The Sinking of the Titanic: Thrilling Stories of Survivors with Photographs & Sketches by Logan Marshall was originally published in 1912, the year of the ship’s sinking. I wonder if it has been in print for over a century, or if it is a recent reprint. I bought it during a trip to Halifax. It contained eyewitness accounts of the Titanic disaster as well as second-hand reports by passengers aboard the rescue ship Carpathia. While a certain degree of artistic licence has to be a part of any Hollywood production nonetheless I believe James Cameron’s “Titanic” to be faithful to the testimonials in this book. I never realized the extent firearms played in the chaos that ensued as passengers tried to board lifeboats. I can only imagine that armed crewmen wouldn’t be brandishing their weapons if a ship was sinking today.
The biggest surprise in these testimonials was the sense of calm among the women passengers. Couples were forced to separate as the rule “women and children first” applied at the time. Surviving wives–later widows–sitting safely in lifeboats told stories of waving to their husbands still on board. One might have expected the lifeboats to be filled with wailing children and screaming mothers, but they were silent. People were numbed by the action around them and their attention was transfixed on the sinking ship. People could only stare at it in silent awe. I think back to how I reacted when I watched both World Trade Center towers collapse: I sat at the TV silent and motionless. And so did the survivors aboard the lifeboats.
Only when the Carpathia arrived to pick up the lifeboats did the survivors rekindle their feelings of desperation. It was heartbreaking for me to read how survivors aboard the Carpathia “frantically rushed from one gangway to another eagerly scanning the fresh arrivals in the boats for a lost husband or brother” and how “Sad-eyed women roam aimlessly about the ship still looking vainly for husband, brother or father. To comfort them is impossible.”
Biographical sketches were provided for some of the more notable passengers, plus lists of the survivors and deceased from the first and second cabins (classes). Some of the eyewitness accounts confirmed that the Titanic broke in two before sinking, although I don’t think that fact was confirmed until the wreckage was found in 1985.