Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Titanic headline that wasn't true

"2,000 lives are saved off wrecked Titanic by wireless; vessel is reported sinking."

Hold on, are we in an alternative universe? Two thousand lives saved off the Titanic when every historian will tell you only 705 passengers survived the sinking on April 15, 1912?

No, this isn't some Edwardian version of the Twilight Zone. The headline above was printed on April 15, 1912 by The Denver Times.*

According to the Monday evening edition (consisting of sixteen pages and costing 2 cents), several ships including the Virginian and the Parisian were within distance of the Titanic and the Baltic "was coming up fast."

The newspaper went on to report that all the women and children had been rescued and the lifeboats were the "…very latest in the lifeboat design, wide and unsinkable." No mention was made of the fact there weren't enough lifeboats on the Titanic to save all the passengers.

The story continued for several pages and on page 5, the headline decreed: "Dreaded C.Q.D. of wireless brings rescuers quickly to the side of the crippled Titanic."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The only ship close enough to effect a rescue was the Cunard liner Carpathia and she was 58 miles away. When her captain, A. H. Rostron, received the distress message from the Titanic, he turned his ship around and traveled full speed ahead through dangerous icy waters to reach the sinking liner.

When the ship arrived, all they found were half-frozen men and women in a few lifeboats.

My heroine, Katie O'Reilly, was in one of those boats:
The glassy icebergs entombed the lifeboats.

Impenetrable guardians they were, reminding Katie of their silent power to destroy everything she loved. Something in her stomach twisted at the sight of the bergs tinted a pale gray against a pinkish horizon, but she fought back the pain. Fought hard, until all that was left was a nagging prayer that reminded her she still wasn’t safe.

She pulled the chilly air into her lungs, held her breath, then put her shoulder to the oar and tried to ignore the mountains of icebergs emerging through the darkness as daylight crept over the ice field. She wasn’t alone in her despair. Through the veil covering her face, she looked at the other passengers.

Women, mostly first cabin ladies with some steerage speaking a language she didn’t understand.

Babies, seamen.

All trying desperately to survive the night.
The Carpathia was the only ship to rescue passengers from the Titanic.

On April 16, 1912, the Denver Post went to press with a headline closer to the truth: "1,300 perish when Titanic sinks; 866 known to be rescued." (1,517 perished and 705 survived).

Also on the front page in large letters was a quote from Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) worth noting:

So fleet the works of men, back to the earth again; ancient and holy things fade like a dream."

*The Denver Times was the afternoon edition of the Rocky Mountain News, which ceased publishing in 2009.


Michelle Polaris said...

How strange and terrible about the misreporting. Maybe it was some sort of intersection of how easily information is miscommunicated, the nature of human hope, and the result of rushing for the deadline for ANY sensational story with the resultant shoddy work. Or maybe it was a continuation of the arrogance of men who refused to believe their challenge of invulnerability to the elements could go unpunished.

Jina Bacarr said...

Michele, your heartfelt comment really puts it in perspective. You're so right.

The rush to get the story out certainly added to the confusion. Also, the millionaire celebrities on board added to the "hype" of who survived and who didn't.

So many factors played a part. That's why the Titanic continues to fascinate us.

Callie Croix said...

Giving people false hope that their loved ones on board might have been saved makes the tragedy even more heartbreaking. Didn't something similar happen with the Lusitania?

Jina Bacarr said...

You're right on, Callie! A Tennessee newspaper in their "6 o'clock edition" erroneously reported that rescue work "may save" all the passengers on the Lusitania (May 7, 1915).