigued by was the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald that sank in Lake Superior in 1975. Probably wouldn’t have been aware of it had it not been for a Gorden Lightfoot song.

      Like

  4. That excerpt made it all the more real what those passengers went through. Now I want to read the rest. To hear him be encouraged gave me chills, Joan.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had only read excerpts that were included in Ms. Holman’s book, but I looked on Amazon today and Mr. (or Col.) Gracie’s book is available on Kindle. And right now it’s only .99. Purchased my copy.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Jan, I had never read the entire book but I learned today it’s available on Amazon. I bought a copy and can’t wait to read it.

      I’m like you, I can’t imagine the terror those people faced. And to think of the women who boarded lifeboats and had to leave their husbands on the ship. Not sure I could have done that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! What an amazing tale. Like Harmony I had goosebumps, especially when Mrs. Gracie hears the voice and then opens her prayer book to the prayer “For Those at Sea.” It’s sad Mr. Grace did not fully recover, but the fact that he was able to survive the sinking and return to his family, able to spend months with them warms my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I certainly think so. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that both read “A Prayer for Those at Sea.” And his morning may have seemed routine, the swimming and workout prepared him for what lay ahead.

      Liked by 2 people

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