More than a century has passed since the unsinkable Titanic met an untimely end in the Atlantic Ocean. Four days into her maiden voyage to New York, the Titanic struck an iceberg just before midnight on April 14, 1912. Within hours, the massive ship had sunk about 400 miles south of Newfoundland, Canada. More than 1,500 of the 2,224 passengers and crew members onboard the luxury liner perished in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. Many survivors of the wreck recounted the terror and chaos onboard the Titanic in its final moments. These were emotional tales of loss, love, and the human spirit's fight to live. These are some of their stories.
The Navratil Orphans
Young Michel and Edmond Navratil boarded the Titanic with their father, Michel Navratil Sr., who was bitter from a recent separation from their mother, Marcelle Caretto. Marcelle had won custody of her boys but allowed them to visit their father for the Easter holiday. Michel Sr. purchased second-class passes for the Titanic and fled for America, introducing himself as Louis Hoffman and his sons as Lolo and Momo. When Titanic struck the iceberg, he was able to get the two boys onto the very last lifeboat to leave the ship, but he would not survive himself.
Michel and Edmond spoke no English, and they were aided in New York by a fellow French-speaking survivor. Their photograph, marked "Louis and Lola? - Titanic survivors," appeared in newspapers around the globe. Home in Nice, France, without any idea where her sons had disappeared, Marcelle found their photo in the morning paper and traveled to meet them in America. They were reunited on May 16, one month after the wreck, and she ferried them back to France. Michel Jr., who was the last living male survivor of the Titanic, dying in 2001 at age 92, said he was very moved by the actions of his father and another man, who woke him and Edmond in the night and hurriedly dressed them and carried them to the lifeboats. "They knew they were going to die," he said.
Jack Thayer was a seventeen-year-old high school senior who belonged to an upper-class family and was returning to the United States from a trip to Paris with his parents. When the ship collided with the iceberg, the family dressed warmly and put on lifejackets. On deck, pandemonium was breaking out. Women and children were being rushed into lifeboats, fathers and husbands were parting with their families, and Jack was separated from his parents. He was lucky to find a friend he had made during the first days of the voyage, Milton Long, and they began searching for the Thayers. Jack and Milton stayed together as the ship continued to sink, and knowing they had to jump the pair opted to stay on board as long as possible. Milton jumped first, and Jack never saw his friend again.
From the water, Jack watched as the Titanic's second funnel fell, creating suction that pulled him under. He surfaced close enough to climb onto an upturned lifeboat and watched the ship's last moments as it rose and then sank into the dark water. For years afterward, he was haunted by the cries and screams for help, which slowly dwindled as passengers gave up their frigid fight in the water. Jack was rescued by a lifeboat and boarded the Carpathia around 7:30 a.m. His mother waited with joy at the top of the ladder, but her relief turned to sadness when she realized her husband had not survived. Although Jack went on to be successful in his career and raise his own family with two sons, he was always haunted by the Titanic's fateful end. In 1945, when his son Edward was killed in the Second World War, 51-year-old Jack took his own life. He was the same age his father had been when he died on board the Titanic.
The Collyer Family
Harvey and Charlotte Collyer packed up their possessions and their eight-year-old daughter, Marjorie, to emigrate from England to an Idaho farm. They took the time while the Titanic was in its final port at Queenstown, Ireland, to send a postcard to Harvey's parents. It read:
“My dear Mum and Dad, It don’t seem possible we are out on the briny writing to you. Well dears so far we are having a delightful trip the weather is beautiful and the ship magnificent … We will post again at New York … lots of love don’t worry about us.”
When the ship struck the iceberg, the family made its way to the deck and waited for a lifeboat, but Charlotte clung to her husband, unwilling to board without him as officers called out, "Women and children first!"
Finally, a sailor grabbed Marjorie and threw her into the lifeboat, then turned to pry Charlotte away from Harvey and push her into the same boat. Her husband reassured her he would be fine. The Collyer girls frantically searched for Harvey among the survivors, but he was never found. Charlotte wrote a difficult letter home to her in-laws to inform them of his death, telling them the only thing she had left was his rings. Charlotte and Marjorie did not stay in America. They returned to England to be with their families, and Charlotte died from tuberculosis two years later.
