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Turning Back the Pages

Unimaginable disaster

The spellbinding news story of the early 20th century occurred April 15, 1912 in the harsh Atlantic Ocean at 2:20 a.m. and the horrifying news soon circled the globe. The massive British ship Titanic, the pride of the White Star line, after sailing on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, in the frigid Labrador current, had struck an iceberg and sank about two and a half hours later, 350 miles south of Newfoundland. Sailing roughly midway between Sable Island and Cape Race, the popular “unsinkable” theory was shattered.

The lavish liner was four city blocks long and carried around 2,200 first-class passengers and immigrants and also many ship employees. The disaster was so profound that now, 100 years later, “Titanic” has become a household word for disaster of the highest magnitude. An estimated 1,517 people lost their lives.

A captain of industry, Colonel John Jacob Astor IV was on his way home to New York from Egypt with his new bride, the former Miss Madeleine Force. He bravely stepped aside to let a lady board a lifeboat and while his wife survived, he later went down with the ship along with millionaire Benjamin Guggenheim. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, 34, had cancelled his passage on the Titanic and than he later died on the ship Lusitania when it sank three years later.

The liner struck the iceberg at 11:45 p.m. To shield the passengers from panic, the band, led by Forest Hartley, 36, played “Nearer, my God to Thee,” in the first-class lounge. Later, survivors in life boats watched in horror as Hartley and his fellow band members were swept overboard into the ocean.

The ship Carpathia, under the command of Captain Arthur Rostron, received the SOS distress signal from 58 miles away and reached the scene at dawn. People were picked up from lifeboats and plucked out of the icy Atlantic, many in life-vests, where they had drifted over night in the bitter cold on the open water amid icebergs and these survivors arrived three days later in New York harbor. Only 866 people survived to tell of their harrowing adventure.

Readers are welcome to contact Adirondack Journal correspondent Jean Hadden at jhadden1@nycap.rr.com or 623-2210

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