Titanic survivor stories: Those who avoided tragedy
By Terrence Aym
Early on the morning of April 15, 1912 the pride of the British White Star Line, RMS Titanic, sank beneath the icy, turbulent waves of the desolate North Atlantic. That terrible night 1,517 lost their lives in what had been trumpeted as an unsinkable ship. Of the 2,223 passengers and crew members only 705 survived.
Yet the number that officially survived this memorable disaster may be misleading. How many actually survived by not boarding the doomed ocean liner or booking with another ship entirely because of "a feeling," a warning, a dream or an omen that gave them pause?
It's true that while 705 lived through the terror and tumult, the harrowing horror of that night, many more avoided the catastrophe altogether by heeding premonitions. They became survivors of a different sort. The hundreds that survived the greatest calamity of maritime history by simply refusing to book or board the ship represent another of the many chapters in history's mysteries.
Perhaps these survivor's tales hold the key to the mysterious foreknowledge of looming disasters: in this case the premonition of the agonized death throes of the largest ship in the world - a magnificent vessel that ended its maiden voyage by forever entombing fifteen hundred trusting passengers within the dark, gloomy depths of a cold, watery grave.
The Survivors that Never Boarded
Premonitions played a large role in the months and weeks leading up to the departure of the Titanic on her fateful journey to New York. According to some accounts many hundreds of people had visions, dreams or ill-feelings about the mammoth ship.
In the weeks following the disaster the Sunday supplements of many major newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic ran articles chronicling the events of "psychic foreboding." As Preston Dennett of "Atlantis Rising Magazine" astutely observes, "Later, [after the sinking of the Titanic] investigators were stunned by the huge number of documented premonitions, numbering in some accounts to over fifty. " The undocumented accounts were at least six times that number.
Amongst other news carried by the papers in London during the months following the aftermath of the tragedy, were a slew of testimonies from people who were going to book passage on the liner but were warned off by friends or family who recalled Morgan Robertson's book. They insisted the parallels were too strong and it was wiser not to tempt fate. Many paid heed to that argument.
Warned, They Boarded Anyway
Not all that were forewarned heeded the signs of impending disaster. The famous journalist William Thomas Stead, one of the doomed ship's passengers, informed some dinner companions during the third night of the voyage that a psychic in London had personally warned him against making the voyage. His dinner companions had a good chuckle over that.
Later two of the rescued survivors who had sat at the table with Stead that fateful night recounted their story to New York newspapers. Stead, who went down with the ship, had often expressed the opinion that he would die a violent death.
In another very odd twist, Stead published a story in 1892, "From the Old World to the New." His short story describes a White Star liner he named the "Majestic." This gigantic liner rescues survivors of another ship that collides with an iceberg and sinks!
Premonitions and foreboding saved some of those that did board. According to writer Neal West:
"Lawrence Beesley, while dressing for bed, inexplicably took his lifebelt down from the top of his wardrobe. Governess Elizabeth Shutes noticed a familiar smell that reminded her of a trip to the Eieger Glacier. She was nervous about something, though she knew not why, and remained awake, unable to sleep. Mrs. Esther Hart wasn't buying the "unsinkable" publicity about the ship and was convinced something was going to happen. She was also certain that whatever was going to happen would happen at night. To that end, she slept during the day and spent the nights reading or knitting!"
Newspaper Accounts of Some Passengers Premonitions:
Thursday April 18, 1912 - Daily Sketch
"Mr. Thomas Whiteley, a steward on the Titanic, who was saved."
"He states that the two men in the crow's nest, who were rescued, were very indignant, and said that their warnings concerning the presence of an iceberg had been ignored. Mr. Whitely appears to have had a foreboding that misfortune would overtake the vessel. Bidding goodbye to some friends at Southampton, he said, "I don't think I shall ever see you again. We are going to have a wreck."
Friday April 19, 1912 - Evening Bulletin
"Mysteriously Warned That He Might Die on His Trip to and From Europe"
"A mysterious warning that he would meet death on his trip abroad came to Major Archibald Butt, adviser to President Taft, before he left Washington. Six weeks ago, when the major determined on a European trip to regain his health, a premonition that he might not return alive caused him to make his will. He called his lawyer and closed up his affairs, preparing for his death."
Tuesday April 16, 1912 - Evening Bulletin
"Annie Ward Saved from Titanic, Didn't Want to Go Aboard"
"Miss Annie Ward of Germantown, who was saved from the wreck of the Titanic, had a premonition that something was going to happen when she went aboard. Nevertheless, she boarded the ill-starred liner but says she stayed on edge until the collision and was prepared for the disaster, or something like it, to happen."
A final oddity of history: In Liverpool, the Titanic's port of registration, all electrical power failed minutes before 9.00 p.m. on April 14, 1912, just hours before its pride and joy, the Titanic, collided with the iceberg.