American Rhoda Abbott was returning from England with her teenage sons Rossmore and Eugene, as a third-class passenger. When the iceberg struck, the three managed to reach the boat's stern on a steel ladder, then they scaled the side of the ship using ropes left behind by launched lifeboats. A canvas-sided lifeboat was being loaded, but with only women and children, and Rhoda knew her sons would be considered too old at ages sixteen and thirteen. She chose to stay with them on board rather than escape on the boat. Rhoda and her sons knew they would have to jump from the ship as it went down. Swimming for her life, Rhoda managed to climb into a lifeboat of men. Her beloved sons were lost in the freezing water. Recovery from exposure to the water and injuries sustained from jumping took a long time, but Rhoda never recovered from the loss of her sons. She died alone and poor in 1946.
The Laroche Family
French woman Juliette Laroche was married to a Haitian man named Joseph, an engineer by trade. He found it difficult to land a job in Paris, where they lived with their two daughters, Simonne (aged three) and Louise (aged one). Juliette learned she was pregnant in March, and the couple decided to relocate to Haiti, where Joseph's uncle, Cincinnatus Leconte, was president. They had purchased tickets for the SS France, but when they learned their daughters would not be allowed to eat with them the Laroches changed their passage to the Titanic and boarded at its port in Cherbourg, France.
The Mallet family was also boarding with their two-year-old child and they became fast friends. As both husbands spoke English and French (their wives spoke French only), they were able to recognize the imminent danger when the Titanic hit the iceberg and ensured their wives and children were loaded onto a lifeboat. The men would not survive. Juliette, her daughters, and the Mallets struggled on board the Carpathia, speaking no English. They were forced to use dinner napkins for diapers while traveling to New York, where they were taken to St. Vincent's Hospital for treatment and recovery. Eventually, Juliette, Simonne, and Louise returned to France, where Joseph Jr. joined the small family on Dec. 17, 1912. With a settlement from the government, Juliette was able to support her children, but the devastation of losing her husband and the future they had planned together stayed throughout her lifetime.
Isidor and Ida Straus
A story made famous by the 1998 film Titanic, Isidor and Ida Straus were a real-life couple who chose to stay together and await their final moments on the ship, though they did not curl up together on the bed in their cabin. Isidor was a co-owner of Macy's department store with his brother, Nathan, and they were very wealthy. They traveled first-class with personal servants John Farthing and Ellen Bird to New York after a winter touring Europe.
When it was clear the ship would sink, Ida was given priority for a lifeboat seat. She placed just one foot into the boat, but when she realized Isidor was not following her she stepped out and refused to board. Instead, she gave her spot to Ellen, handing the maid her fur coat for warmth as well, stating calmly she would need it more than Ida did. The couple turned away from the lifeboats and walked to the opposite end of the ship, where they were last seen standing on the deck, holding one another and waiting for the end.
Thomas Millar lost his wife three months before the Titanic set sail. He joined the ship for its maiden voyage as an assistant deck engineer in order to provide for the couple's young sons, Thomas Junior (aged eleven) and William Ruddick (aged five). His plan was to sail to New York and settle in America, and then send for his boys, who were left in the care of their aunt just outside of Belfast, Ireland. Before his departure, Thomas gave each of his boys two new pennies and told them not to spend the money until he came back for them. However, Thomas was one of the 1,500 casualties on board the Titanic.
His children remained in their aunt's care until they were adults, and the family received five shillings per week from the National Disasters Relief Fund. Thomas Jr. spent the pennies his father had gifted him, but William never used his money, and the same two pennies have remained with the Millar family for more than a century to remind them of the love and loss of a wonderful father.
Tragic Tales from the Titanic
These harrowing tales show what it was like in the final moments before the Titanic sank. Lovers, parents, immigrants, and working-class people all made sacrifices to save as many people as possible when the cruise ship was sinking. These stories show the power of the human spirit.
About the Author
Krista Conrad is an award-winning Canadian journalist and creative writer with a BA in English and diploma of Journalism Arts. She loves storytelling and delving into research, particularly in areas of social, historical, environmental and human interest. A busy mom of five, she lives for family and creativity, and enjoys bringing stories and facts to life with firm belief in the power of the written word.
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